Friday, December 20, 2013

A road map for moving forward

This week, the Interim Joint Education Committee received several reports. For me, two reports were of particular importance. 

The Advance Kentucky team provided an evaluation report for this outstanding program. Advance Kentucky team utilized the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics to answer several research questions including, “Does participation in AP Math, Science, and English courses impact high school success, college remediation rates, and college performance and persistence?” The research study came back with overwhelmingly positive results for Advance Kentucky. It is clear that, when compared to a peer group with similar demographics, Advance Kentucky students: 
     • graduate from high school at higher rates and with higher GPAs
     • show twice the gains from PLAN to ACT
     • go to college at higher rates and take far fewer remedial course 
        once in college
     • earn higher college GPAs as first semester freshmen and return at 
        higher rates second semester

A recent news release highlighted some of the great work that Advance Kentucky and our high schools are doing across the state. I hope a key learning point for the Interim Joint Committee was the return on investment for a program like Advance Kentucky. 

The General Assembly provides funding for a number of programs in Kentucky that are basically flow through funds through either the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) or the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). Given the continued decline of education funding, it is imperative that our General Assembly look closely at the return on investment of these programs. Some, like Advance Kentucky, are an excellent investment while others that have been funded for 20 plus years do not have the results to show a good return on investment.

Stu Silberman and the Prichard Committee presented a second report to the General Assembly. The Prichard Committee convened a task force on improving teacher effectiveness more than a year ago and the task force recently published a final report; an executive summary is also available. The task force report connects numerous efforts of the Prichard Committee, KDE, CPE, and Education Professional Standards Board in recommendations to the General Assembly. The task force report and recommendations provide an excellent road map in moving forward with recruiting and retaining excellent teachers in Kentucky.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner

NOTE:  I plan on taking some time off over the holidays, so, I will not post a blog for the next two weeks. My blog will return on January 10. Hope you and yours have a great holiday and a happy new year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Perfect Storm Slowing Down

This week, we had some potentially good news from Washington D.C.  Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan announced a budget deal that hopefully would delay, or at least minimize, the impact of federal sequestration on schools across the nation. Federal sequestration is one part of the perfect storm that’s brewing for Kentucky education that I have been describing in recent blogs.

Sequestration would impact Kentucky schools through a $58 million cut to programs like Title I, Title II, IDEA and others. These programs serve our most at-risk children. The cuts would lead directly to the loss of teachers and teaching support positions -- more than 1,300 positions in Kentucky could be cut.

So far, there is at least a possibility that we might avoid this. The House of Representatives voted 332-94 to send the budget deal (H.J. Res. 59) to the Senate for consideration. Once Congress passes the budget resolution, as is expected, there are still several steps that have to happen. The budget moves to the House and Senate appropriations committees where there will be substantial discussion about how to divvy up the funds among federal agencies and programs and how much each should receive. Bottom line – there are many potential pitfalls ahead before the federal budget deal results in an actual allocation of funds to school districts.

The other two parts of the perfect storm – the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust (KSBIT) fund settlement and the state budget continue to develop. During our superintendent’s monthly webinar today (December 13), Commissioner of Insurance Sharon Clark provided the latest progress on the school boards insurance trust.

If everything remains on track, it appears we are moving toward resolution of two components of the perfect storm – KSBIT and federal sequestration.

Our remaining challenge is the state budget. Many news articles across the Commonwealth are quoting legislators concerning state revenues and spending plans for the next two years. Most of the news is not positive for advocates of education funding. I hope readers will pay close attention to the local and state discussions. If you need additional information about the state budget and the loss of education funding since 2008, as well as the growing inequity of our state education budget for local districts, please check out this presentation that I made to Kentucky Association of School Superintendents on December 8.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Perfect Storm is Brewing

In 1990, the Kentucky General Assembly took bold action to reform P-12 education. Through passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), the General Assembly agreed to invest in education and to implement numerous policies and actions that would raise student achievement. At the time, Kentucky was one of the bottom two or three performers among states.

Fast forward 23 years, and we now see Kentucky at or above national average on many measures of student achievement. KERA worked due to the bold vision of the General Assembly and the tremendous work of Kentucky educators.

