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KS State Board of Education: What do Chocolate Chip Cookies & Accreditation Have in Common?

Theoretically, educators could use rubrics to help people learn just about anything ... from how to bake the best chocolate chip cookies to how to achieve full accreditation for schools. Photo Credit: 123rf stock photo

“It’s kind of like a giant rubric.”

That was how Kansas State Board of Education member Kathy Martin responded to a proposed new school accreditation model. Kansas State Department of Education¬†(KSDE) staff members described their proposal for a new method of grading schools at yesterday’s monthly board meeting in Topeka.

The rubric Martin referred to is a tool educators use to provide students with information about the quality of work expected on assignments and to grade that work. For example:

Instead of just assigning the task of baking chocolate chip cookies, the teacher who designed this rubric was giving information to students about what good-quality cookies look and taste like. (Schools of education often introduce rubrics to new teachers by using the chocolate chip cookie example.) In a way, rubrics allow students to decide what grades they want from assignments and describe exactly how to earnthose grades. Students who want top grades must bake cookies with a chocolate chip in every bite, with creamy texture, golden-brown color and home-baked flavor.

The Kansas State Board of Education is considering an accreditation program that would provide schools and districts with information about what they must do to provide education that would allow their students to get a chocolate chip in every bite.

Right now, schools are either accredited or non-accredited. It’s a pass-fail system, with little incentive to accomplish more than the minimum. And the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act defines that minimum. Students at each school must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is largely determined by standardized test scores.

However, “a school is not a single number,” as one of the presenters from the state’s education department pointed out yesterday.

The presenters suggested a system in which the board could score schools on a scale, showing how some schools bake buttery golden brown cookies loaded with chips, how some schools’ cookies are burnt to a crisp and how some schools made tastier cookies this year even if they haven’t yet perfected their recipe.

In addition, the presenters said schools having trouble baking tasty cookies wouldn’t be left on their own in the kitchen. The KSDE is basing the proposed new accreditation program on best practices, which are well-accepted education strategies that have worked for others in the past. Therefore, struggling schools would be able to use these best practices in order to improve.

Another change the KSDE staff suggested was looking at the effectiveness of school boards and districts, not just schools, on the theory that those responsible for stocking the schools’ refrigerators and pantries should be accountable for the quality of the cookies, too.

The Board of Education had previously expressed interest in more meaningful ways to go about accrediting schools and directed department staff to bring them ideas. Yesterday, the department was seeking comments and guidance from the board about the ideas they’ve developed thus far.

Although board members seemed generally enthusiastic, there were some concerns. One was the amount of staff time that would be required to develop the new accreditation program in schools that have lost staff due to budget cuts. Another concern was the cost of implementing a new program. Despite these concerns, though, board members expressed interest in seeing the KSDE continue to develop its proposal.

If the state Board of Education ultimately decides to adopt what Martin called “a giant rubric” for accreditation, Kansas schools could be baking chocolate chip cookies as early as the 2013-14 school year.

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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