Friday, November 30, 2012

Interesting Paradox

I was in Washington, D.C., attending two meetings this week. The first meeting was a convening of folks who were discussing the national landscape for teacher evaluation systems. The group was very interested in the work we are doing in Kentucky to integrate the implementation of Common Core Standards and teacher evaluation.

The second meeting I attended was the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). I am currently serving a four-year term on this group, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or the Nation's Report Card.

I was struck by the undercurrent at both meetings. All of D.C. is talking about the fiscal cliff and the potential impact not only on the economy, but on specific programs. What started as great hope for a resolution after the election has now turned into another stand-off between Democrats and Republicans.

It is paradoxical to me that in Kentucky and other states, we are talking about education reform and working hard to implement reform; however, we are looking at across-the-board cuts of 8-10 percent in federal funds. That reality came clear to me in the NAGB meeting when we discussed preparing for the 10 percent cut in programs and services for NAEP in 2013.

In the past, I have clearly communicated to superintendents the impact of sequestration of federal funds. It is time for local school officials to make direct calls to our congressional delegation to let them know that we need them to resolve this issue. Failure to resolve this issue means that school districts, when making employment decisions in the early spring, will be looking at significant staff reductions in all federal programs. 

This means a significant impact on education reform efforts across Kentucky and the nation. Our children deserve better than what Washington is currently offering.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Taking Stock of Unbridled Learning Results

The Unbridled Learning accountability results have been out for a few days now, and we are seeing lots of articles, board presentations, parent workshops and discussion about the accountability results.

Early reports seem to focus on the overall drop in proficiency (which was predicted) and the new emphasis by the state to provide a percentile rank for schools and districts. However, there has not been much discussion about the significant increase in the percentage of graduates who are college- and career-ready. This is somewhat disappointing, since college and career readiness is the underlying principle for the accountability model and was the key requirement from 2009’s Senate Bill 1.

Other key issues we are hearing about include the usefulness of the tools provided. While there are massive amounts of data in the new School Report Card, schools are reacting very positively to the data being in one place and the user-friendly nature of the School Report Card. The report card gives a quick and easy snapshot of performance of schools and districts and also provides a multilevel, complex view of the components that make up the overall score for schools and districts. 

The percentile rank system has been well received by most, since it provides an easy way to understand how your school/district performance compares to other Kentucky schools. This percentile system is similar to what parents receive from testing reports. Parents may not understand the test score from the state or national test; however, they do understand and want to know how their child's performance compares to other children across the state and nation.

The release of the accountability model has also given the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on concerns with the model. Among these concerns are:
  • complexity of the system
  • science and social studies scores -- too high, compared to math and reading
  • comparisons with national assessments
  • understanding student growth
  • understanding student gap group results
  • perceived lack of consequences for low-performing schools

KDE will share these concerns and others as we present the Unbridled Learning accountability results to the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) at the December board meeting. Most of these concerns can be addressed by clarification of the model and how the results are reported.

There will be those that call for immediate action to address concerns. I want to close with some of the state and national issues that will certainly impact any immediate or long-range changes to the model.

The Kentucky Board of Education has certainly stated a clear intent to improve the accountability model as we get feedback from the field. The first issue we must consider is that schools and districts entered the 2012-13 school year knowing the "rules of the game" for accountability, and we should not change the rules in the middle of the game. Therefore, I would recommend to KBE that no major changes be made to regulations governing the model until we have at least two years of data from the model. Also, we are governed by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver, and any changes to our accountability model would require federal review. Finally, all states are hoping for  reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind), which most certainly will impact the Unbridled Learning model.

As we close out November, parents across Kentucky now know if their child is on target to be college- and career-ready. From 3rd grade through 12th grade, every student and parent has the information to know the status of a trajectory to reach college/career readiness by graduation. This information provides students, parents and educators with the information needed to take action to ensure more of our students reach college/career readiness and have a positive impact on the economy of Kentucky.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Improvement in College and Career Readiness

In 2011, I challenged all superintendents and school board chairs to sign the Commonwealth Commitment to College and Career Readiness. Prior to this, Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) President Bob King had gotten the support of every public and private postsecondary president to also sign the commitment.

We had similar success in that all 174 superintendents and board chairs signed the commitment. We then began publishing the percentage of Kentucky graduates who met the CPE benchmarks for college/career readiness (CCR) with the class of 2010. The first report showed 34 percent of Kentucky graduates met the CCR benchmarks.

Fast-forward to the most recent release of CCR rates, and we find more than 47 percent of graduates met the CCR benchmarks. This is remarkable progress and means a lot to graduates and their families. 

