Friday, January 27, 2012

Highlights of 2011: From Development to Implementation

I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on the work accomplished during 2011, and I wanted to share some highlights with readers. The list below is by no means all-inclusive, but I hope you’ll agree that there was much accomplished in 2011.

There is a common thread running through the items on this list, and it’s that none of this could have been accomplished without the support and work of our superintendents, principals, teachers, school and district staff, education partners, parents, elected officials, state agency employees and citizens.

My thanks and praise to all of you who helped make Kentucky’s educational system better in 2011.

Student Learning and Achievement

January --  Kentucky’s 4th and 8th graders outscored the nation on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science tests. In fact, Kentucky’s scale scores were significantly above the national average.

February -- Kentucky’s overall scores moved up slightly in nearly all subject areas covered by the EXPLORE (8th grade) and PLAN (10th grade) assessments taken in the fall of 2010.

June -- data from the 2009-10 school year showed fairly stable nonacademic indicators for Kentucky's public school students.

August -- Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) data were reported for the first time, and for the 2009-10 school year, the statewide AFGR was 76.68 percent.

August -- overall results from the 2011 administration of the ACT to Kentucky’s public school juniors and public school graduates showed improvements in all subject areas and higher percentages of students ready for college-level coursework.

August -- at a special ceremony on the campus of the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD), the Kentucky Board of Education awarded diplomas to African Americans who were enrolled at KSD in the mid-20th century, but did not receive recognition for graduation.

September -- the number of Kentucky public high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) examinations and scoring at high levels continued to rise.

November -- the results of NAEP’s 2011 assessments in mathematics and reading showed that Kentucky's 4th graders and 8th graders made gains and outperformed the nation in some areas.

November -- the Commissioner's Raising Achievement/Closing Gaps Council (CRACGC) released Guidelines for Closing the Gaps for All Students, a new document that is designed to help parents and community members become engaged in their schools and districts and to focus on statutory and regulatory expectations related to achievement gaps.

Teachers and Leaders

February -- the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) received a two-year, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support implementation of the new Common Core Standards (CCS) by developing instructional strategies and tools in mathematics and literacy.

March -- the TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Kentucky Survey provided a unique, anonymous opportunity to gather information about school working conditions from Kentucky’s certified educators. Participation rates in Kentucky set a record for first-time response rates on similar surveys.

August -- a new 21st-century instructional tool called the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) was launched. CIITS is a searchable online database of Kentucky academic standards and student learning targets aligned and linked to high-quality instructional resources to help teachers as they implement the new Kentucky Core Academic Standards in mathematics and English/language arts.

September -- 54 Kentucky school districts are participating in a field test of the proposed Teacher and Principal Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. The proposed system will help define expectations of what it means to be an effective teacher and leader as well as providing support, assistance and resources to help all educators reach that goal.

College/Career Readiness

February -- I called on public school district superintendents and local board of education chairs to sign a pledge to improve college and career readiness in their high schools. All of Kentucky’s school districts signed on to the “Commonwealth Commitment to College and Career Readiness” pledge, reinforcing their commitment to the mandates of 2009’s Senate Bill 1.

June -- a new, free advising toolkit, Your Future Ahead, will help districts keep students in school, better prepare them for postsecondary options and increase the number of students that are college/career ready.

June – the Kentucky Board of Education agreed to include an additional half-point of credit to schools and districts for each student who is deemed both college- and career-ready. This half-point would apply toward a school’s or district’s overall college/career readiness percentage.

August -- the Kentucky Board of Education agreed on a definition of career readiness, for which students are considered career-ready if they meet benchmarks for one requirement in the Career-Ready Academic area and meet one requirement in the Career-Ready Technical area.

Work Around 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1)

August -- Kentucky, along with other states, called for greater flexibility in implementing the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and the U.S. Department of Education (USED) responded. USED announced that President Barack Obama approved the development of a waiver request process to enable states to ask for flexibility in implementing the requirements of NCLB during the 2011-12 school year.

August -- the Kentucky Board of Education took final action on 703 KAR 5:220, the state regulation related to school and district accountability recognition and support, and 703 KAR 5:230, the state regulation related to next-generation instructional programs and support.

September -- an $8.8 million, three-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support teachers and students in 12 school districts. This “Integration Grant” supports the integration of several critical streams of work – measures of effective teaching, implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the development of innovative tools and resources to help teachers deliver instruction. 

September -- I shared the stage with President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as they announced how states could get relief from provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind Act (ESEA/NCLB) in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college-and career-ready.

November -- KDE submitted the state’s application for flexibility under ESEA/NCLB. The application proposed using Kentucky’s new accountability model in place of the NCLB model for schools and districts.

December -- Kentucky was awarded a federal Race to the Top grant of $17 million to advance targeted K-12 reforms aimed at improving student achievement. The funding will be used to implement professional development and resources and expand Advanced Placement offerings.

December – the Kentucky Board of Education gave final approval to state regulation 703 KAR 5:070, which is related to the inclusion of special populations in the state-required assessment and accountability programs. The board also approved state regulation 703 KAR 5:240, which administrative guidance and reporting processes for the state’s new accountability system.

