Highlights of the November State Board of Education meeting
State Board of Education members spent some time considering a Kansas definition for College and Career Readiness at their monthly meeting Nov. 13 and 14 in Topeka. Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner for Learning Services at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), shared with Board members definitions developed by other national and state organizations, as well as other state’s definitions. He said the common threads that seemed to run through all of the research he’d done were related to measurements and four re-occurring themes.
Two main measurements were repeated throughout the research: entry into credit bearing courses without remediation, and industry recognized credentials. In addition, the following themes were seen repeatedly: academic/cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability/soft skills, and career interest development. Neuenswander said those four themes also aligned well with the State Board’s mission to prepare students for lifetime success through rigorous academic instruction, 21st century career training, and character development according to each student’s gifts and talents.
Among the research Neuenswander conducted was a review of college and career ready definitions completed by the Kansas School Superintendents’ Association (KSSA) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). Representatives from those organizations also had an opportunity to address the Board and explain how they arrived at their definitions. Following a discussion, Board members asked the KSDE staff to bring a recommended definition to the Board in December for consideration.
In other business, Board members received the results of an informal survey conducted by KSDE to determine how Kansas school districts are handling instruction in cursive writing. One-hundred-eighty-four of the state’s 286 school districts responded to the six-question survey. Of those, 90 percent indicated they were teaching cursive handwriting and most were spending between five and 15 minutes a day on cursive handwriting instruction. Among those responding to the survey, 74 percent considered cursive handwriting to be important, and 94 percent indicated they had no plans to change their policy related to cursive handwriting instruction – whether that policy was to teach it or not to teach it. Just shy of 6 percent of the respondents said they planned to decrease the time they spent on cursive handwriting.
Board members discussed input they had received from some school personnel and members of the public that cursive handwriting was becoming less of a priority due to the increased use of technology in schools, as well as feedback expressing concern that students were unable to read cursive or legibly sign their names. Some Board members cited research that indicates cursive handwriting aids in brain development and the ability to learn.
Board members asked the KSDE to bring them a recommendation to consider in December on how to approach the teaching of cursive handwriting in Kansas schools.
Also in November, Board members received information on physical education model curricular standards for grades 9-12 and background and other information on JROTC programs across the state. Among the information provided to Board members was the type of credit students could be awarded for their JROTC classes in each high school where a JROTC program existed. Some high schools awarded between one half and one physical education credit for JROTC, while others awarded some credit for social studies, fine arts and speech, and others awarded elective credit for JROTC. Mark Thompson, project director for Healthy Kansas Schools at KSDE, said programs differed by which branch of the military they represented – Army, Marines, Air Force or Navy- and even among those branches programs differed by school. Those differences likely account, in part, for the differences in the type of credit that is awarded for the JROTC classes. The determination on what type of credit to award is made by each local board of education.
State Board Chairman David Dennis said he was concerned that an increased focus on reading and mathematics would cause the number of electives schools were offering to dwindle. If students could not get credit toward their graduation requirements through JROTC, it was likely that fewer students would participate and the programs would begin to disappear. He said he believed the programs met all the requirements for physical education credit and he had a crosswalk developed by the Wichita JROTC that indicated such.
The crosswalk Dennis referred to had been previously reviewed by physical education teachers for the Wichita Public Schools, who determined it did not demonstrate enough overlap to warrant the offering of physical education credit for JROTC. Dennis said he thought that process was biased because the Wichita district had already determined it would not allow physical education credit for JROTC and he indicated he had expected to receive a new, objective physical education/JROTC crosswalk. Thompson said that because of the variations among JROTC programs, an overarching crosswalk was not feasible. He provided a document that gave an overview of new Army JROTC 21st Century Curriculum that could be helpful if Wichita or other districts wanted to conduct a district-specific crosswalk. He also indicated that any crosswalk would have to be completed for each military branch program, and possibly for each school program to account for their differences.
In other business, the State Board received an update on the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Kansas is one of 26 partner states providing input to the development of science standards aligned to the Framework for K-12 Science Education, released in 2011 by the National Research Council. Matt Krehbiel, education program consultant for science at KSDE, said the second public draft of the standards would likely be released in December or early January.
George Griffith, superintendent of Wakeeney USD 208 in Trego County, also shared with Board members research he had done for his dissertation on elementary science and the amount of time spent teaching science in elementary schools. Griffith is a member of the state committee providing feedback to the writers of the NGSS. He said his research indicated that since 2002, more than half of K-6 teachers in Kansas and surrounding states had decreased instructional time for science. He said 20 percent of the teachers surveyed indicated they gave a grade for science even though the subject was not taught or addressed.
Griffith said that the decrease in time for science was troublesome because in order to reach the expectations that have been set for students at the end of the 12th grade, science education needs to begin in earnest in elementary school. Griffith added that he thought the NGSS could help reverse this troubling trend. The K-12 learning progressions outlined in the NGSS carefully lay out the performance expectations expected in each grade for K-5, which helps to guide elementary teachers in knowing what to address in their classrooms to build a coherent learning progression for their students.
Griffith also mentioned that the reason most frequently given for reducing science time was pressure to improve student performance in math and reading. He said that by making the connection to the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics explicit, NGSS provides a framework for teachers to better integrate science, math, and English in instruction to create a more relevant learning environment for students and improve student performance in all three areas.
Also in November, Board members received an update on the work of the Kansas Learning Network (KLN). KLN is the system that had been providing support to schools identified as on improvement in the state’s old AYP accountability system. Now that the state has a new accountability system through its Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver, KLN has shifted to providing support for Title I Priority and Focus schools. The new support system builds on the previous KLN system, and provides each district with an identified Priority or Focus school with a District Needs Assessment, as well as district facilitators and implementation coaches to help the districts implement initiatives identified to address the needs uncovered in the needs assessment. One major difference in the program is that previously KLN was a one-year process. Under the new accountability system, KLN works with districts and identified schools for a period of three years.
The next meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education will be December 11 and 12 in Topeka.
Written By: cfranklin
Date Posted: 11/20/2012
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