Friday, June 24, 2011

What’s the Rush?

It was another interesting week in Kentucky. Two years of hard work culminated in the release of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) guiding principles for next-generation accountability models and the request by Gov. Steve Beshear that Kentucky be allowed to utilize the Kentucky next-generation accountability model as a replacement for the out-of-date No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability model.

These activities met with a lot of support from teachers and administrators. The activities also were met with some skepticism. One statement that surprised me was a concern from a legislator that we were premature in our request. So, this blog provides a little background on why we are pushing hard to get a waiver approved before the start of the 2011-12 school year.

In April of 2009, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) began working very diligently to implement 2009’s Senate Bill 1. This bill required new standards, new assessments, a new accountability model and support for teachers. The deadline was the 2011-12 school year.

We have met the deadline with standards in English/language arts and mathematics, with science and social studies to come online within the next 12 months. We have met the deadline for assessments and the deadline for the accountability model. Over the past two years, we have provided multiple opportunities for feedback from teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and partners. Our work has been guided by the state assessment and accountability council and the national technical advisory panel. The Kentucky Board of Education has held numerous work sessions to receive and provide guidance on the development of the accountability model.

The next-generation student learning component is ready to go and will be implemented in 2011-12. The next-generation instructional programs and support (Program Reviews) will be implemented in 2011-12, with results from the Program Reviews added to the accountability scores in 2012-13. Next-generation professionals (effective teachers and principals) will be added in 2013-14, dependent on a statewide validity and reliability study.

Parallel to our state work on accountability, CCSSO has been working on Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization and the guiding principles for reauthorization and next-generation accountability models. The Kentucky work informed the CCSSO work and vice-versa. We have been very clear in numerous blogs, Fast Five e-mails, KBE meetings and stakeholder presentations that our first priority was reauthorization of ESEA; however, if ESEA was not authorized, we would move forward with a waiver request to replace NCLB accountability with the Kentucky model.

The Kentucky model is built upon the key components of NCLB (proficiency, graduation rate and gap). The Kentucky model adds the key components of student longitudinal growth and college/career readiness. The Kentucky model also is very innovative in adding the non-tested areas like art, music, humanities, career studies, practical living and writing through Program Reviews. The Kentucky model is an innovative model that is balanced and more rigorous in expectations than the NCLB model.

The announcement last week by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that he would entertain requests for waiver if Congress was not able to reauthorize ESEA gave us some sense of urgency. When CCSSO announced the release of the next-generation accountability model this week, we believed it was perfect timing for Kentucky to move forward.

In a nutshell – the following provide the basis for Kentucky moving forward with our waiver request:
* Senate Bill 1 required a new accountability model for 2011-12.
* The KBE has approved (after much feedback and discussion) the next-generation accountability model.
* Kentucky educators overwhelmingly support having one accountability model, rather than having both state accountability and national accountability models. Having two accountability models has been very confusing.
* Moving to the Senate Bill 1 accountability model will focus our work in Kentucky on preparing students for college and careers in addition to current focus of NCLB (proficiency and gaps).
Educators need to know the rules of the game (accountability) prior to the start of the game (beginning of school year).
* The federal NCLB law is clear that states may propose waiver requests. By being early in the process, Kentucky can propose components that make sense in this state, rather than having the U.S. Department of Education establish rigid guidelines.

In March 2010, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core Standards. The same critics came out then and said our decision was premature and risky. Since that time, 44 states have joined Kentucky in adopting the standards. The same critics have surfaced over the accountability model. They say Kentucky is being premature, and our actions are risky. This week, CCSSO announced that 41 states support the guiding principles upon which the Kentucky model was built.

The eyes of the nation are certainly on Kentucky; however, the topic of interest to me is the goal of increasing the percentage of college/career-ready graduates from 34 percent to 67 percent by 2015. Over the coming weeks, I will be asking our partners and educators across Kentucky to express their support of the next-generation accountability model. It is time for us to present a position of strength. We need to prepare our children for the jobs of the future, and the Kentucky accountability model will do just that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Teacher Evaluation for Growth

It was an exciting week for education in Kentucky. We started the week with a presentation to the Interim Joint Committee on Education. The major focus of the presentation was the work of the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee.

I asked this group to develop a teacher effectiveness model that would promote teacher growth, increases in student learning and a holistic approach to defining effective teaching. I met with the committee this morning to discuss the implications and challenges to their work thus far.

One document that the committee utilized to frame our discussion this morning was the National Education Association (NEA) position paper on teacher assessment and evaluation. This document provides several excellent points.

* Current systems of assessing, evaluating and supporting teachers too often fail to improve teacher practice and enhance student growth and learning.

* Current policy discourse about teacher evaluation is mired in a rewards-and punishment framework that aims to measure effectiveness of each teacher, categorize and rank teachers, reward those at the top and fire those at the bottom

* The core purpose of teacher assessment and evaluation should be to strengthen the knowledge, skills, dispositions and classroom practices of professional educators.