School Improvement

February – the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force presented its final report, which included recommendations to strengthen all areas of public education.

April – the Kentucky Board of Education approved the selection of external management organizations, as enabled by KRS 160.346 for assistance to low-performing schools

May -- the Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools, or ASSIST, can be used for the required Comprehensive School and District Improvement Planning (CSIP/CDIP) process that has been mandated for nearly 20 years.

October -- an additional 19 schools were identified as “persistently low-achieving” and began receiving support from KDE to help improve student achievement. Data show that 90 percent of the schools identified as “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools — Cohort One” demonstrated statistically significant increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient or distinguished in math and reading.

Communications and Outreach

May -- KDE formally entered the realm of social media with the launch of the agency’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

August -- Kentucky on iTunes U provides the state’s teachers, students, parents and communities with free, state-specific curriculum and instruction resources for users, including school districts and other Kentucky providers.

October -- I hosted KDE’s first-ever Twitter Town Hall, which was designed to capture questions from Twitter users and provide real-time responses.

October -- KDE released the Campus Mobile Portal app, which allows parents, guardians and public school students access to grades, attendance information and more.

December -- Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson and I started a 10-city tour to promote education improvement in Kentucky. The theme of our tour was that education drives employment, and employment drives the economy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

“Quality Counts” and Tough Fiscal Realities

Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal for the next two fiscal years contains both bright spots and harsh realities for Kentucky’s public schools. The primary source of state funding – SEEK – would not be cut, but it also will not increase to parallel enrollment growth. The governor’s proposal calls for expanding preschool funding, but school systems would see decreases in other program-area funding.

You can see Gov. Beshear’s budget proposal at

As we steel ourselves for probable funding cuts and shortfalls, it was incredibly heartening last week to receive some positive news in the form of Education Week’s “Quality Counts” issue.

The annual report, which grades all states on key education indicators, showed Kentucky making its highest overall score in the past five years, earning a C+ with 78.6 points (U.S. average, 76.3) and making a dramatic jump in ranking from 24th to 14th overall. Access the full report here.

Education Week uses six indicators to rate a state’s education performance: Chance for Success; K-12 Achievement; Standards/Assessments and Accountability; Transitions and Alignment; Teaching Profession; and School Finance.

As the following highlights show, Kentucky fared well in four out of the six areas, with letter grades above or near the national average:

• A- (ranked 20) for standards, assessments and accountability, compared with the average state score of B
• B- (ranked 5th) for teaching profession, compared with the average state score of C
• B- (ranked 14th) for transitions and alignment, compared with the average state score of C+
• In K-12 achievement, Kentucky scored on par with the average state score of C-, ranking 13th.

The grades and rankings are a testament to our hard-working teachers, administrators, community members and elected officials. But a great deal of the credit also is due to 2009’s Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), which led us to undertake an overhaul of our standards, assessment and accountability system and increase our focus on college/career readiness for ALL Kentucky students.

This legislation set Kentucky on a course to become a leader nationwide, and with the support of Gov. Steve Beshear, legislators, teachers, administrators and parents, Kentucky’s work in school accountability, teacher training, college/career readiness and stronger academic standards is moving us in the right direction.

Certainly, this report validates that. I know as we fully implement our new standards and assessment system, we will see even more positive changes in our schools and for our students.

Are we done yet? No. Not by a long shot.

As the “Quality Counts” shows, Kentucky lags behind when it comes to chances for success for Kentucky students. The state ranks 36th in that area. We recognize that is not where we need to be; it is the exact opposite of what SB 1 mandates – that ALL Kentucky children be prepared to succeed in college or careers.

As I reviewed the 2012 report, I saw some key areas that need improvement, so that in 2013 or 2014 we can celebrate placement in the top ten of all states on the “Quality Counts” report.

For example, Kentucky must improve its 8th-grade NAEP mathematics scores, its high school graduation rate and its Advanced Placement scores. We must reduce achievement gaps for low-income students. We must improve our teacher evaluation system, provide more rigorous training and offer incentives and resources to our classroom teachers. And, we must strengthen our per-pupil funding so that it is within 90 percent of the national average.

That is why it is critical that we move forward implementing the new standards and measures that have grown out of SB 1. Implementing these changes and having them take hold will take time, but we must continue to stay the course if we are to reverse historical underachievement.

I know implementing the requirements of SB 1 will be difficult at a time when we are seeing dwindling resources for instructional materials, Family Resource/Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs), extended school services, professional development and jobs. That is why I have been advocating at three-pronged approach that looks at productivity and efficiency; redirection of dollars; and a call for additional sources of revenue. Kentucky must implement strategies related to these items so that we can improve our standing nationwide.

At the same time, however, I do not want to lose sight of the gains we have made. We should take the time to note and celebrate them. It validates our decisions and work, and it gives us the strength as we move ahead to take on even greater challenges.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Closing the Achievement Gap

NOTE: This posting was originally published in October 2011. It is being posted again in honor of the holiday recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

Last Sunday as I was returning from the airport, I listened to the CNN coverage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial dedication. I listened to President Barack Obama’s remarks as part of the dedication ceremony, and I listened to the entire “I Have a Dream” speech played as part of the dedication.

