Friday, October 24, 2014

Recognizing Teachers

Once again this week, the Ashland Teacher of the Year (TOY) program brought together some of Kentucky’s best educators for recognition in Frankfort. Our annual tribute to outstanding teachers in Kentucky is the highlight of the year for me. Our Kentucky teachers are by far the most professional and dedicated teachers in the nation, and it is my honor to work with them to help every child succeed.

The TOY program recognizes 24 outstanding teachers from across Kentucky. They are among hundreds of teachers nominated by their peers, students, parents or administrators. A team carefully screens the applications and then visits the teachers’ classrooms. A total of nine semifinalists are named – three elementary, three middle and three high school teachers. From these nine, an elementary, middle and high school state teacher of the year is named.

Our middle school teacher of the year is Faye Smith from Campbell County Middle School. Faye has taught mathematics for 27 years. She has coached her school’s Governor’s Cup team. Her professional affiliations include the Kentucky Association for Academic Competition, Math Counts Foundation, Kentucky Academic League (NKY) and National Council of Teachers of Math.

Our 2015 high school teacher of the year is Joshua Underwood who is a teacher at Mason County High School. Joshua’s professional affiliations include the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and Kentucky Science Teachers Association. Josh is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics teaching.

Finally, our 2015 elementary school teacher of the year and the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year is Sarah Reed, a 3rd grade teacher at Field Elementary in Jefferson County. Sarah is an 18-year veteran and holds National Board certification. Her professional affiliations include Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Kentucky Reading Council, Kentucky Reading Project, Jefferson County Teachers Association, KEA and the National Education Association (NEA).

It was great to recognize these excellent teachers who represent more 40,000 outstanding teachers in Kentucky. Governor Beshear congratulated the teachers on their terrific work and the impact they have on children.

I also want to personally thank Ashland, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jim O’Brien. Through Jim’s leadership, the Kentucky Teacher of the Year program has become one of the premier state recognition programs in the nation. Jim will be retiring from Ashland this year and has turned the TOY program over to the President of Valvoline. I know that the future of the TOY program is in good hands and we will continue long into the future to take time to recognize the tremendous contribution that our teachers make to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The path to student success

This week, Joellen Killion from Learning Forward and Karen Kidwell, Director, Division of Program Standards with the Kentucky Department of Education, team up for a guest blog on the importance of professional learning and a new resource that can help ensure meaningful and effective professional learning opportunities, which are critical to the continuous improvement process and our overall success.

Since Senate Bill 1 (2009), Kentucky has been leading the nation in education reform. To accomplish its goal, the department of education has examined every system, input, output, and outcome to focus and align efforts to ensure that every school and district has effective leadership, every classroom has an effective teacher, and every student graduates ready for college, career and civic life.

To achieve these results every Kentucky educator shares a collective responsibility to contribute to the success of each other and every student. All educators therefore must have the capacity for excellent performance in their individual roles and understand and communicate about how the Professional Growth and Effectiveness system works to create conditions in which educators and students succeed. 

Professional learning is the primary vehicle to support educators’ professional growth and continuous improvement. Educator learning that aligns with Kentucky’s new professional learning definition and standards ensures that educators engage in sustained, job-embedded, collaborative learning to support the critical and necessary shifts in practice to achieve the goals of Senate Bill 1 (2009).

To guide implementation of professional learning that aligns with the revised regulation (704 KAR 3.035) in every school and district across Kentucky, the Model Curriculum Framework has been revised to include a more detailed section on effective professional learning. The extended professional learning guidance resulted from a three-year initiative, facilitated by Learning Forward and funded by the Sandler, Bill and Melinda Gates, and MetLife Foundations. The initiative involved a wide range of state and national education stakeholders including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, National Association of State Boards of Education, critical friends from six states, Kentucky educators, and representatives from Kentucky associations and education partners. 

The guidance on professional learning provides suggestions for school councils, professional development coordinators, school, district, and regional cooperative staff who plan and facilitate professional learning, providers and vendors offering services to Kentucky educators, and institutes of higher education. 