These guiding principles were very closely aligned with my original charge to the teacher effectiveness steering committee. I asked that group to develop a growth system that would promote the growth of teachers so they could enhance student growth and learning. Bottom line – I asked them to create conditions for a learning system for all (administrators, teachers and students) rather than a teaching system that focused on checklists and little feedback for growth.

The next steps are to recruit 50 of the 174 school districts to pilot the multiple measures that the teacher effectiveness system might include. These measures include such things as observations, self-assessment, professional development/growth plan, student voice, parent voice, peer feedback and, certainly, student growth. The 2011-12 school year 2011-12 will be a pilot year to gain confidence in the content and face validity of the multiple measures. In 2012-13, we will do a statewide pilot/validation of the system and, hopefully, be ready to implement the system in 2013-14.

We hope to include teacher and principal effectiveness as a measure in the state accountability model. At this time, we are not certain if legislation will be required. It has been our hope from the beginning that we would work collaboratively to build a model of teacher effectiveness that all districts, principals and teachers would want to support and implement. Only time will tell if we are successful in this effort.

Effective teachers and leaders are the most important parts of helping all children succeed. Our children’s future is at stake.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Listening to Educators

The Kentucky Board of Education received a summary of the results from the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky Survey this week. Over 42,000 educators responded to the survey. Kentucky had the largest first-year response rate of any other state utilizing the survey (more than 80 percent).

Board Chair David Karem and several other board members were very clear – “Given the enormous response to the survey, if we do not utilize the data from the survey, then we will make working conditions and morale worse in our schools and districts.”

It is time now to ensure that we not only listen to our educators, but we also enact policies, budgets and actions that will improve the working conditions in our schools. The research is very clear that the working conditions in our schools impact student learning and teacher retention.

The TELL Kentucky survey was developed and implemented by a strong coalition of partner organizations across Kentucky. For a full list of the partners, please go to This group did an amazing job of planning and implementing strategies that would ensure strong participation by educators across Kentucky.

The results speak for themselves. The coalition is now hard at work in focusing on how to utilize the results from the survey. The Education Professional Standards Board, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Association of School Councils and others are hard at working developing training modules and materials for school boards, superintendents, principals, school councils and communities. The Kentucky Department of Education will be working to implement policies and procedures to ensure schools and districts utilize the data to develop improvement plans.

It is our plan to provide the survey every two years and require schools and districts to target improvement areas from the survey results in their school and district improvement plans. We are very confident with the research base that if schools and districts improve working conditions, we will see increases in student learning outcomes, teacher/principal morale and teacher/principal retention rates.

Our educators have told us what they need in the way of support – our job as leaders is to now get busy in providing that support!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ships Passing in the Night

During my recent visit to China with the Asia Society and Council of Chief State School Officers, I was impressed with many of the efforts that are being made to improve education in China. However, there was one striking difference between Chinese education and American education reform efforts. I told my fellow delegation members that it seemed we were two ships passing in the night.

Chinese education has long been focused on exam results. Students in China have exams every semester during the nine years of compulsory schooling (ages 6-15). High school entrance exams are very intense. Scores on high school entrance exams can lead to three paths: key schools (better schools), vocational schools or dropouts. The key schools serve to better prepare students for the university exams, and the vocational schools focus on technical skills and jobs.

The Chinese college entrance exam dates back to 900 A.D., when it was used to screen for civil servants. It is expected that there will be five to seven percent of students prepared for university. (This is steadily increasing as the Chinese expand higher education.) About 30 to 40 percent of the high school graduates actually pass the entrance exam; however, space in the universities is limited, so many students go to work, and some go to technical colleges.

Chinese families really focus on the exam preparation of their child. (Chinese families are limited to one child.) Chinese teenagers do not date, spend 25 to 30 percent more time with studies than American teenagers and don’t work outside the home, and the teenagers understand that education is their JOB.

However, the focus in China is slowly changing. As we met with school and government officials, the constant theme of questions was focused on how American schools teach innovation, problem-solving and creativity. WOW! Even in Shanghai (top scorers on the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA), the focus was on providing students with more creativity options – like music and art – and providing students with more opportunities to conduct scientific experiments and solve problems that were of interest to them. It seems the Chinese ship is sailing in a direction away from complete focus on standardized test scores.

Readers recognize where I am headed here. Since 2001, the U.S. has focused heavily on test scores. Not a day goes by that we do not have editorials and national panels talking about the poor job we are doing in the nation due to our poor performance on test scores.

Our ship is sailing toward more focus on test scores. Our ship is sailing toward judging teachers and principals solely on the basis of test scores. Our ship is sailing toward elimination of art and music programs to focus more on getting students prepared for reading and math tests.

These ships do not have to pass in the night. There is a way that they can sail together. We must have some focus on accountability and measurement of student progress; however, we must find ways to assess and measure creativity, problem-solving and innovation. We must provide a more balanced assessment and accountability system.

I truly believe we are headed in that direction with Senate Bill 1 and the accountability model that is being developed in Kentucky. We do not have to make an either/or choice. We need not bow to the tyranny of “or;” we need to embrace the genius of “and.”