Setting the standard

Setting the standard

We were disappointed to read recently a letter from our colleague, Dr. Walt Chappell, in which he urged members of the Kansas Legislature, as well as local school boards, to block implementation of the Kansas Common Core Standards for English language arts and mathematics. We're disappointed not only by his unwarranted disparagement of our education commissioner, but also by the numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations contained in his letter. As members of the Kansas State Board of Education, we feel a responsibility to set the record straight.

First, the contention our education commissioner is engaged in a "cover-up" related to student achievement in Kansas is ridiculous. Our commissioner has never lied about student achievement in our state or been afraid to share the challenges we face in Kansas education.

She routinely points out the challenges we face in closing the achievement gap, increasing graduation rates, improving college and career readiness, etc. Apparently, Dr. Chappell objects to acknowledging accomplishments, as well as identifying challenges.

We also take issue with the implication that Kansas schools failed to use additional funding made available through the Montoy court decision to improve student learning. Dr. Chappell ignores improvements on our state assessments in reading and math, where performance at proficient or above has increased more than 14 percent in reading since 2005, and more than 16 percent in math. He focuses instead on national measures, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The fact is, Kansas ranks among the top states in the nation on average NAEP scale scores in most cases -- particularly in math, where Kansas ranks seventh in the nation in fourth grade and 11th in eighth grade. Our state has made particularly strong gains in NAEP scores among economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners, student groups that face significant learning challenges.

We agree with our colleague that parts of the No Child Left Behind legislation did a disservice to our students and our schools. We cannot, however, make the connection between NCLB and the Common Core Standards. The CCSs were not developed by the federal government, or at the direction of the federal government, and the CCSs are not mandated by the federal government.

The writers of the CCSs are not "unknowns," as our colleague claims. Their names can be found on the CCS website, and many have national reputations for their content area expertise. And, as we well know, each state had the ability to form its own committee to review the drafts of the CCS and provide input to the writing committee. Kansas had such a committee and the committee members agree the input they provided is reflected in the final draft of the standards.

Dr. Chappell is fond of saying there is no research to show the CCSs will improve student achievement. Clearly the only way to say definitively that standards improve student achievement is to implement the standards and test students over time. That's true for any set of standards. What we do know about the CCSs is that they have been internationally benchmarked against standards used by countries whose students consistently outperform American students on international assessments such as TIMSS and PISA. We know the CCSs have been aligned with college and career readiness standards, to ensure students are learning the content and skills needed to be successful upon entering college or career training programs. Those two facts alone are enough to tell us these standards are likely to be more relevant, and more challenging, than existing standards.

The idea that implementation of the CCSs will mean elected officials will have no say in what or how K-12 students are taught is simply untrue. Need we remind Dr. Chappell that the elected State Board of Education voted to adopt the Kansas CCSs, or that local school boards will continue to make decisions about curriculum, as they have done whenever new standards have been adopted?

We respect the right to disagree, but we cannot condone the spreading of half-truths and misrepresentations. We're hopeful the good people of Kansas will look to the facts and not be distracted by false assertions.

David Dennis, Carolyn Wims-Campbell, Sally Cauble, Jana Shaver, Sue Storm and Janet Waugh

Kansas State Board of Education members