What can you expect to find in this resource?
— a seven step process for planning, implementing, and evaluating professional learning
— five questions for improving professional learning
— key roles and responsibilities for effective professional learning
— explicit connections to the Professional Growth Plan (PGP) process
— a sample professional learning plan aligned to the Standards for Professional Learning
— a self-assessment of the state of professional learning in your school/district
— links to multiple resources to support professional learning aligned to Kentucky’s new Standards for Professional Learning
— Kentucky’s Rubric for Exemplary Professional Learning

Higher levels of student engagement and success in school occur only when educators are supported in improving their own knowledge, attitudes, skills, aspirations and beliefs, and when they work collaboratively to extend and refine their practice and student success. Professional learning, implemented well, is the path to that success. Take the time to access this guidance and use it as you engage in continuous improvement at the regional, district, school, team, and individual levels to ensure that your efforts reflect the standards and effective practices illustrated. Your success in professional learning makes a difference – for Kentucky’s educators and students!

You’ll find the professional learning guidance here.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Making the numbers real

As we looked more closely at numbers from the Unbridled Learning Accountability System this week, there was much to celebrate. School report cards showed more students reached college- and career-readiness, more students graduated, reading and math scores improved at elementary and middle school, and high school Advanced Placement and ACT results are at all-time highs.

This data is great news, but the numbers do not always tell the full story. This week, I had the opportunity to make those numbers real by visiting two school districts.

My first visit was to Floyd County on Monday night. In 1997, Floyd County was among the lowest performing school districts in Kentucky. A state audit labeled the district as a "ship that had lost its rudder." The district went under state management.

Throughout the last six years, Floyd County has undergone a major metamorphosis. The district has moved from one of the lowest performers to one of the top performers in the state –graduation rates and college/career-readiness rates are among the highest in Kentucky – and every school in the district has achieved distinguished or proficient status.

On Monday night, I witnessed a major celebration in the high school gym – every school in the district was represented by students, parents, school staff, cheerleaders, and bands. I have never seen a celebration of academic achievement like I saw in Floyd County on Monday night. Congratulations to the entire Floyd County team, community, school board, and Superintendent Henry Webb. The pride has been restored in Floyd County and the future is very bright.

Also this week, I visited East Carter High School in Carter County. A few years ago, this school was labeled a priority school and was in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Kentucky. With a lot of hard work by students, staff and the community, the school has moved from the bottom to the top 5 percent in the state. College- and career-readiness rates have climbed from 23 percent a few years ago to 94 percent. Graduation rates are approaching 100 percent. It was apparent in visiting East Carter that the pride has been restored not only at the high school but throughout the county.

This dramatic turnaround in a short time is not only something to celebrate, but also an example for other schools about what is possible. It was my honor to recognize East Carter as a new "hub" school for Kentucky. A hub school is a priority school that has made extraordinary improvement -- one that other schools can visit to learn best practices in improving student learning. We also have hub schools in Pulaski County and Simpson County.

As I read press clippings from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky this week, I saw many communities celebrating the improvements in student learning results. What I saw during these two school visits was the real people behind the numbers. I saw pride in the community, the school, the staff and the students.

At the Floyd County event, I heard the Speaker of the House recount the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act with a great deal of pride. What Kentucky educators and students have shown since the passage of KERA in 1990, is that Kentucky can compete with anyone. Kentucky educators and students can achieve at high levels.

We know there remains much work to do, however, we need to take time to reflect on the amazing progress made and the impact the numbers have on student’s lives.



Friday, October 3, 2014

Moving in the right direction

The Kentucky Department of Education just released the third year of results under the Unbridled Learning College/Career-Readiness for All accountability model, and while we still have much work to do, the data show we are moving in the right direction and there is much reason to celebrate.

The eyes of the nation have been focused on Kentucky since we became the first state to adopt new English/language arts and mathematics standards, as mandated by Senate Bill 1 (2009). While we saw a big drop in student performance that first year, as expected due to the increased rigor of the standards, we are starting to see some significant progress, as predicted, in student performance evidenced by results on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP). Kentucky students are proving to the rest of the nation that the standards are working and helping to better prepare them for college and careers.

Since teachers first taught the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards in the 2011-12 school year, the percentages of students performing at the Proficient and Distinguished levels in reading and mathematics are up between two and nine percentage points, with the largest gains coming at the elementary level, followed by middle school. Gains at the high school level, however, have not been as strong and, in fact, are nonexistent in math. We believe there are several reasons for this. First, we have only one test in reading and one in math at the high school level through our End-of-Course system. Second, these classes are not as well aligned with the new standards as those at the earlier levels. And finally, students have not benefited from the strong foundation laid by more rigorous coursework in elementary and middle school, so there may be some learning gaps. We will be addressing all of these issues in coming months.

