Friday, October 22, 2010

Closing Gaps – What Progress Has Been Made?

In 2002, there was much fanfare when the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was passed. Who could argue with such a lofty goal? The Kentucky legislature was working on similar legislation during that time that eventually led to passage of the “closing the achievement gap” bill, KRS 158.649.

Fast-forward eight years, and let’s see if we have made any progress at the national and state levels.

I recently read a report that compared National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in the last four decades. The report documented that we made significant gains in closing gaps during the ‘60s, ‘80s and mid-‘90s; however, we have made little if any gains in closing gaps since the passage of NCLB.

In Kentucky, we also have made some progress; however, the gaps remain very large. For 2010 testing, the combined reading/mathematics proficiency gap between all students and several student groups is as follows:
All to African American – 20 points
All to Limited English Proficient – 22 points
All to Students with Disabilities – 22 points

Regardless of the assessment (ACT, NAEP, Kentucky Core Content Tests, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills), the gaps are usually in the low to mid 20-point range.

While NCLB and the Kentucky legislation set the expectations and require action, I believe we have lost focus over the past few years. Last fall, I reconvened the Commissioner’s Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council. This group worked to develop several key recommendations. Those recommendations and brief highlights of our work in Kentucky follow.

Recommendation #1: Provide information about the overall academic and social status of Kentucky schools and districts in a format that is useful and accessible to the general public.
The Kentucky Board of Education is working to implement an accountability and report card model that will include more useful and accessible information to the general public. Recently, KDE released all assessment data and college/career readiness data with the new Open House link on the KDE Web page.

Recommendation #2: Ensure that all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnic background, disability or socioeconomic status, have access to a rigorous curriculum and get the support necessary to be successful in a rigorous curriculum.
With the passage and subsequent implementation of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, we have started the work on this recommendation. Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core Academic Standards. More than 1,000 teachers and principals are working monthly in a collaborative effort to develop a model curriculum framework that provides suggestions on the supports necessary for student success.

Recommendation #3: Create an environment of high expectations, with administrators, teachers and staff taking ownership for meeting the needs of all students.
This is the difficult recommendation. It is easy to establish the goals, the strategies, the curriculum, the supports and the rewards/consequences. It is quite something else to ensure EVERY district, EVERY school, EVERY classroom, EVERY parent, EVERY communication, EVERY teacher and staff member are committed to high expectations and ownership of meeting the needs of EVERY child.

You can see more details on these recommendations here, at the bottom of the page.

My biggest concern is that we tend to focus on the adults rather than the children. When looking at implementing practices that we know will close achievement gaps, we tend to focus on the reasons the adults are not able to implement the practices, rather than focusing on what the children need. I hope that we can do both, but we need to first focus on the children!

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