Highlights of the October State Board of Education Meeting
Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
TOPEKA – State Board of Education members gave the green light to seeking a waiver to some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation during their Oct. 11 meeting in Topeka. Board members directed the staff at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) to begin working on a waiver application to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in February 2012.
Although Kansas previously requested a waiver related to annual targets for meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and was denied, Congress’ inability to act to reauthorize the NCLB legislation prompted President Obama to announce in September his intention to grant waivers to states that demonstrated efforts toward specific education reforms.
Education Commissioner Dr. Diane DeBacker shared with Board members the four principles states must demonstrate in order to be granted a waiver. They are:
• adopt college- and career-ready standards in at least English language arts and mathematics and develop and administer high quality assessments aligned with those standards;
• develop and implement a differentiated recognition, accountability and support system;
• develop and implement teacher and principal evaluation support systems;
• reduce duplicative and burdensome reporting requirements at the state level.
DeBacker said the state would have little work to do with regard to the first and last principles, and the majority of the work on an application for a waiver would be directed toward the accountability system and at least one component of the teacher/principal evaluation system. Because the State Board already adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics and is part of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium working to develop the next generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, it is already in full compliance with the first principle. KSDE has also reviewed reporting requirements for local school districts and over the past several years has eliminated unnecessary requirements.
The majority of the work on the waiver request will be in identifying the type of accountability system the State will adopt in place of the current system that requires 100 percent proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014. Guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education identifies three accountability options states can pursue, including reducing by half the percentage of students performing below standards within six years, or extending annual targets toward reaching 100 percent proficiency through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The third option would allow states to develop their own accountability system, as long as it was educationally sound and resulted in ambitious but achievable annual measurable objectives for districts, schools and students. The third option would allow the state to pursue the growth model the Board has been studying, which would focus not only on achievement to specific targets but also growth toward those targets.
Additional work will also be required in establishing a teacher/principal evaluation system. The state is currently piloting an evaluation system that meets many of the requirements outlined in the waiver criteria, however the system being piloted does not include a tie to student growth, as required for the waiver. KSDE be working with educators and others in the field to determine how best to incorporate that requirement into its existing Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol. DeBacker shared that the waiver criteria does not require states to have a fully compliant evaluation and support system in place at the time the waiver request is made, only that the state have a plan to develop those systems that would result in full implementation by 2014-2015.
DeBacker said that if the state submits its waiver request in February, it should know by May whether the waiver has been granted. If granted, the waiver would be in effect through the 2013-2014 school year with an option for a one-year extension.
Also in October, Board members reviewed the 2010-2011 State Report Card and received a report on 2010-2011 statewide assessment results. Kansas students improved performance on statewide reading and mathematics assessments for the eleventh straight year. Students performing in the top three performance levels on the reading assessment increased to 87.6 percent, up from 86.3 percent in 2010, and on the mathematics assessment, students in the top three performance levels totaled 84.7 percent, up from 83.1 percent in 2010. A breakout of student performance based on the state’s five achievement levels – exemplary, exceeds standards, meets standards, approaches standard and academic warning – shows that in both reading and mathematics the highest percentage of students perform at the exemplary levels. In reading, 32.3 percent of students perform at the exemplary level and in mathematics, 29.8 percent of students perform at the exemplary level. Those numbers are also up from the previous year, indicating that Kansas educators have been successful in moving students out of lower levels of performance and into the higher performance levels. More information about the 2011 assessment results and the State Report Card can be found in the KSDE assessment results news release.
Board members also received a report on the activities of the Kansas Learning Network (KLN) during the fall quarter. KLN is the entity tasked with providing technical assistance to schools and districts on improvement, as required by the No Child Left Behind legislation. The network is in the midst of a transition from having the work of the network completed by a contracted entity – Cross & Joftus – to having that done through KSDE, service centers and Cross & Joftus. The change is being undertaken to ensure the sustainability of the program.
In order to make the transition, fourteen KLN Fellows from state service centers, universities and other education support organizations were identified and trained in the needs appraisal and classroom walkthrough processes used in KLN. Those Fellows are now participating with Cross & Joftus in needs appraisal visits to school districts, and are participating in focus groups and classroom observations, as well. As the program moves forward, the KLN Fellows will be handling these responsibilities on their own.
Entities willing to take on project management responsibilities for the KLN were also sought. The Greenbush Service Center and the Southwest Plain Service Center were selected to provide project management organization for KLN, which includes scheduling and managing the needs appraisal visits and providing support for the work KLN does with schools and districts.
Board members also received an update on KSDE’s work toward the Board’s goals and objectives. When the State Board adopted its strategic goals and objectives in March, certain priority items were identified in order to provide direction to KSDE staff as to where their initial efforts should be concentrated. At the October meeting, Commissioner DeBacker shared with Board members that because of changes in the education environment since that time, KSDE staff had been devoting more time and effort to some of the goals that were not originally designated and high priority items. For instance, the State Board’s interest in implementing a growth model for accountability in the state, coupled with the ability to seek an NCLB waiver and the requirements to achieve the waiver, have led staff to spend considerable time reviewing the accreditation system for Kansas schools, something that was not identified as a high priority item originally. DeBacker reviewed the items that had shifted in focus since last March and asked Board members for direction as to whether the agency should continue focusing its energies in these areas, or whether it should maintain the original priority metrics established by the Board. It was the consensus of the Board that agency staff were on target with how they were directing their efforts and should continue.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for November 8 and 9 in Topeka.