Friday, November 20, 2009

Assessments and Common Core Standards

This week’s blog begins a conversation on development of assessments to support the national common core standards.

The conversation about common core standards developed due to states coming together to address the concerns of many parents, legislators and business leaders about the wide variability in the academic standards across the states. The common comparison tool was the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The results of this assessment were used to correlate the level of proficiency on state tests compared to the NAEP level of proficiency. States that had large gaps were said to have lower standards.

In order to remove this debate, the states and National Governors Association (NGA) collaborated on the common core standards movement. If the debate on standards is valid, then it would seem to follow that states develop common core assessments. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has set aside $350 million for this work. The timeline for states to access this funding will probably include a March application deadline and funding availability in June 2010. Kentucky will certainly apply for this funding and be involved in this process. Our position is strong, since we will adopt the common core standards in February, and Senate Bill 1 requires our development of new assessments.

A couple of issues are coming up for discussion. One issue deals with consortia of states who might apply for funding to develop assessments. Why would we have five to ten consortia competing against each other when the final product should be a common core assessment available to each state? Why would we develop a national assessment and then continue to have NAEP administered? Is this not a waste of time and money? I would think that NAEP would need to be revised to match the expectations from the common core standards. Should the new assessment not be benchmarked against international competition? Should the assessments not include levels of formative assessment to help inform instruction?

The answers to these questions will drive the final product. The U.S. Department of Education is currently holding national feedback sessions prior to developing guidance for the application process for assessment dollars. As with any organization, it is what is measured that eventually gains the most attention.

Education is a national defense, moral, civil rights and economic issue. We must make certain that this assessment process has strong support from every stakeholder and that we can ensure the results are valid and reliable predictors of success for individual students, schools, school districts, states and our education system.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Future Educators Association: A “Grow Your Own” Program

The Future Educators Association (FEA) went statewide in Kentucky as result of House Joint Resolution 188 in 2002. The FEA has a long history in Kentucky in many school districts. Since the mid-1980s, Jefferson County has used this creative solution to teacher preparation. While working in South Carolina in the 1980s, I remember that the state used the Jefferson County model to create the Teacher Cadet program, which became a national model for getting students interested in becoming educators while in high school.

As I spoke to the group this week (there were over 1,000 students present), I was very impressed with their enthusiasm and team spirit. Many of the groups had special t-shirts and promotional materials for their schools. The students engaged in competitions, and the universities were present to recruit this outstanding group of young people.

Many research studies have shown that a school system will only be as successful as the quality of teachers in the classroom. The great school systems in the world recruit the brightest and the best to become teachers. If the group I saw this week at the FEA conference is any indication, we will have a terrific group of teachers in Kentucky in the coming years.

Through its support of FEA, Kentucky now holds the distinction of having the most chartered FEA chapters in the nation. This “Grow Your Own” program is very important to our future as a commonwealth. Thanks to all the sponsors, teachers, administrators, parents and students who support these terrific programs at middle and high schools in Kentucky.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kentucky’s Educational Cooperatives

Kentucky has a great network of regional education cooperatives. I have visited seven of the eight within the first few months of my new job and have the final visit scheduled for early December.

These cooperatives are established with the support of local superintendents to address purchasing, professional development, special education, business operations and other school district functions in a cooperative manner, which ends up being more effective and efficient than individual districts could manage. Many of the cooperatives also partner with colleges and universities to provide support for schools and districts. Also, a number of the cooperatives have federal grants that are substantial methods to help districts implement special programs for students.

I met this week with the directors of the cooperatives to discuss how we could partner to roll out Senate Bill 1 and federal Race to the Top initiatives. Our collaborative efforts would focus on cooperatives bringing teacher teams together to help the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) with key processes around standards and assessments required by Senate Bill 1 and Race to the Top. Also, cooperatives could assist KDE by partnering with regional universities to provide support for teacher, principal and superintendent effectiveness. In other words, cooperatives, through regional collaboration, could help provide professional development and support for teachers, principals and superintendents as we deploy the initiatives for Senate Bill 1 and Race to the Top. Finally, the cooperatives would be of great assistance in helping KDE address the number of schools and districts that may need assistance in improving student learning.

Our conversation ended with cooperative directors going back to their local superintendents and discussing the proposal that we find effective and efficient ways to partner to get the work done. Last week, I highlighted what a terrific partnership we have with the colleges and universities across Kentucky. I feel equally positive about the terrific leadership of our cooperatives. Given the challenging budget years we are facing, it is essential that we look to delivery models that reduce travel and provide support to build local district and school capacity. Frankfort cannot be the location for the solutions. The solutions happen when Frankfort collaborates with the great partners across the commonwealth.

P.S. -- In my blog last week, I neglected to include the University of Louisville (UofL) as one of our great partners. During a recent visit to Atkinson Elementary in the Jefferson County school district, I saw first-hand what a commitment UofL President Jim Ramsey, Dean Blake Haselton and the School of Education are making to support learning not only for children in the school, but also those students in the teacher preparation program.