Wednesday, December 12, 2012

State education board chairman questions need for testing this year

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

If David Dennis had his way, students in Kansas public schools would not be required to take the mandated standardized tests in reading and math this year.

Dennis, who is chairing his last meeting of the Kansas State Board of Education this week, said he thinks it makes no sense to give tests that are designed around standards that are no longer in use, and while schools are supposed to be transitioning to the new Common Core State Standards in reading and math.

"We're giving, as I recall, a couple hundred thousand assessments in reading and a couple hundred thousand assessments in math each year, and that's some big dollars when we're going to use it for nothing," Dennis said.

He said those tests cost between $10 and $15 per test, per student.

Dennis said the only reason for giving the tests is to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. Until this year, they were used to measure whether schools and districts had made "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, toward meeting the goal of having 100 percent of all students scoring proficient in reading and math by 2014.

This year, though, Kansas received a waiver from No Child Left Behind. But the tests are still required in order to identify schools most in need of supports and corrective action to improve student achievement.

Those schools are classified as either "priority" or "focus" schools.

"We've already identified our focus schools, and they're not going to change," Dennis said. "We've already identified our priority schools, and they're not going to change. Nothing will change if we give the state assessment in the spring, other than the fact that the federal government requires us to give it."

The state board took no action on Dennis' suggestion, and it's unlikely the next board will take up the issue when four new members are sworn into office in January. But it did give some the opportunity to vent frustration over the way the new Common Core standards are being implemented.

Dennis said he and other board members had received an email from Kansas State University education professor Melissa Hancock, who said most districts in Kansas were either not implementing the new standards at all until new assessments aligned to them come out, or they were partially implementing them while still focusing on the old standards because those are the basis of the state assessments.

The state board formally adopted the Common Core standards as the official standards in October 2010.

Kansas is one of the lead states helping develop the new assessments, known as Smarter Balanced Assessments, that will go along with them. Those are expected to be released and implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

But Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said schools should still administer the tests, and they should be teaching to the Common Core standards.

She said this year should be considered a "flex" year as the state gets ready for the new tests next year, but that the current tests still provide valuable information about how well students are learning.

Meanwhile, she said, schools should not wait for the new tests before implementing the Common Core standards.

"Teachers should not be teaching to the old standards," she said. "Once you adopted the Common Core standards in October 2010, the old standards were gone."