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Bemoaning State Control, Kan. Critics Eye Accreditation Law

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Critics in the Kansas legislature are targeting the school-accreditation program approved in 1992 by state lawmakers, arguing that it is overburdening local educators and overstepping the mission of the state's schools.

Supporters of the Quality Performance Accreditation, the assessment and accountability portion of the state's 1992 School District Finance and Quality Performance Act, anticipate that they have the political power to hold off the plan's foes. But, they add, they are ready to hear any complaints.

"Q.P.A. is squelching the life out of education," charged Rep. Ted Powers, who is sponsoring a bill that would kill the student-testing and school-accreditation program.

"It's not written well; it's confusing," he said. Q.P.A. "takes a ridiculous amount of time, money, and energy."

The system gives the state too much control over education, he added, and puts pressure on schools to deliver a "product."

Representative Powers said that he does not think the bill will pass, given the program's support among top lawmakers, but that he is hoping to win the interest of new legislators and citizens.

This session, 31 of the state's 125 representatives are beginning their first terms, and six serve on the 20-member education committee.

State officials acknowledged that many of the new House members have concerns about the amount of paperwork required by the program, what some of the outcomes mean, the criteria for accreditation, and whether Q.P.A. focuses too much on values.

Outcomes Questioned

skeptical parents and legislators have seized on the law's call for schools to develop students' "physical and emotional well-being." Critics charge that the state is overstepping its bounds and usurping parent authority.

According to Representative Powers's proposal, school councils, made up of teachers, parents, and administrators who advise schools on local issues, would remain. However, he said, he wants to "get rid of" any mention of outcomes and accreditation.

Efforts to repeal the accountability system face tough odds.

Rep. Rochelle Chronister, the Republican chairwoman of the House education committee, has agreed to hold hearings on Representative Powers's bill, but said she remains a strong supporter of Q.P.A.

"We need Q.P.A.," she said. "I feel fairly strongly about that."

Sen. Dave Kerr, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, also backs the program and argues that it promotes the local power its opponents seek.

"We're not trying to control and don't want to control" education, the senator said. "The real control should be local."

Concerns about Q.P.A. are not new, said Sharon Freden, an assistant state education commissioner. She said members of the state board of education have met with legislators in the past to discuss improving the system.

"Almost anything you can name has some critics," Ms. Freden said. "If it's a strong system for accrediting schools, then it should be able to withstand tests of this sort."

Rather than considering tossing out the program, state officials said they will more likely come away from hearings with ideas for fine-tuning the system.

"We have a paperwork problem," said Senator Kerr, noting that the law requires schools to collect more student work as well as to document school achievement. "We are aggressively going after that so we can focus on what is really important--academic achievement."

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