Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
Highlights of the February State Board of Education Meeting
TOPEKA – State Board of Education members demonstrated their support for seeking flexibility from numerous provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation by voting to endorse submission of such a request by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE). KSDE staff members have been working since last October to develop a request to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) that would, among other things, change the way Kansas schools and school districts are held accountable for student performance.
During the State Board’s monthly meeting in Topeka Feb. 14 and 15, members received an update on the request for flexibility and briefly reviewed the elements in the state’s latest draft of the request. The draft reviewed by the Board in February includes revisions to the draft that was originally posted in January for public review. A copy of the revised draft request is now available on the KSDE website.
Judi Miller, assistant director for Title Programs and Services, who has been leading the state’s effort to draft the flexibility request, told Board members that the current draft would change prior to final submission, which must happen by Feb. 28. One of the changes will be inclusion of an additional waiver request related to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) that the USDOE just announced last week. The additional waiver would allow states to forego Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures. The existing NCLB legislation requires all states to set annual measures for making AYP based on the percent of students who achieve proficiency on state reading and math assessments. In Kansas’ original draft of the flexibility request, it changed the way the state would measure whether a school or district had met AYP, but still included AYP determinations. The new guidance from USDOE means the state would no longer have to make an AYP determination, however it would still have to establish annual measurable objectives for schools and districts to be used for accountability purposes. Miller said a request to seek the additional waiver related to AYP would be added to the state’s draft prior to submission later this month.
Miller summarized for Board members elements of the state’s flexibility request, including how the state would approach accountability measures if its waiver was approved. Under the state plan, schools would no longer be required to demonstrate that all students were proficient in reading and math by 2014, as indicated in the current legislation. Instead, the state would look at multiple measures to determine school performance. Those measures include student achievement on state reading and math assessments, growth over time in student achievement on state assessments and the ability of schools and districts to reduce achievement gaps.
Other elements of the request address how the state would identify and reward high-performing schools, as well as how it would identify and provide technical assistance to low-performing schools. The state’s flexibility request also addresses teacher evaluation, as required by the USDOE. While Kansas is currently piloting a model for teacher and principal evaluation, work is still underway to determine how student achievement measures will be tied to the evaluation process, as required in the waiver criteria. The state must have that plan completed and implemented by the 2014-15 school year.
Also in February, the State Board heard from Sen. Anthony Hensley and Rep. Paul Davis about the Democratic leadership’s plan for school finance. Hensley told Board members that SB 350 represents a multi-year school finance plan that would maintain the current school finance formula, but increase the base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) on an incremental basis each of the next two years. Thereafter, the bill stipulates that 50 percent of the state’s increased General Fund revenues would be designated for K-12 education.
Hensley said he did not believe the current school funding formula was broken and that the weightings that exist in the current formula for such things as at-risk students, transportation, low enrollment, etc. had served districts well. He said the problem with the current formula was lack of funding. Increasing the BSAPP each year would benefit all school districts in the state, regardless of size or location, he said.
A companion bill to the school finance bill, SB 351, would address the issue of property taxes, which Hensley said have increased significantly in recent years. The legislation he is proposing would reduce local property taxes by renewing the state’s commitment to the local ad valorem tax reduction fund. The fund is used for local property tax relief for all municipalities except school districts. The funds are distributed to all 105 counties on the basis of population and assessed tangible valuation. There have been no distributions from the fund to local units of government since 2004. SB 351 would provide $45 million for property tax reduction.
In other action in February, Board members agreed to begin the process to eliminate a sunset date on a teacher licensure provision that allows teachers to add a new teaching endorsement to an existing license by passing a content assessment. The existing regulation is set to expire after June 30 of this year.
Typically, teachers would have to complete a preparation program to add an endorsement. Under this provision, if a teacher who is already licensed can pass a content assessment, he or she can add an endorsement for that content area to his or her license. The only endorsements excluded from the provision are early childhood unified, elementary education, special education, leadership and school specialist endorsements.
The provision has been beneficial in helping school districts place qualified educators in hard-to-staff areas, including ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classrooms. Data provided by KSDE showed that since the provision was first enacted in 2008, more than 2,000 teachers had added an ESOL endorsement by passing the content test, while just about 1,000 gained endorsements by completing a program.
With the Board’s action, the regulation change will be forwarded to the Department of Administration and the State Attorney General’s office for review.
Also in February, Board members received a report on enrollment in foreign language courses in Kansas schools. A survey of Kansas schools to determine students enrolled in world language classes was conducted for the first time in 2011. Responses were returned by 79 percent of the state’s public school districts, representing about 90 percent of all Kansas K-12 students. The results of the survey will be used as a baseline to determine the growth of language learning in the future.
Phyllis Farrar, program consultant for world languages at KSDE, shared with Board members that Kansas’ K-12 enrollment in world languages lags behind the national average. Nationally, 18.34 percent of K-12 students are enrolled in world languages, while in Kansas just 17.57 percent of the K-12 population is enrolled in world languages. According to a national study conducted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), leading states report world language enrollments ranging from 25 percent to 30 percent of the K-12 population. Around the world, enrollment percentages reach to 75 percent and higher.
The report on world language enrollment showed that in Kansas, 76 percent of students enrolled in world languages are taking Spanish. Other languages represented include French, German, Latin, Chinese, American Sign Language, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Italian and Greek.
Board members also had the opportunity to hear from the eight members of the 2012 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team, who each shared the challenges and inspirations they experience in the classroom every day.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for March 13 and 14 in Topeka