We also saw some positive news with our student groups that traditionally underperform compared with their peers. The percentage of students in this “gap group” (African American, Hispanic, Native American, special education, poverty and limited English proficiency students) scoring at the top levels of Proficient or Distinguished is up in most cases from when we implemented Unbridled Learning three years ago. Granted, we still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.

In addition, the four-year high school graduation rate is up from 86.1 percent in 2012-13 to 87.4 percent in the 2013-14 school year – another positive move.

As the name states, our ultimate goal under this system of assessment and accountability, created as a result of Senate Bill 1 (2009), is to ensure all of our students graduate from high school ready for the next step in life – whether that is a two-year or a four-year college, a postsecondary training program, the military or the workforce.  We’ve made great progress toward that goal in the past five years.  

When we first started measuring the readiness of our students, only about a third (34 percent) had the knowledge and skills needed to be successful at the next level. Today, I’m happy to report that we’ve nearly doubled that number, with a college/career-readiness rate of 62.3 percent. We estimate that this amounts to a cost savings for students and parents of nearly $15 million – money they’ll save by not having to enroll in non-credit-bearing postsecondary remedial courses.

Readers can see all the results for the state and any school or district through the online School Report Cards. I invite you to take a look for yourself.

Public education in Kentucky is moving in the right direction – thanks to the hard work of our teachers, administrators and students.  We all should take time to celebrate their success, but also consider what the data tell us about how we can help even more students become proficient and prepared for success – college- and career-ready – in the coming year. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Apology to teachers

This week, we sent out an apology to Kentucky teachers. We apologized for the software glitches that teachers were confronted with when they tried to complete the components of the new evaluation system. What happened that warrants an apology?

Kentucky has worked closely with teacher, principal, superintendent, school board and parent organizations to develop a system called the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). This system is in response to federal and state requirements to develop evaluation systems that use student growth as a significant factor. The work has been ongoing for almost 5 years now. In collaboration with teachers, principals, and superintendents, KDE designed software to support the new PGES.

For teachers, the new software system provides them with access to content standards, standards rewritten into “I can” statements, lesson planning tools, assessment design tools, student performance, professional development, and the components of the new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (TPGES). The effectiveness system components in the software are self-reflection, professional growth plan, peer and supervisor observation data, student growth data, and student voice data. The components are grouped together in our state software system within the Educator Development Suite (EDS). By using the software, principals can keep up with the components of the effectiveness system for each teacher they supervise and teachers are able to manage the evidences of the system without having to keep a paper portfolio (paperwork reduction).

The system was designed by teachers for teachers; however, the last few weeks have been very difficult for teachers and principals. The first component of the EDS was the teacher self-reflection. Teachers are asked to utilize the Charlotte Danielson framework for Effective Teaching and identify areas of strength and areas of improvement. This should have been very easy to use and not require too much teacher time. The reality is that the software had a number of problems. Teachers had difficulty logging in. Teachers, who did not save their work often, lost it. The software did not have an auto-save capacity and the time out restrictions were too tight. All in all, many teachers struggled with the software during the early part of the school year when they had little time to spare.

KDE and the software provider have been working overtime to correct the problems. As of this week, we now have more than 32,000 teachers who have successfully started or completed their self-reflection. Many teachers have now moved on to the professional growth plan, observations, and student growth goals. The data are showing that most of the software problems have been addressed and repaired.

As commissioner, I wanted to offer my sincere apology to the many teachers and principals who experienced frustration with the software that was supposed to make their job easier – not more difficult. I wanted to thank teachers and principals for their patience and persistence in dealing with the software problems.

We have worked almost five years together to develop a system that elevates the teaching profession and focuses on professional growth of teachers and principals. We will continue to monitor the software and the teacher experience with the software very closely. As teachers discover problems or concerns with the software, please let the Help Desk know of the problems so that we can quickly address the issues.


It is my hope that the rest of the year and the required components of the new system go very smoothly and that teachers feel they are supported in their efforts to grow professionally.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting aside micromanagement for the sake of students

Last week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) held the second annual Superintendent Summit; almost all 173 school districts were represented either by the superintendent or their designee. The summit is designed so that superintendents can provide feedback on KDE initiatives and they can hear from each other about best practices happening in each district.

