High grad rates, flat test scores: Is an ambitious overhaul of Kansas schools working?
Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe was among the first to undergo an overhaul of Kansas’ public school system, creating seismic shifts in how students are taught and prepared for life after graduation.
Now, a few years later, students are job shadowing and taking courses where they solve real-world engineering and environmental problems. They have more access to counselors and lessons on social-emotional skills.
Five years into the program, Kansans Can is transforming education across the state. The Board of Education and Kansas’s top education official, Commissioner of Education Randy Watson, have led a broad shift toward less emphasis on assessment scores and more on “soft skills” that are difficult to define but essential for modern life, like good citizenship and work ethic.
The change is part of a national movement to reduce the importance of standardized testing and encourage a more holistic view of what student success should look like. Kansas has been one of the most aggressive states in re-orienting schools around this new approach, education experts say.
But key metrics of student achievement paint a mixed picture.