Highlights of the July State Board of Education Meeting
Kathy Toelkes, Director of Communications, 785-296-4876
TOPEKA –The Kansas State Board of Education voted to seek about $450 million in budget increases for the 2014 fiscal year during its monthly meeting July 10 and 11 in Topeka. The budget request approved by the Board prioritized increasing the base state aid per pupil to the amount specified in Kansas statute, funding special education at the level required to maintain federal funding, providing school districts with funds for professional development, mentoring for beginning teachers, and funding to support Agriculture in the Classroom, environmental education and Communities In Schools.
The agreement on the budget request came following a discussion about the balance between Board members’ responsibility to serve as advocates for education and the financial realities facing the state. While many Board members expressed a belief that the requirements of state law should be fully funded, there was also an acknowledgment that a request to do so would be easily dismissed given the significant increase – approximately $585 million - that would be required to provide funding at that level. With that in mind, Board members agreed to identify their top priorities to try to ensure that whatever funding was available to the state would first be directed in those areas.
The Board’s budget request includes funding for the base state aid per pupil at $4,492, as provided in law, and funding for special education at the amount required to maintain federal funding. In addition, the Board is requesting $1.45 million for mentoring and $8.5 million for professional development. Additional requests include $35,000 for Agriculture in the Classroom, $40,000 for the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education and $100,000 for Communities in Schools. The Board’s budget request keeps all other budget items at the fiscal year 2013 level of funding.
No Child Left Behind Waivers
In other action, members approved a new model for providing technical assistance to identified Title I schools. In the current model, technical assistance is provided through the Kansas Learning Network (KLN), which is operated primarily through outside vendor Cross & Joftus. The new model would shift much of the administration of KLN to the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the education service centers in the state.
Under the model approved by the Board, a position is created at KSDE for a school improvement coordinator, who will oversee the work of KLN. The education service centers will serve as network service providers, completing district needs assessments, assisting in developing and implementing district and school action plans and providing facilitators to districts. KSDE will continue to contract with Cross & Joftus to provide consultation, guidance, data and other resources to the process.
Currently, technical assistance is provided to Title I schools identified as on improvement under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability plan. Should the state receive an NCLB waiver, technical assistance would still be required, however it would be directed to schools identified as priority or focus schools under the state’s new accountability plan.
Board members had expected to learn by their July meeting if the state’s NCLB waiver request had been approved, however KSDE staff said it would be at least another week before any announcement about the state’s waiver was made. Judi Miller, assistant director for Title Programs and Services at KSDE, told Board members that the storm that hit the Washington, D.C. area in early July affected the ability of the representatives at the U.S. Department of Education to meet on the state’s waiver application as they had anticipated, resulting in a delay in making a determination.
In addition to the state’s request for flexibility from some NCLB requirements, a number of Kansas school districts are also seeking waivers related to the NCLB requirements around state assessments. State Board members approved the requests of the McPherson, Kansas City Kansas and Clifton-Clyde school districts to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow the school districts to use the ACT Explore and the ACT college entrance exams in place of state assessments for grades in middle school and high school during the 2012-2013 school year.
McPherson is seeking the waiver for the third consecutive year. The school district was originally granted a waiver for the 2010-2011 school year that allowed it to use the ACT Explore exam in place of state assessments for accountability purposes in grades 6-8, and the ACT exam in high school. For the 2011-2012 school year, the district was not allowed to use the ACT Explore in place of state assessments in grades 6 and 7, although the other aspects of the district’s waiver request were granted. For the upcoming school year, the district is asking that its original waiver request be granted in full.
The Kansas City Kansas and Clifton-Clyde school districts are asking to renew the waivers they were granted for the 2011-2012 school year. Those waivers allowed the districts to use the ACT Explore exam in place of state assessments at grade 8 and the ACT college entrance exam in high school.