In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly again took bold action to reform P-12 education. With the passage of Senate Bill 1, the General Assembly pushed P-12 education toward a higher goal of college- and career-readiness for all students. While KERA had focused on basic academic performance, Senate Bill 1 now focused on college/career-readiness and national/international competitiveness of our Kentucky graduates. Senate Bill 1 has worked as evidenced by increased college/career-readiness rates and graduation rates.

With KERA, there was a significant investment in funds. Programs like Extended School Services, preschool, professional development, teacher salaries, school-based decision making councils, Family and Youth Resource Service Centers, textbooks, and technology received significant dollars through the state budget.

With the passage of Senate Bill 1, there were no additional dollars provided for standards development, assessments, accountability, professional development, textbooks, technology, or student support services. The clear message from the General Assembly was educators had the funding they needed in existing budgets. However, no one dreamed that throughout the next four years the General Assembly would have to greatly reduce funding for public education due to the recession.

Basically, the General Assembly has not been able to honor the commitments made through KERA or Senate Bill 1 due to the recession and lack of economic recovery. How deep have the cuts to education been?

Since the 2008 session of the General Assembly, the per pupil amount has dropped by $33. In FY 2009, the General Assembly provided $2,461,236,248 for basic SEEK funding; the amount in FY 2013 was $2,397,016,693. The General Assembly has allocated $64,219,555 less during a time that our Average Daily Attendance has increased by more than 10,000 students.

KERA provided Flexible Focus Funding for professional development, preschool, textbooks, safe schools, and extended school services. Since the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2009, funding for professional development has been reduced by more than $9 million, safe schools have been reduced by more than $6 million, extended school services have been reduced by more than $19 million, textbooks have been reduced by more than $21 million, and preschool has been reduced by $3.8 million. In FY 2008, Flex Focus Funds totaled $154,099,600; in FY 2013, it was $93,143,900 -- a total reduction of $60,955,700.

KERA also established a strong focus on technology. In the last four years, we have seen a reduction in excess of $8 million in basic support for the technology infrastructure and the loss of a $50 million bond that helped districts purchase technology equipment.

The impact on education has been significant. In the last three years, we have lost more than 1,800 teachers due to budget cuts.

Local school districts have had to rely on local property taxes to offset some of the state cuts. In FY 2009, local support for education totaled $825,184,656. In 2013, the amount had increased to $872,904,155. This was an increase of $47,719,499 from local sources which rely heavily on property taxes. The net result is that the state is pushing more of the cost of public education on to local property owners. This means that we are seeing a growing gap in equity of funding between school districts. The gap between the school district with the highest funding per pupil and the school district with the lowest funding per pupil in FY 2009 was $8,719. By FY 2013, the disparity had increased to $11,338. This means that the highest funding school district has on average more than $250,000 per classroom to provide a high quality education.

The significant reduction in state funds is only one part of the perfect storm that is brewing. In the spring of 2014, our school districts will have to deal with the budget cuts from federal sequestration – an estimated $57 million in cuts to programs like Title I, special needs students, migrant students, and other at-risk student populations. Estimates of the loss in positions are around 1,300.

Finally, our school districts will see the other part of the perfect storm as they budget for 2014-15. The Kentucky School Board Insurance Trust settlement will happen in the next few months and will place another $50-60 million cost on our districts. Districts will have to borrow money to pay these assessments. To repay the loans, districts will have to take money out of their operating funds that normally would be used to hire staff and provide support services for students.

The perfect storm is certainly brewing in Kentucky education. The only possibility for our school districts is to seek restoration of state funds since we see little hope coming from the federal level of any type of resolution to federal budget and sequestration cuts.

Educators and parents all across Kentucky have come to together to focus on restoration of education funds during the 2014 General Assembly. Failure to see funds restored will result in significant layoffs for the 2014-15 school year. Parents will see the impact in larger class sizes and less support for children who are struggling. Kentucky will see declining graduation rates, higher dropout rates, fewer children reaching college- and career-ready requirements, and negative impacts on social, health, and juvenile justice programs. I hope readers will let their voices be heard.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Easy standards and tests don’t help students reach college/career-readiness

Last week, I attended the annual Policy Forum of the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee delivered a wonderful speech about the importance of the arts in a balanced education.

