Is your school board following Kansas law on building assessments?

Kansas school board members are getting budget advice from the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) that is contrary to state law, and it doesn’t seem to be an accident.

KASB mailed a Budget & Finance guide to board members this week that explains a lot about the sad state of student achievement.  K.S.A. 72-1163 says, “Each year the board of education of a school district shall conduct an assessment of the educational needs of each attendance center in the district” (emphasis added). However, many superintendents and KASB don’t want board members to fulfill their statutory and moral obligation to identify “the barriers that must be overcome to have all students achieve proficiency” in reading and math and the budgetary changes required to overcome those barriers as required in statute.

KASB’s Budget & Finance guide falsely says that the Kansas statute requires school districts to conduct the assessment.  It wants district staff, not board members, to decide what is needed to improve student achievement. KASB and many superintendents don’t want school board members to hear directly from teachers; they want it filtered through staff.

Many board members are surprised to learn that the law requires them to conduct the needs assessments in each school.  They often say that conducting meetings ‘makes perfect sense’ and are anxious to get started.

The Kansas School Board Resource Center, which, like the Sentinel, is a subsidiary of Kansas Policy Institute, provides training on the process and helps school board members identify resources within existing budgets that can be repurposed to improve outcomes.  After one training session last year, a board member asked if Executive Director Ward Cassidy would join the board at some meetings to get the process started.

They went to an elementary school and quickly learned that all but one teacher said they didn’t know how to teach kids to read properly.  Only one teacher had been trained in the critically important science of reading (some Kansas universities don’t teach the science of reading).  The board put the trained teacher in charge of teaching the others and moved some resources around to hire a teacher to replace her.

It makes a big difference when board members ask teachers what they need and show they are willing to move resources around to improve student achievement because that is not what they have experienced over the years with management interactions.

Achievement has been declining in most districts, even before COVID, and it’s not even close to what parents would consider acceptable.  In 2015, one in five students was below grade level in reading, and 41% were proficient; now, one in three students is below grade level, and only 33% are proficient.

School staff no doubt have been doing the best they can with very good intentions, but the data shows that substantive changes are needed and that is why the building needs assessments are so important.

So why would KASB not want school board members to conduct building needs assessments?

School boards shouldn’t defer to superintendents as KASB suggests; take charge, set specific goals

Many school board members say KASB tells them to set policy and generally stay out of the superintendent’s way.  Lip service is given to setting “success metrics” and “evaluating results,” but many board members cannot get the information they need to do so (including unfiltered state assessment results).

I wrote to KASB Executive Director Brian Jordan about the Budget & Finance guide, asking:

  • Why does KASB not recommend that school boards should conduct the needs assessments as stated in statute?
  • Does KASB recommend that school boards set specific, measurable expectations for improving outcomes on the state assessment? For example…reducing the percentage of students in Level 1 from X% to Y% in the coming school year.

He said KASB supports building needs assessments but wouldn’t say why they don’t tell board members to conduct them as required in state law.  Nor did he assert that our question was off base.

Jordan completely ignored the second question, which explains a lot about why outcomes have been declining.  Education managers and K-12 organizations do not want to be held accountable for improving outcomes, and you can’t fall short of expectations if none are set.

So-called strategic plans are generally devoid of anything resembling strategy.

USD 500 Kansas City’s Strategic Framework goal is that “Each student exits high school prepared for college and careers in a global society; at every level, performance is on track and on time for success.”  ‘Each student’ sounds good, but what actions must be taken to meet that goal by a specific date?

District officials no doubt feel they are diligently working toward the goal, but goals cannot be timely achieved if they are not SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, results-focused, and time-based.

State assessment results show USD 500 is far short of its ‘each student’ goal.  The 2023 results show that 75% of 10th graders are below grade level in math, and only 7% are academically prepared for postsecondary success.  Reading results are similar; 62% are below grade level, and 13% are academically prepared.  Math outcomes declined from five years ago, and the reading numbers are about the same.

Most students in Kansas City and many other districts will remain unprepared for college and career without school board members getting guidance on setting SMART goals.

KSBRC training on the building needs assessment process

The Kansas School Board Resource Center has an online training session scheduled on February 28 at 7:00 p.m. that explains board members’ legal responsibilities under the building needs assessment law and guidance on building an effective process to improve student outcomes.  As with all KSBRC services, there is no charge to participate.

AJ Crabill, author of Great on Their Behalf – Why School Boards Fail, How Yours Can Be Effective, spoke at a KSBRC training session last year.  His message to school board members is clear – student outcomes can’t change until adult behaviors change.

Generations of students will continue to be left behind until local school board members lead districts in new directions. That starts with an understanding that no one is to blame, but everyone is responsible for implementing changes to dramatically improve student outcomes.

Teachers know that preparing students to be academically prepared for college and career is the reason school districts exist, and school board members are responsible for seeing that that happens.  The education system is unwilling to allow school board members to fulfill their legal obligations, so the Kansas Legislature must now act, mandating loss of accreditation for districts that don’t follow the building needs assessment law.

Dave Trabert – Kansas Policy Institute

Dave Trabert is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Policy Institute, where he also does research and writes on fiscal policy and education issues. He is the lead author of two books: Giving Kids a Fighting Chance with School Choice and What was Really the Matter with the Kansas Tax Plan, and his other published work includes “A Five-Year Budget Plan for the State of Kansas,” “Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” and “Removing Barriers to Better Public Education.” He also writes for The Sentinel, which is owned by KPI.