- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas’ new commissioner of education says schools need to become more focused on the student, not the system.

Commissioner Randy Watson spoke to more than 100 school administrators and board members in Salina on Thursday as part of a regional meeting of the Kansas Association of School Boards. He said that while such a shift “sounds simple… it is extremely hard.”

The Salina Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1PSXzaK ) that Watson’s comment came as he presented the findings of a series of meetings he conducted around the state where residents were asked to describe the qualities of a successful 24-year-old person.

Of the nearly 2,000 people who weighed in, 23 percent said academic skills such as reading and math were important. The same percentage cited interpersonal skills, while another 22 percent cited “conscientiousness,” such as being dependable and honest.

About 15 percent of business leaders said in separate sessions that academic skills were important to success, while 34 percent of business leaders said conscientiousness was important to long-term success.

Watson said that academics were still important, but said 15 years of federal No Child Left Behind rules have left education “out of whack, out of balance, with too much emphasis on a standardized test.”

During those 15 years, schools did what they were asked to do, increasing the reading and math skills of students and closing the gaps in skills between students in different demographic groups, he said. In Kansas, for example, reading scores more than doubled.

However, the percentage of students continuing their education after high school didn’t change. Neither did the number of college students needing to take remedial classes, Watson said.

Massachusetts made an effort over the past few years to improve its schools and moved from 15th among the states to first on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There, too, the number of students going to college and the number needing remedial classes was unchanged.

Remaking schools to focus on the long-term success of students will require a focus on each student, rather than the needs of the system, Watson said. He said it will also require a change in culture “where every kid and what they want to do is valued.”

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