Also, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a question and answer session with chiefs from more than 30 states. Secretary Duncan, in response to a question about the rising tide of criticism about the Common Core State Standards, said he was surprised that “soccer moms” from affluent schools were pushing back on tests over the new standards because the results showed their students may not be performing at the levels they had been used to. This comment seemed very reasonable and factual in context, however, immediately the social media universe exploded with the “soccer mom” comment. From my point of view, the real issue runs much deeper.

For years, SAT and ACT data have told us that many students who graduate from high school are not ready for college-level work or to enter a career. “Not ready” means that students who graduate from high school have to take remediation classes in college -- classes that cost parents and students a lot of money and for which students do not receive credit. Students who graduate from high school college/career-ready are more successful in college/career. They have a significantly higher GPAs their freshman year in college, complete more credit hours and are more likely to return for a second year than those students who are not college/career-ready.

The Kentucky General Assembly recognized all of these issues when it passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009 and required higher education and K-12 education to work together to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college-ready by 50 percent by 2015. When we started measuring in 2010, the percentage of high school graduates who achieved college/career-ready status was 34 percent. The Class of 2013 had improved to 54 percent. We are well on our way to reaching the goal of 67 percent by 2015.

The work to help students reach college/career-readiness begins with early childhood programs and continues through the K-12 experience. Students cannot wait until high school to start working toward reaching college/career-ready standards. With that understanding, Kentucky and other states changed state testing to be more aligned with the results from SAT and ACT. Kentucky aligned tests in grades 3-8 so that parents will know every year whether their child was on target to reach college- and career-readiness.

What Secretary Duncan was addressing was the pushback in New York from parents who did not like hearing their elementary and middle grade students were not achieving at the highest levels. Parents were upset that in previous years, their child had been “exceptional” on state tests but under the new state tests, their child may be at the “needs improvement” level. I believe many parents do not understand the simple message that we’ve intentionally raised the bar on state tests and from the 3rd grade, the results provide a clear indication of student progress toward college/career-readiness. We know these new tests are good predictors of the percentage of students who will graduate from high school college/career-ready because the tests are aligned to the SAT and ACT results that we have seen for many years.

My concern is that much of the national debate is focusing on the politics of common core, rather than helping children reach higher expectations. I believe that every parent wants their child to succeed and reach college/career-readiness. Our challenge as educators is to communicate in ways that parents can understand and fully support parents in helping their child reach this goal.

While Secretary Duncan’s remarks may have been taken out of context, I know that his intention is to help more students reach college/career-readiness so the students will be competitive in the global job market and our national economy will remain the top economy in the world. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

High School Feedback Reports

This week, the annual High School Feedback Reports were released for the graduating class of 2010. Kentucky has been recognized nationally for these excellent reports. I wanted to send a “tip of the hat” to Charles McGrew and his team at the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics for a job well done. This is a great resource and I encourage all of our districts and schools to analyze the data and use it to strengthen their programs.

I did a quick review and found several interesting points.

                – 60% of graduates enrolled in postsecondary – 
                    about 27,000 graduates
                43% of these students enrolled in 4-year public, 
                   38% enrolled in 2-year, 13% enrolled in independent, 
                   and 9% enrolled out-of-state schools

Students who achieve college-ready status are more successful in college.

College-Ready Students
Non College-Ready Students
First year credit hours earned
Return for 2nd year of college

Obviously, our focus on college readiness will pay huge dividends for students’ college success.

As a follow-up to the reports, Charles sent out the following information that I wanted to share with you.

The Center just released new 2013 High School Feedback Reports and we need your help getting the word out. Our supporters have always been critical to helping us get these kinds of data into the hands of people who need them. Please forward this to anyone else you think would be interested. If you are part of an organization, please send it to your membership and e-mail lists and feel free to include it in any newsletters or other publications. You can find all of the reports at this link:

Kentucky is known for providing college going data to its high schools and districts but this report is special. For the first time we break through the idea that getting people to enroll in college is enough and delve into how well they actually do when they get there. College enrollment is an important step but they also need to earn passing grades and complete enough college hours so they are progressing toward a degree or other credential. For the first time we are able to show some of these metrics.

