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Superintendent’s Message: Embarking on a New System of Accountability

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

It has been 14 years since the federal legislature last reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  No Child Left Behind, as it has become known, was designed to ensure that all children have equal access to a quality education no matter their background or their place of residence.

NCLB called for schools to demonstrate that 100 percent of all students were proficient in reading and math, based on their performance on yearly state assessments, by 2014. The law was initially greeted with apprehension, but as the clear achievement targets in reading and math sparked a steady upward trajectory in achievement levels, opposition became less impassioned – until 2014 drew us closer to that 100 percent target!

For nearly eight years now, Congress has wrestled unsuccessfully to enact changes that would command wider and deeper measures to signal achievement beyond test scores.  So, in the absence of agreement, states have been expected to continue their quest for heightened improvement through a waiver process that slowly moves us in this new direction. Today, there is widespread agreement that the NCLB law has outlived its usefulness, but the absence of a new law leaves states scrambling to anticipate and address changing expectations.

In 2009, governors across the nation attempted to move the initiative forward by commissioning the development of common core standards.  In response, the Kansas State Board of Education followed by adopting in 2010 the English language arts and math standards now known as the Kansas College & Career Ready Standards.  Social studies and science followed in 2013.

To shift the focus from NCLB’s demonstration of “Adequate Yearly Progress” based solely on the annual assessment to these broader measures, Kansas is currently in the process of redefining its accreditation.  In this quest, the state has challenged our schools to demonstrate growth and a narrowing achievement gap in a variety of measures such as ACT scores and industry-recognized certifications in order to determine readiness for college and career aspirations.

New assessments that align with the state’s KCCR standards in English language arts and math were administered this past spring in grades 3 – 8 and grade 10 after a troubled attempt in 2014. We anticipate initial results in September which will serve as a baseline for measuring our RESULTS in the new system of accreditation.

A recent report to the Emporia board of education was an initial effort to identify grade-level status through multiple measures of progress – measures that acknowledge the hard work of teachers and administrators to align curriculum and instruction with assessments, screen the need for interventions, design benchmark measures, regularly monitor progress, and assign grades based upon teacher observations to evaluate whether students are on track for success in post-secondary training and/or careers.  We’ll be adding additional ways to record student progress as we move forward.

As the report demonstrated, our students continue to show progress each year on tests and in our classrooms.  We’ve relied so heavily on state assessments in recent years that it is sometimes hard to value all those other pieces of “less scientific” information.  But in reality, they give us a more well-rounded, complete picture of how to tailor individual support for what students need to know and be able to do by the time they leave our schools.

Like so many of our industry counterparts, we have had to perfect the art of doing more with less over this period of time.  Fourteen years ago, the base state aid per pupil in Kansas was set at $3,870. This year, the amount allocated per student was $3,852.  For districts like ours, where students bring with them a diverse set of challenges and skills, we applaud the three-judge panel ruling to restore equitable funding and to adequately infuse dollars that can provide meaningful opportunities in our shared quest to build the future of our community and our nation.

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