Kansas Common Core Standards and New Assessments
In other business, the Board was updated on the transition to the Kansas Common Core Standards (KCCS) for English language arts and mathematics and the work of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. Tom Foster, director of Career, Standards and Assessment Services at KSDE, shared information that was being made available to school districts to assist them in the transition to the KCCS and explained that the focus was on providing quality instruction. Foster said the shift that is being made with the KCCS is one that moves away from focusing on adequate yearly progress to focusing on ensuring students are college and career ready upon high school graduation. That requires a realization that teachers are not just preparing students for the next grade, but for success in life. Foster said the way the KCCS are set up allows teachers in the early grades to more easily see how their instruction fits in to the overall preparation of a college and career ready student. Foster walked the Board members through some of the shifts in instructional focus that are part of the KCCS in both English language arts and mathematics.
The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is one of two consortia working to develop new, computerized assessments aligned to the Common Core Standards. Kansas is a governing state in SBAC. Foster explained that the items being developed by SBAC include formative and interim assessments, which are used throughout the year to help teachers improve instruction and gain feedback as to student progress, as well as a summative assessment taken at the end of the school year to gauge a student’s ability to master the concepts and knowledge aligned to college and career readiness. In addition, the consortium is developing a digital library that will include such things as model curriculum units, educator training, professional development tools and teacher collaboration tools.
The assessments being developed by SBAC will be computerized and will include multiple items types including multiple choice items, short answer items and performance tasks. In addition, the assessments will be adaptive, which means how the student progresses through the exam and the types and number of questions the student is presented on the exam will vary depending on the student’s responses. Once a student has demonstrated a solid knowledge base in a given subject area or concept, he or she may not be presented with additional questions in that area, but will be directed to higher level questions.
Foster said the work of the consortia is on track and is expected to produce an assessment that can be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
Visiting Scholar Teaching License
Board members also received information regarding the potential of extending the Visiting Scholar license from one year to two years. The license allows individuals who can demonstrate expertise in a given area based on work experience in the field to receive a one-year license to teach in that subject area. Pam Coleman, director for Teacher Education and Licensure at KSDE, said that while the extension would result in a small cost savings for the applicants and some savings in time for licensing staff, she was not certain it would be worthwhile to go through the process of changing the licensing regulation given that only three visiting scholar licenses were issued last year, out of a total 20,000 teaching licenses. Coleman also pointed out that the initial teaching license, which is granted to individuals who have completed all of the requirements for a teaching license, is only good for two years and the Board might want to be careful about granting the same privilege to individuals who are not required to have a degree in the subject area or any pedagogy training.
Board member Ken Willard said he was looking for a way to address the need some businesses have expressed to place in classrooms individuals who can provide unique instruction that will prepare students for the jobs available in their industry. Several other Board members shared that concern, but indicated they did not believe the visiting scholar license was the best way to address that need. Coleman said work is underway on a means of qualifying individuals to provide career and technical education instruction in a manner described by Willard and that she was hopeful something could be brought to the Board for consideration later this year.
Kansas Alliance for the Arts in Education
In other action, Board members approved a resolution acknowledging the establishment of the Kansas Alliance for the Arts in Education and recognizing the organization for its efforts to maintain the arts in preK-12 education. The alliance was formed in January 2012 and adopted a mission to ensure the arts are an integral part of a quality preK-12 education as a means of promoting students’ personal development and academic performance. The group has a focus on providing development opportunities for educators and teaching artists through workshops, symposiums and an annual conference. In addition, the organization seeks to work directly with district curriculum and fine arts coordinators to develop meaningful integration strategies for effective teacher training.
Professional Standards Board and Professional Practices Commission
Also in July, the Board appointed Mike Wilson to fill an unexpired term on the Professional Standards Board. Wilson, a middle school teacher, will serve a term that runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2014.
Board members also approved the recommendation of the Professional Practices Commission to accept the voluntary surrender of the teaching license of Emily S. Swingle.
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 14 and 15 in Topeka.