USA: Kansas schools’ graduation, student success rates are up. But progress isn’t fast enough, education commissioner says

USA/October 14, 2020/By Rafael Garcia/Source: https://www.wellingtondailynews.com/

Kansas’ pre-K-12 schools are making steady progress on lofty goals to redefine what educational success means in the state, but that work needs to speed up, education commissioner Randy Watson told the Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday morning.

Watson gave the board an update on Kansas schools’ progress in reaching the goals set out in the board’s Kansans Can plan. Developed in late 2015, the plan calls for Kansas to “lead the world in the success of each student by 2026,” using non-grade benchmarks like graduation and postsecondary success rates, social-emotional growth, student career planning and kindergarten readiness to measure progress on that vision.

One of those metrics calls for Kansas’ five-year high school graduation average to reach 95% by 2026. The state’s most recent 86% five-year graduation rate average reported in the 2018-2019 school year is above the national average and above the baseline of 85% in the 2014-2015 school year, but Watson said schools still have much to accomplish before reaching the board’s goal.

“There’s no reason every kid shouldn’t graduate from a Kansas high school,” he said. “They don’t. As I’ve told you many times, I could care less that we whipped some other state. It doesn’t matter. We need every kid to graduate high school, and we’re moving in that direction.”

Kansas schools are similarly making progress on the five-year average postsecondary success rate, which measures the number of high school graduates who complete or remain enrolled in some form of post-high school certificate or degree program two years after graduation. That figure has increased from 52% during the 2015-2016 school year to 56% in the 2017-2018 school year.

As schools deal with the effects of COVID-19, Watson said, this school year will be an obvious bump in most of the Kansans Can roadmap’s metrics halfway through the 10-year plan.

Watson estimated that the postsecondary success number might drop after this school year, since college enrollment shapes to be down across the state and country, particularly at community and technical colleges.

At the same time, he said, the board should look past this school year and not dwell on COVID-19′s effects on those metrics this year. He compared it to investing in the stock market, where progress and gains are best measured over the longer term and not year to year.

Watson said school officials, including the board, need to pay special attention to students who are being left behind in the pandemic. He said the pandemic has only highlighted existing inequalities, and those students and their families are often left voiceless and can’t express their needs.

“In some of our more impoverished areas of our state, some of our poorest kids have not physically been in a school since March 17,” he told the board. “You probably don’t get those emails as much. You probably get a lot more about sports.”

Watson highlighted several student population subgroups, including the number of students on free and reduced lunch. That number has slowly fallen since peaking in 2014 at 50.3% in 2014 to 47% in the 2019-2020 school year. How the pandemic affects that number is still unknown, Watson said, as schools are still collecting and reporting that data, although he imagined it could rise as more families find themselves in financial need.

About 101,000 students, or 21% of the state’s student body, are Hispanic, a number that has only grown in recent years, Watson said. In contrast, the number of English Language Learner students has steadily decreased from a peak of 11.3% in 2016 to 9.6% in 2020.

Watson said the numbers reflect a growing Hispanic population in Kansas, especially as more Hispanic families put down roots in the state and become second- and third-generation Hispanic families. These two student population numbers will be increasingly important as schools figure out how to best work with students in those groups, he said.

The number of special education students also rose to 15.3% last school year, compared to 12.6% a decade ago. Since special education students often require additional and more intensive instruction, that increase is putting strain on district’s budgets, Watson said. That is because special education funding often doesn’t meet actual district needs, so districts end up having to pull dollars from their general funds to ensure special education students still receive adequate education, he said.

The board approved a plan that will allow substitute teachers to teach for more days than they are typically allowed to teach in any one position to help schools during a substitute teacher shortage. The licensure process will remain the same.

Education licensing officials also gave the board an update on school vacancies, but they told the board that it needs to interpret this year’s data cautiously since schools have had constantly shifting staffing needs because of COVID-19.

This fall, Kansas schools reported 771 teacher vacancies — positions that weren’t filled or were filled with someone who didn’t hold the appropriate teaching license for those positions — compared to 815 last year. Special education positions continue to be schools’ least filled positions, with 157 vacancies this fall.

A little over a quarter of all vacancies weren’t filled because no one applied for the positions, districts reported. About half of the positions were considered vacant because teachers weren’t “endorsed,” or fully qualified, to teach in those particular positions.

Kansas is a net importer of teachers, the officials said, as 313 teachers left the state to seek employment last year compared to 562 teachers who came to Kansas for employment in the state. Board members noted that runs contrary to a mistaken, but popular, belief that Kansas loses its teachers to other states.

The board heard an annual update from Bill Faflick, executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, which oversees and sets regulations for competitive school athletics and activities.

Social distancing and mask measures have worked for sports, Faflick said. About 97% of Kansas high school teams have been able to participate in competitions so far this school year.

“We’re pleased to see it, but we’d like to see it be 100%, because it stinks for the teams and coaches who cannot participate,” Faflick said.

The board also heard a report on school bullying. School counseling program consultant Kent Reed said bullying incidents have generally decreased slightly as schools put more emphasis on anti-bullying efforts.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s certainly the best data we’ve had in several years.”

According to a 2020 Kansas Communities That Care survey, about 12.3% of students said they saw bullying regularly, or at least one or two times per week; 5.5% of students reported being bullied regularly; and 3.4% of students said they had been bullied electronically.

Over 60% of students, excluding those who said they weren’t sure, said that when their schools’ adults see bullying, they stop it and solve the problem. Reed said that number needs to be higher.

About 18% of students in the survey, or 10,464 students, said they had had thoughts of suicide at some point, and of those, 10.4%, or 6,079 students, had made a plan to commit suicide. Over 2,500 students, or 4.3%, had made an attempt to commit suicide.

Reed said those figures have seen moderate improvements compared to the same figures in the previous year’s survey.

“The challenge isn’t over, but I think we’re seeing some optimistic trends, and we certainly want to encourage the counselors and social workers listening out there. Let’s keep that train rolling and keep up the good work,” he said.

 

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USA: Kansas schools’ graduation, student success rates are up. But progress isn’t fast enough, education commissioner says – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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