Friday, August 19, 2011

Operation Preparation

This week, Kentucky was host to the annual release of ACT results. The annual data release is usually held in Washington, D.C. This year, ACT, Inc. wanted to highlight the national focus on college and career readiness.

When ACT staff called to ask me if they could coordinate the national release with our state release, they said Kentucky was one of the leading states in implementing the college and career readiness agenda in the nation. We chose the Jessamine County Career and Technical Center to highlight the work of Superintendent Lu Young and her community in implementing the Commonwealth Commitment for College and Career Readiness. While we did have to choose one location for the announcement, the location represented the tremendous work that all schools and districts in the Commonwealth are doing to implement the Commonwealth Commitment.

ACT President Jon Erickson highlighted the areas where the nation and Kentucky have improved and also offered several suggestions for improvement at the state and national levels. We were informed that, of the four states who have made significant progress on ACT results, Kentucky ranks second.

Rep. Carl Rollins and Sen. Ken Winters made remarks about the importance of Senate Bill 1 and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) legislation. Council on Postsecondary Education President Bob King also highlighted the legislative history and the tremendous partnership between P-12 and higher education in Kentucky.

As we celebrate the national-level attention that Kentucky is receiving due to Senate Bill 1 and the subsequent implementation of our Unbridled Learning strategic plan, I wanted to focus on why this is important to all Kentucky citizens. Senate Bill 1, while focused on education, was also the most important economic development legislation passed in recent history.

Why? Education equals employment, which in turn equals an improved economy. The research is very clear. A more-educated populace will mean improved opportunities for Kentucky citizens with health care, jobs that pay higher wages, less dependency on social programs, improved tax receipts and a safer community.

Senate Bill 1 also raised the expectations for ALL Kentucky children and improved the chances that ALL Kentucky children would receive an education that prepares them for their future. With our focus on administering the ACT to 100 percent of Kentucky public high school juniors, we have seen a dip in our overall scores. This was to be expected, as evidenced by the 11 other states that have more than 90 percent of students taking the ACT.

However, we are seeing slow and steady trends of improvement. The key number for me is the number of test takers in Kentucky. In 2008, we had 31,728 students take the ACT. In 2011, we had 46,428 students take the ACT. This is an increase of more than 14,000 students.

In 2008, slightly more than 6,000 students in Kentucky met all ACT college-ready benchmarks. In 2011, over 7,400 Kentucky graduates met ACT college-ready benchmarks. By assessing all students, we have discovered more than 1,400 students who are college- and career-ready and that normally would not have taken the ACT. As we continue to focus our college and career ready agenda on all children, we will continue to find more children who did not believe they had the capacity to attend college.

As we find more and more children who have the ability, we will need to find ways to support them academically and financially. A key support for these students is college and career advising. We announced a statewide project, Operation Preparation, this week. This is an effort to provide advising to all 8th and 10th graders in Kentucky during the week of March 12-16, 2012.

Our school counselors have a student-to-counselor ratio of one to over 500. It is impossible for our counselors to individualize college/career advising, so we are asking our many partners across the state to assist. We are asking PTAs, chambers of commerce, Workforce Investment Boards, higher education and business to assist in Operation Preparation.

While there are many details to work out with regard to volunteer screening and training, we are announcing the initiative now so volunteers can start planning their schedules. The Kentucky Department of Education will coordinate this project and provide a toolkit for implementation of Operation Preparation. Look for many more details in the near future.

It is our hope that volunteers across the state will dedicate an hour or two next spring to improve the future of the Commonwealth and the future of a child.

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