Highlights of the December State Board of Education meeting
State Board of Education members adopted a definition for College and Career Readiness at their monthly meeting Dec. 11 and 12 in Topeka. The definition focuses on measuring both a students’ ability to enter into credit bearing courses at a college or university without remediation and to attain industry-recognized certification.
The full definition adopted by the State Board is: “College and Career Ready means an individual has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills and employability skills to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce without the need for remediation.” The definition draws on work done both nationally and by state-level education groups to craft a definition of college and career readiness. Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner for Learning Services at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), said defining the term for Kansas educators should help create clarity around the purpose of a number of education initiatives, such as new college and career ready standards, a new school accreditation system, etc.
In other action, Board members adopted a statement strongly encouraging educators to ensure students can write legibly in cursive or joined italics and can read text written in that manner, as well. The statement is in response to Board members’ concern that some schools were no longer teaching cursive, believing it was less of a priority with the increased use of technology in schools. An informal survey conducted by KSDE indicated that most school districts were continuing to spend some time on cursive writing.
In addition to the encouragement to schools to integrate cursive instruction into existing curriculum, Board members also directed the KSDE staff to develop model standards for handwriting, to include cursive, and to include best practices in instruction within the standards.
Also in December, Board members considered a motion that would allow any Kansas student successfully completing two years of JROTC to be granted one physical education credit, which would satisfy the state’s graduation requirement for physical education. Historically, the decision to allow credit for JROTC, and what type of credit, has been left to local school boards. Of the 20 JROTC programs in Kansas schools, one program, at a private military school, requires JROTC for graduation; six offer JROTC as one full physical education credit; one offers a half credit in physical education for JROTC; one offers a half credit in social studies for JROTC; four offer JROTC as an elective credit and seven offer JROTC as a physical education elective requirement. Mark Thompson, project director for Healthy Kansas Schools at KSDE, said the difference in the type of credit offered for JROTC likely stems from differences in the JROTC programs between schools and between the different branches of JROTC - Army, Marines, Air Force or Navy.
Ultimately, the motion did not receive enough support to pass; it failed on a three-to-seven vote.
In other business, the State Board received a preliminary report from the Teaching in Kansas Commission II. The commission has been working to determine in what manner student achievement should be incorporated into teacher and principal evaluations, as required in the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility waiver. The report received by the Board in December provided an overview of the findings of the commission as they reviewed best practices in personnel evaluation, other states’ models for incorporating student achievement into evaluations, federal requirements for educational personnel evaluation and personnel contractual issues.
The status report outlines a preference for using multiple measures, including state assessments, to demonstrate student achievement and growth. It also expresses a preference for viewing state assessments in multiple ways, as set out in the state’s accountability plan under its ESEA Flexibility waiver. The full version of the report is available on the KSDE website.
The next steps in the work of the commission will be to conduct a series of focus group meetings in each of the 10 State Board of Education districts. Those meetings will take place in January, February and March of 2013. During the meetings, the findings in the status report will be shared and feedback from participants will be gathered. That feedback will then be considered by the commission members, who will make a final recommendation to the State Board in the spring of 2013.
Also in December, Board members received a report from the Wichita School District on its district wide implementation of the Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS). The district began a system wide implementation of MTSS in 2010 and has been working since then with collaborative teams and partnerships to design the implementation of a long-range, systemic plan. MTSS provides a system wide framework for educational change with a focus on preventing learning and behavioral difficulties. District representatives explained the process they’ve used to train staff on the MTSS initiatives and the results they have seen. They stressed that they are only halfway through their implementation plan, but already are seeing results in terms of greater equity and consistency in curriculum across schools.
Dr. Stevan Kukic, an educational consultant who is working directly with Wichita School Board members, also participated in the presentation. He shared that in the work he has done across the country, he has found the Kansas MTSS system to be the best statewide support system in the country, and that the Wichita School District is doing the best job of whole system change that he has seen anywhere in the country.
In other business, Dr. Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas, walked Board members through the process used in 2006 to establish performance levels for state assessments and the cut scores associate with those levels. Kingston explained that in setting cut scores, the difficulty of the test in question must be taken into consideration. Using the concept of middle difficulty – where a student could be expected to know the answers to half of the question on the test, and not know the answers to the other half of the questions – a desired cut score is within 10 points of 62.5 percent. That creates a range from 52.5 to 72.5 percent for an optimal cut score.
However, if the test is judged to be more difficult, the range of the cut score will move down. Kingston said that in the process of establishing cut scores for Kansas assessments, teachers judged all but the high school math assessment and all three grade levels of the science and history government assessments to be at the right difficulty level to provide optimal decision accuracy. Cut scores for those assessments fall within the desired cut score range of 52.5 percent to 72.5 percent. The assessments that were judged to be too difficult for optimal decision accuracy have lower cut scores.
Kingston also addressed questions about the differences seen in cut scores established for state assessments and those for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, as well as differences in student performance on the two exams. He said comparing the two was difficult because of the different content frameworks of the two tests. In Kansas, a system of tested indicators is used, which essentially has teachers focusing on less content, but more deeply. The NAEP exams are “a mile wide and an inch deep,” according to Kingston. In addition, the NAEP exams have a low instructional sensitivity level, which means instructional strategies applied by teachers have a low impact on student performance on the exam. In Kansas, more than 50 percent of the items on the state assessments are instructionally sensitive.
In other business, the State Board heard from the state’s 2012 Milken National Educator, Michael Berndt, a third grade teacher at Prairie Center Elementary School in the Olathe School District. Berndt received the Milken recognition at a surprise ceremony in November. In December, he shared with Board members the strategies and programs used at his school and in his classroom that he believes contributed to him receiving the award.
Also during their December meeting, Board members received an update on the development of the Next Generation Science Standards and learned about the A.B.L.E. Program developed by Nickerson Elementary School. A.B.L.E. is a growth and achievement program focused on four domains – attitude, behavior, learning and effort. The program supports a variety of other school efforts, including character education, career education, common core standards, and college and career readiness. School representatives shared that they have incorporated the program into all aspects of the school and have seen significant improvement in student engagement and student perceptions of wellbeing.
The next meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education will be January 8 and 9 in Topeka.