I could not help but reflect on the past 50 years. As a student in a segregated school until 10th grade, I can vividly remember the activities around integration in our local school system. Then as a college student, I recall traveling with the Furman University band in Washington, D.C. during the riots in the late 1960s. Then as a teacher, I recall the integration of the Gaffney, South Carolina schools and the student walkouts and near-riots related to forced integration.

Throughout my 40-year education career, I have watched our nation and our schools struggle with issues related to integration and helping all children succeed. Our nation began the path toward equity with the Brown v. Board of Education case. One of the cases that was combined into the Brown case came from a school district in South Carolina (Clarendon 3). I visited that school district as part of a team assigned to support the school district in the 1990s. I was saddened to see that not much had changed. The system was still segregated. The public schools were almost 100 percent minority, and white parents sent their students to private academies. The local board was still controlled by local land owners who would not support raising taxes to adequately fund the needs of students.

This system and others were highlighted in a documentary that aired a few years ago called Corridor of Shame. President Obama even highlighted a student who had written about the need for improved schools in this area, and if my memory is correct, there were substantial changes to the school where she attended in a Dillon, South Carolina district.

All of this reflection comes back to a couple of core questions – are we providing equity in access and outcomes for ALL children? Have we closed achievement gaps? These are questions that certainly have clear answers based on the data across the nation and across Kentucky. Look carefully at the achievement gap data in your school and school district. Look carefully at the suspension and discipline rates for minority students in your schools. Look carefully at the percentage of minority students that graduate from high school that are college/career ready, attend postsecondary and graduate from postsecondary. How many minority teachers, principals, superintendents and board members serve in our local school districts?

Almost two years ago, I revitalized the Commissioners Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council (CRACGC). This council recently published recommendations to ensure equity in access and outcomes. The recommendations from the council will become a required component for a new group of schools and districts that will be identified as part of our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver request.

This new group of schools will be called “focus schools.” The Kentucky Department of Education will identify those schools that have the largest achievement gaps. These schools will be required to address achievement gap issues through school and district plans. Targeted interventions will increase with each year that the school or district does not meet targets to close achievement gaps.

My biggest fear is that, even with our best efforts through state accountability, a commissioner of education will be writing an article in another 40 years documenting that not much progress has been made ensuring equity of access and outcomes for ALL children.

What will the collective WE do differently over the next 5-10 years? The collective WE must involve communities in addressing poverty and access. The collective WE must address early childhood education, since that is where the gap can best be closed. The collective WE must address jobs and hope in our most challenged communities.

We cannot rely solely on teachers and schools to make a difference (we tried that with No Child Left Behind). We cannot mandate equity. Equity must be a belief that a community holds dear and then takes action to accomplish.

You are part of the collective WE. What will YOU do?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Teacher and Principal Effectiveness

A key requirement for states requesting a waiver for the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and for states receiving Race to the Top (RTTT) funds is the adoption, development and implementation of teacher/principal evaluation and support systems that improve the effectiveness of instruction.

Kentucky has been methodical in our development of the evaluation and support systems. Through the excellent work of the Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Steering Committees, we are very close to the field test of the multiple measures of the system and very close to the deployment of the support system (the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System, or CIITS).

I find it ironic that many states who received the first and second rounds of RTTT funding are struggling with development and implementation of the teacher/principal evaluation and support systems -- just this week I read of the struggles in New York ($700 million from RTTT), Tennessee ($501 million from RTTT) and Hawaii ($74.9 million from RTTT) -- while Kentucky has moved ahead with little to no funds available for the work. This is a remarkable testament to the dedication and collaboration between teachers, principals, parents, administrators and Kentucky Department of Education staff in focusing on students.

As we begin the field test of the teacher/principal evaluation system in February and roll out the formative assessment and professional development components of the CIITS system in coming weeks, I thought I would highlight the specifics of the NCLB waiver requirements with regard to teacher evaluation systems.

Highlights from ESEA Flexibility document from U.S. Department of Education, 9/23/2011

Principle 3: Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership – page 5

To receive this flexibility, an SEA and each LEA must commit to develop, adopt, pilot, and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that: (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction; (2) meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three performance levels; (3) use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth for all students (including English Learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluate teachers and principals on a regular basis; (5) provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions.

Student growth is defined on page 9 of the same document – the change in achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time. For the purpose of this definition, student achievement means grades and subjects required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3). State assessments of reading and math meet this requirement. Also, a local education agency (LEA) may use other measures of student learning such as pre-tests, end-of-course exams, performance-based assessments, student learning objectives, performance on English-language learner assessments and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.

The waiver requires the Kentucky Board of Education to adopt the guidelines for the evaluation system by June 2012. The full system must be in place by the 2014-15 school year. Our delivery plan currently has the field test in spring 2012, full state pilot in 2012-13 and statewide implementation in 2013-14. Districts will always have the option pursuant to KRS 156.557 to develop local evaluation systems that meet state education agency guidelines.

I want to personally thank the members of our Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Steering Committees for their hard work and dedication to students and professional growth of all certified staff in Kentucky.