Friday, March 26, 2010

Focusing on Post-High School Life and Achievement Gaps

Recently, I attended the annual legislative meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in Washington, D.C. We spent time talking about our responses to the Blueprint for Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As Kentucky’s Education Commissioner, I took time while in D.C. to drop by the offices of our senators and met with Rep. Brett Guthrie, who serves on the House Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee where the ESEA will be reviewed. I wanted to personally let him and the committee members know of my support for several key components of the legislation reauthorization plan.

The two major components I support are the change of adequate yearly progress (AYP) from an all-or-none proficiency rate to a focus on more students graduating from high school who are ready for college and career. The other component is the continued strong focus on closing gaps between student groups.

In Kentucky, we have Senate Bill 1 and other legislation that focus our work on both of these goals. We are required to reduce the college remediation rate by 50 percent by 2014. This translates into more students graduating high school ready for college. Currently, the percentages of Kentucky high school juniors ready for college in the four areas measured by ACT - English, mathematics, reading and science – are low. The numbers range from more than 40 percent ready in reading to 16 percent ready in science, with fewer than 21 percent ready for college-level algebra.

The overall readiness is a concern, and the gaps also are a concern. If we look closely at the data, we find gaps between white students and other student groups. While we did receive some great news this week that our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores are improving, we continue to have large gaps between whites and other student groups.

This week, the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Committee met to work on possible recommendations for an accountability model that will focus Kentucky schools and districts on proficiency rates, growth rates and closing gap rates. The early work of the committee recommends a state report card that provides parents and other interested stakeholders with access to information that is easy to read, with depths of data about how well all student groups are doing with proficiency, growth and closing gaps on state assessments, graduation rates and college readiness rates. Hopefully, based on that data, schools and districts would then make certain that all of the student groups receive a focus on growth, proficiency and closing gaps.

The recommendations will be presented to the Accountability Task Force, various advisory councils and eventually to the Kentucky Board of Education. The Kentucky Department of Education is required to have a new accountability process in place by the 2011-12 school year. It appears that our work around readiness and closing gaps will align closely with the reauthorization of ESEA. These are exciting times in Kentucky.

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