The average size for a graduating public school class in Kentucky is estimated at 42,000. Using this estimate, we had 14,280 graduates who met CCR benchmarks in 2010, and we had 19,740 graduates meet CCR benchmarks in 2012. This means over 5,400 more students graduated ready to enter credit-bearing courses at any of our postsecondary programs or enter careers that pay a living wage. This represents a huge savings for students and families of over $5 million that they will not have to pay for remediation and developmental courses that do not give college credit.

This blog serves to highlight the early success of the Unbridled Learning accountability model. I want to provide recognition to those students, parents, schools and districts that are leading the way with CCR.

Top Ten Districts for CCR Percentages
Beechwood Ind.          88.8%
Ft. Thomas Ind.           70.2%
Hancock County          68.8%
Hickman County          77.6%
Oldham County           70.6%
Paintsville Ind.             74.1%
Pikeville Ind.                68.8%
Walton-Verona Ind.    79.8%
Williamstown Ind.       79.7%

Top Ten Districts for Growth in CCR Percentages
Augusta Ind.                33.7-point increase
Clinton County            32.8-point increase
Cumberland County    32.3-point increase
Danville Ind.                27.3-point increase
Eminence Ind.             34.7-point increase
Fleming County           25.7-point increase
Lee County                  25.3-point increase
Paintsville Ind. 2          9.1-point increase
Pulaski County             26.8-point increase
Wayne County             33.7-point increase

Congratulations to these districts. I also want to recognize the overall growth in CCR of the vast majority of our districts. This year, 100 districts met their CCR goals, and 46 districts improved by over 10 percent.

Check out the CCR map, and make certain to give a pat on the back to those schools and districts who are helping more students be prepared for their future.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Educational Progress Worth Celebrating

Sometimes when we’re in the midst of the hard work of improving schools, it is easy to forget how far Kentucky has come.

The state – all of us – has invested in better schools in the past two decades. And the investment is paying off in students who are better prepared than they have ever been.

Over the past 20 years, Kentucky has moved to the middle of states in academic achievement. We’re continuing to move upward. At the same time, other states that didn’t focus on schools like we did have moved steadily downward.

Kentucky’s progress is worth celebrating. Our educators deserve considerable praise for their effort, as do our elected leaders for staying the course on better schools.

But that course is getting tougher. While our students have been achieving far more, and while they look better when compared to students in other states, the rest of the world has not stood still. Indeed, students in a number of other countries have been achieving at far higher rates than students in the United States.

The world for our students is much different than it was just a few years ago. To be competitive for today’s jobs, young adults will have to command as much knowledge and skills as their peers not just in other states but those in other countries.

Today’s economy is global. What happens around the world – from energy prices to interest rates to technology breakthroughs – affects us quickly here. The Kentucky coal that used to be sold in our region now moves across the world; indeed, a new deal will ship $7 billion of Kentucky coal to India.

These days, the best predictor of individual economic success is the quality of his or her education. None of us has lived in a time where education has been so important, not just to individuals but also to communities and states. At least in Kentucky, we have come to understand and act upon that reality. This is why the state has adopted higher academic standards for our students and new tests to measure their progress.

Our goals have increased to reflect that new international reality. Instead of demanding proficiency in just the basics of education, we’re now expecting to get students to be ready to keep learning beyond high school; to have the knowledge and skills that make them ready for college or today’s workplace.

Our students are as smart as any in the world, and we are now expecting more of them. We didn’t do it arbitrarily. We did it because these are the standards of the world and we want Kentucky students to be competitive.

Now that we’ve released the first results from our new tests, we’re seeing that we have a ways to go. The numbers of students who had been distinguished or proficient went down. This isn’t because they aren’t making progress, it is because we are measuring them against higher standards. We’ve raised the height of the basket, lengthened the football field, made the golf course longer, pushed back the outfield fences.

It would certainly be more enjoyable for me to keep the tests the way they were and see more Kentucky students get higher scores. It also would be wrong. We do our students no favors when we tell them they are ready to succeed in the world when they are not.

And we want them to succeed.

We expected the test scores to be lower, and we’ve been saying so. But the scores are jarring nevertheless to students and their parents, to teachers and principals, to taxpayers and to elected officials.

The new test scores can’t be compared to the old ones; they measure different things.

But we know that we are making the kind of progress that matters – more of our students are leaving high school better prepared to succeed in the world. Our remediation rates in higher education are getting lower. Our ACT scores are steadily moving upward. We have moved increasingly closer to the national average, and I suspect we will surpass it in a few years if we continue to stay focused.

The scores we’ve released this week are lower than we want, but readiness is going up. And that is something Kentucky should be quite proud of.