We asked for superintendents to respond to three basic questions about KDE/Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) initiatives: What is working well? What needs to be improved? What specific suggestions do you have for improvement? We then compile the superintendent responses and provide a summary of the feedback. Throughout the school year, KDE reacts to concerns and suggestions and provides a summary at the next summit on specific actions KDE/KBE took to address the superintendent’s feedback.

During this year’s summit, I was reminded that every level of an organization believes the level above is micromanaging. Superintendents were certainly clear that they had concerns about KDE micromanagement of local districts and KDE oversight of data and evidences for specific state programs. Of course, principals usually express similar concerns about superintendents and teachers express similar concerns about principals and district office. This reminder was significant because as a state chief, I have expressed similar concerns with the United States Department of Education (USED). Many of my fellow state chiefs also have expressed similar concerns.

Readers may remember several recent posts related to my concerns with USED over the No Child Left Behind waiver process (USED action contrary to state, federal law; The good news and bad news on NCLB waivers; Congressional inaction leaving education behind). As a result of my blogs and expressions of concerns by other state chiefs, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked for a meeting with the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers. That meeting was held on September 12.

The meeting was a very productive. Secretary Duncan and his team wanted to hear our specific concerns about the waiver process. The concerns expressed by my fellow chiefs were very much the same that I had written about. Secretary Duncan and his team had already prepared some possible solutions to our concerns. Secretary Duncan apologized for the breakdown in communication with regard to Kentucky’s waiver request around science assessments. All in all, the chiefs felt they had been listened to and USED was responding to our concerns. Just like my meeting with local superintendents, a leader should listen to concerns from the field and respond with improvements where possible and explain why certain concerns cannot be addressed.

While the chiefs certainly appreciate Sec. Duncan listening and responding to our concerns, the entire basis for the conversation needs to change. Congress needs to do its job. Education must not fall victim to micromanagement by political interests on either side of the aisle – if it does, our children are the ones who lose. Congress needs to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) and allow states the flexibility to manage K-12 education as long as there is a focus on improving teaching and learning.

With upcoming mid-term elections, the electorate has an opportunity to send our elected officials a message – do your job!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feedback is critical to success

Kentucky began implementing a new state accountability system in 2011-12. The system is called Unbridled Learning. It was built on the requirements of Senate Bill 1 (2009) and is used to meet both state accountability requirements as well as the federal requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education/No Child Left Behind Act.

The system has been very successful in pushing improvements in the percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for college and career. The system has also been successful in increasing high school graduation rates and the percentage of students who are ready for school when they enter kindergarten. We have also started to see significant improvement in areas such as ACT, grades 3-6 reading and math and closing of achievement gaps for several of our student groups.

While we have seen success in some areas, we have not improved in 7th- and 8th-grade math and language arts achievement and we have not improved as quickly as needed to close the achievement gap and boost student performance on high school end-of-course tests.

We originally committed to a three-year window for implementation of the Unbridled Learning model before we made any significant changes. School year 2013-14 completed that three year cycle and we are tentatively scheduled to share results publicly on October 2.

This summer, we began gathering feedback from our stakeholders so that, at the October Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, we could provide recommendations for any changes to the Unbridled Learning system. We have met with advisory groups representing students, parents, business, teachers, principals, school boards and numerous advocacy groups. We had an online tool for the public to provide feedback also. This week we gathered superintendents from all of our 173 school districts and provided them with the results of the feedback and polled the superintendents on their support for the numerous recommendations we had received.

What happens now? Next month, the KBE will review all of the feedback and the results of the superintendent survey on recommendations. Kentucky Department of Education staff will take direction from KBE on what changes need to be made to the accountability system and will modify existing regulatory language to reflect those changes.  In December, staff will present proposed revisions of the regulatory language for a first reading. Second reading of regulatory changes will occur in February and, if approved, the regulatory changes will start moving through the legislative review process. There are many opportunities for public comment along the way. If the revised regulation becomes law, the changes will not take effect until the 2015-16 school year. School districts will continue to operate under the existing Unbridled Learning accountability model for the 2014-15 school year.

This process sounds complicated and, at times, it can be confusing to teachers, parents, and administrators. However, it is critical to engage all stakeholders in gaining feedback. The strength of our Kentucky education improvements has been and will continue to be collaboration and communication with all stakeholders.

Kentucky education results will continue to improve as long as we listen to concerns from all groups and make improvements. Feedback and action on the feedback are critical to the success of our students, schools and districts, and meeting our goal of college/career-readiness of all students.