Friday, January 15, 2010

Closing Achievement Gaps

During my first few months in Kentucky, there have been a number of initiatives spurring me, as Commissioner of Education, to act on certain concerns with education. One of these concerns is the persistent achievement gap in student learning. We have revitalized the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council. The council met this week and had a spirited conversation about the achievement gap in Kentucky. I wanted to highlight a few of the key learning items from the meeting.

What do the data tell us about the achievement gap?

- We learned that student academic success goes down the longer students are in school. In Kentucky and most states, any measure we look at will reveal that, as students progress through school, the average percentage of those proficient in mathematics, reading, social studies, science, satisfaction, discipline and other areas gets worse.
- We learned that we have reading achievement gaps for students with disabilities as high as 40 percent in high school.
- We learned that we have 20- to 30-point achievement gaps for African-American students in reading and math.
- We learned that Kentucky’s achievement gaps are close to the national average.

This issue was addressed by the Kentucky legislature in 2002 through requirements that districts and schools report achievement gaps, set goals to close achievement gaps and develop plans to close the gaps. The question then becomes, if we report the gaps, if we set goals and we develop plans, which schools and districts have actually closed gaps? KDE does have a process to highlight schools that have successfully closed achievement gaps, and last year, we highlighted 23 schools for their great work. However, we do not have a sufficient focus on this issue. We must confront the brutal facts and create a sense of urgency in the Commonwealth to close achievement gaps.

I will be communicating on this issue through many venues -- through our Race to the Top application, Senate Bill 1 deployment plans, the Kentucky Board of Education’s strategic plan and a revised state accountability model, we will be addressing the achievement gap.

Our council will reconvene in March and begin to develop specific recommendations for communication, accountability and sharing best practices. I have asked the council and the KDE staff not to think of this in the abstract. I have asked them to picture a specific child and focus their work on what they would do if that child were one of those who had a significant achievement gap.

The time for talk and planning are fast coming to an end. We have talked and planned for years without major changes in the results. It is now time for a focus on the children and for the future of our Commonwealth, and that focus will need strong leadership from superintendents and principals and strong support for our teachers. I have yet to meet anyone in Kentucky who does not want all children to be successful. The key is providing the support, resources and accountability to ensure all children reach success.


  1. The PTA will gladly collaborate in these efforts as we know that parental involvement is the key to a student's success. Without strong support from our parents then these initiatives will falter. Without communication about these efforts parents will fail to understand how important these changes will be and why these changes may impact their child. We have got to engage the parent that feels disconnected from education, feels left behind by technology, by changes in legislature, by a system that they feel (in some cases) has failed their children. We must include their voice and vision if we hope to achieve a sense of community ownership and close those gaps. We no longer can tell parents what will be done, we must listen to parents and partner with them about the best approaches to educating the children of the Commonwealth.

  2. I couldn't agree more. The only way we can move forward is with the support of parents and communities. Without that support, any efforts (no matter how well-intentioned or researched) will be wasted. I'm glad the PTA will join in as a full partner.