LINCOLN — A legislative bill aimed at holding Nebraska schools accountable for test scores and graduation rates drew favorable testimony Tuesday but also questions about whether poor-performing schools would be punished.
Legislative Bill 870 would direct the Nebraska Board of Education to establish by Aug. 1 an accountability system to measure the performance of individual schools and districts, beginning with the 2012-13 school year.
The system would use multiple measures, including graduation rates and student improvement on state reading, writing, math and science tests.
The Nebraska Board of Education has already drawn up an accountability system mirroring the one prescribed by the bill, intending to roll it out over the next couple of years.
The state has been without an accountability system since it began a transition from local to state testing three years ago.
Its former system known as STARS — the School-based, Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System — did not allow for comparing districts or ranking schools.
State Sen. Greg Adams of York, chairman of the Education Committee, which held the hearing, said his bill would enable the state board to continue developing that system.
The bill does not provide for consequences for low-performing schools, such as the intervention teams that Adams had called for in a prior version of the bill. He said consequences could be devised once the scoring system has been operating for several years.
"Exactly what shape that would take, I don't know," Adams said.
Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha said she intends to introduce a separate bill that would provide for an accountability system with intervention teams as Adams originally proposed.
"My perspective is we can't wait down the road to implement those interventions," Council said.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln said he hoped the system would not be used to punish but to help districts.
Bob Evnen, a member of the State Board of Education, said only the measuring system has been drawn up so far. The board will be discussing potential consequences this year, he said.
An initial proposal before the board, but not addressed in the bill, would recognize high-performing schools and those showing improvement over time as "honor" schools.
Struggling schools would be identified as "priority" schools and could receive financial help or face sanctions if they fail to improve.
Evnen said some form of intervention would be needed for schools with low scores and no improvement.
"It would be immoral to ignore it," he said.
Jon Habben, director of the Nebraska Rural and Community Schools Association, said there's some concern among superintendents and school boards about the purpose of the system.
The intent has to be school improvement and student learning, Habben said.
Andy Rikli, director of administrative services at Westside Community Schools, asked the committee to consider taking into account differences between districts — for instance, poverty levels and the rigor of a district's curriculum and graduation requirements.
Chad Dumas, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment of the Hastings Public Schools, said ranking schools does no good without resources to improve them.
Dumas said the system should take into account how well schools are engaging students and students' personal skills and leadership activities.
"Kids are not a test score," he said.
Officials from the Nebraska State Education Association, Nebraska Council of School Administrators and Nebraska Association of School Boards testified in favor of the bill.
No one testified against it.
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