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Kansas House Votes To Repeal Accreditation System

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The Kansas House last week voted to repeal the controversial accreditation system lawmakers mandated in 1992, a move that would give the state school board wide leeway in building a statewide testing and accountability program.

Passed by a 114-to-10 vote, the House bill would strip all references to the Quality Performance Accreditation system from law. Instead of the program of standards and performance measures, the bill would simply mandate "a school-accreditation system." It also would eliminate the 10 specific outcomes schools currently have to achieve to be accredited by the state.

Critics of the Q.P.A. program have charged that the system overburdens teachers and usurps local control of schools. Legislative opponents have promised to pursue a host of changes until the language in the program is substantially changed or the system is eliminated altogether. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

As a solution to the controversy that has grown up around the program, the bill proved popular and "flew through really quickly," said Karen Lowery, the coordinator of government relations for the Kansas Association of School Boards. The vote followed extended hearings by the House education committee and its subcommittee that has dealt with Q.P.A.

Under the House bill, the state board would have to set measurable "high academic standards" for students in grades K-12. The standards would cover mathematics, science, communications, and social studies. The board would be required to review them at least every three years.

The law now mandates that the state set three grades at which it will test students for the accreditation program and that the Kansas academic standards meet or exceed those in other parts of the country.

School-site councils established by the Q.P.A. program are retained in the new bill. The councils consist of parents and educators who advise schools on local decisions.

Immediately after the vote, lawmakers took a two-day recess. Sponsors of the bill could not be reached for comment.

While saying that she remains a supporter of Q.P.A., Kathleen White, the chairwoman of the state board, said late last week that she was pleased with the accreditation changes the House bill would require.

"This way we'll be able to make adjustments, and we won't be hampered by what was in there," she said. "I see this as positive, actually. It just gives us more latitude to make this an up-to-date document."

The state board will meet next week to discuss its next steps.

Provisions on Tests

The House also passed a resolution asking the board to use national as well as state tests in the accreditation process.

Currently, schools use only the state's test in determining accreditation. But students should be compared with their peers across the country, argued Rep. Cliff Franklin, who raised the testing issue.

Meanwhile, the Senate last week passed its own resolution, on a 37-to-3 vote, to remove one of the 10 Q.P.A. outcomes that deals with students' "physical and emotional well-being."

Outcome 5, as it is known, has come under fire because it gives schools license to teach values and sex education, critics say, and infringes on the role and preferences of parents.

Ms. White said the state board strongly supports Outcome 5 and most likely would not agree to remove it from its accreditation system.

The board is ultimately responsible for accreditation, Ms. White said, and while the support of legislators is important, "we really can do what we want to do."

"It puts us in an awkward position," she said. "We want to work with them, but we believe fully in what we're trying to do."

The Senate education committee was scheduled to hear testimony on the House bill this week. The two plans will be reconciled in a joint conference committee later in the session.

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