Key Findings
There was a minor decrease in the college-going rate for the 2010-11 high school class but the actual number who graduated and enrolled in college increased. More than 60 percent of our 2010-11 public high school graduates attended some form of higher education in 2011-12. Considering that Kentucky is a state where only one out of every five adults aged 25 and older has a bachelor’s degree or higher the fact that three out of five of our high school graduates go to college is an impressive accomplishment but it is only the first step. We want students to be successful after they get there. We followed the previous class into their first year of college and reported back on their GPAs, how many hours they earn, and whether or not they returned for their second year. The majority who attended college for their first year did return for a second year but only 15 percent completed a full year of college level credit (30 or more hours) meaning that 85% were no longer on track to complete their degree or credential “on time.”

Adding in the performance information helps to illustrate how important it is for students to be ready for college-level work. The average first year college GPA for students who weren’t assessed as ready for college-level coursework was just above passing (2.01). Those same students earned less than half of a year of college level credit (14.4 credit hours) during that first year.

One of the more interesting and I think potentially useful sets of information for schools is the comparison between high school and college grades on page 5 of the report. In addition to general GPA comparisons, we were able to provide a comparison of math, English, and science grades during these graduates’ senior year of high school and their first year of college. This is a rough indicator of alignment between high school and college expectations and we think it will allow schools to dig deeper into questions about how well students are prepared for the expectations of college. This is one of our first efforts to not just indicate that there may be a problem if the college going rates were too low but to also provide some basic information about where to start looking for areas to improve.

This is a considerable amount of data in each of the reports. We already have technical notes on the webpage for this report but we are in the process of developing some additional instructional materials to help people understand and use the information. We are always looking for opportunities to better inform people about the information we generate. If you have a meeting or retreat or other opportunity where we could talk to your organization we would appreciate that opportunity.

Our goal is never to just create the data and reports – it’s to make sure the information is used to help improve our education, training, and workforce programs in Kentucky. Please contact me with any questions or let us know if you would like us to meet with you or any of the groups you represent.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner

Friday, November 8, 2013

What's Next for Program Reviews

Recently, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released the first report on Program Reviews for arts and humanities, practical living/career studies and writing programs. These Program Reviews were required by Senate Bill 1 (2009) to be included as a part of the Unbridled Learning accountability system. For more information about the results from the Program Reviews, please see the news release.  I thought readers might want to know a little more about Program Reviews and what comes next.

Why do we have Program Reviews? Senate Bill 1 wanted to ensure that Kentucky children have access to a balanced education. A balanced education includes core academic areas (math, language arts, social studies and science) and areas such as arts/humanities, practical living (health and physical education), career studies, writing, world language and K-3 programs. Kentucky has had a vision of a balanced education since the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act and Senate Bill 1 continued that vision. Children are much more than test scores and test scores do not tell the entire story about a class, school or district. As a former high school band director, I am very proud that Kentucky includes an emphasis on the arts in the state accountability system.

What are Program Reviews? Program Reviews are systemic reviews of a program area that includes components such as curriculum, instruction, student assessment/performance, student opportunities and access, professional development and resources. In Kentucky, we worked with many education groups and educators to develop scoring rubrics for each of the components.

How valid and reliable are Program Reviews? Any component of an accountability system must be able to answer this question. All Program Reviews go through an extensive process of piloting and field testing before becoming part of the accountability system. Extensive research is done to address questions about validity and reliability. However, now that the “real world” results are in for the first year of inclusion in the accountability system, we are taking several steps to continue to address validity and reliability issues.

     1. KDE will initiate an audit process that was developed during the 
         last two years. This audit process will include a number of 
         random schools as well as “purposeful” schools. Purposeful 
         schools will be chosen by comparing other school data to 
         the Program Reviews scores for outliers.

     2. KDE will start a research project to determine connections 
         between quality programs and their impact on student 
         achievement. Writing tends to work best since there is a    
         writing achievement score and a program review score, 
         however, we have to be cautious in this approach since 
         the writing scores are derived from either on-demand 
         writing or language mechanics. A successful writing program 
         addresses more than these two areas. In arts/humanities and 
         practical living, KDE will make some connections between 
         overall scores and Program Review scores.

