Coalition of Innovative Districts board raises concerns over assessments, pace of change

Several school leaders on Thursday expressed frustration with state assessments and impatience with the pace of changes emerging from the Coalition of Innovative Districts.

At a meeting of the coalition board at the Blue Valley Education Center, board members appointed a subcommittee to look into the statewide assessments after several board members and others said the tests were too long and broad, which took away from instruction time, and were plagued with disruptions. Major testing delays occurred after a fiber cable in Lawrence was damaged, cutting service to the online testing base at Kansas University’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation.

Kansas school districts are nearing the end of a months-long testing period during which state tests are given in reading, math, science and social studies to students from third grade through high school.

The assessment subcommittee was appointed to determine whether changes should be made in the testing system. Marysville USD 364 Superintendent Bill Mullins was named subcommittee chairman.

Related to the assessment discussion, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson shared his concerns about whether Kansas should seek an assessment waiver from the U.S. Department of Education under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Watson cautioned that such a move may actually invite more federal oversight to ensure states are hitting their goals.

On the issue of changes produced by the Coalition of Innovative School Districts, McPherson USD 418 Superintendent Mark Crawford said proposals from the coalition should be implemented more rapidly. Mullins agreed saying the board needed to re-focus.

State law authorizes up to 28 school districts to become innovative districts that are allowed to operate outside many state regulations after submitting a student improvement plan. Kansas’ six innovative districts are Blue Valley USD 229, Concordia USD 333, Hugoton USD 210, Kansas City USD 500, in addition to Marysville and McPherson.

Members of the coalition said Thursday they would step up looking into innovative approaches and possibly take up graduation requirements, kindergarten readiness and social and emotional learning.

In other business, the board nominated Mullins to serve as chairman effective July 1. The nomination must be approved by Gov. Sam Brownback. The current chair, Beverly Mortimer, who is superintendent of Concordia USD 333, is retiring soon.

The coalition also received interest from other districts to submit applications to operate as an innovative district. Brian Smith, superintendent of Fredonia USD 484, said the local school board would vote next month on whether join. “We like what we are seeing here,” he said.

And the coalition received a presentation from Kent Reed, a counseling consultant to the Kansas State Department of Education, on joining an alliance to support social and emotional learning outcomes.

April 22, 2016