     3. KDE will work to find model programs that school staff 
         can use to assist their local scoring. Schools and districts 
         would use these exemplars just like examiners use
         exemplar writing papers in training and calibrating scores. 

     4. KDE will continue to upgrade training on the rubric 
         and the scoring process.

     5. Districts will receive support and training on how to 
         conduct local audits of Program Reviews.

Within the next few weeks, KDE will update the Unbridled Learning accountability scores for schools and districts to include the results from the 2013 Program Review results. KDE will then reset the 90th percentile and 70th percentile scores for schools and districts which will serve as the baseline for comparing accountability results in 2014. Readers can find the results of their school and district Program Reviews in KDE Open House.  The revised accountability scores and targets for schools and districts will be posted in the School Report Card later this month. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Budget cuts impacting our children's future

Last week I told you about naming this year’s Next-Generation Student Council, a group that I started a few years ago. This group represents students across Kentucky. I meet with them in person or virtually three or four times a year. The group is always energetic and they have tremendous ideas on how to improve public education. 

We had our initial meeting for 2013-14 this week and we discussed a multitude of issues. One issue that I asked students to respond to was concerning budget cuts. I asked students if they had observed the impact of state education budget cuts in their school or district. Here are some of their responses.

• "The fees for my science club went up from $30 to $90 this year
   since the school and district were no longer able to support the
   club due to state budget cuts."
• "I have a cousin who is a special education student who lost his
   teacher assistant this year due to budget cuts. My cousin is
   having a difficult time in class since he does not have the assistant
   to help."
• "Our school eliminated several science classes. My school no longer
   offers physics due to budget cuts."
• "My school eliminated several extracurricular clubs due to
   budget cuts."
• "My school eliminated several art and music classes due to
   budget cuts."
• "My school lost a full time librarian due to budget cuts."
• "Our computers are slow and the school has no funding to
  replace them."
• "Our internet at school is slow and there is no money to increase
• "Class sizes are larger at my school due to budget cuts."
• "My school does not have funding to offer several math and science
   classes that I need for my future career."
• "Our school district told my school they had to increase class size
   due to budget cuts."
• "Our school district eliminated funding for small classes and told our
   school to focus more on general education classes that have larger
   enrollment. I lost several classes I needed for my career interest."
• "Students in our automotive technology class lost their instructor
   and had to take another class. My principal said these students
   would not be able to meet career-ready requirements since
   they lost the automotive class."
• "My calculus textbook is falling apart and teacher says we cannot
   get replacements due to budget cuts."

It was very painful for me listen to the reality of budget cuts in our schools. I know our Kentucky teachers and administrators are doing an amazing job every day – the results certainly show the tremendous progress we are making. However, it must be very discouraging to our teachers who are taking money out of their own pockets to support what children need in their classrooms. It is also discouraging to students and parents who often have to raise funds in order to provide for basics like school supplies and technology. The most depressing statement comes from the student who is unable to fulfill his/her dreams of being a scientist or an automotive engineer because the school was not able to offer classes the student needed to meet college and career ready expectations.

The Kentucky Association School Superintendents and the Kentucky School Boards Association are urging local boards of education to pass a resolution (see sample) and submit it to elected officials highlighting funding concerns. To date, 66 boards have done so. The Kentucky Education Association has launched the “Raise Your Hand” campaign in support of local schools. There is a growing grass roots movement across Kentucky to restore funding to education. I hope readers will join the effort.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

It is extremely important for any organization to have listening processes to ensure the “voice of the customer” is heard. The Kentucky Department of Education utilizes advisory groups, surveys, focus groups, and other methods to ensure we are listening to the voice of the customer. For a complete listing of the advisory groups that I utilize as Commissioner of Education see this webpage.

One of the most important customer voices is that of students. A few years ago, I asked the team at KDE to develop a Next-Generation Student Council to ensure that I had a cross-section of Kentucky students to bounce ideas off of and to hear directly from students what their concerns and ideas were to improve education in Kentucky. KDE sent out a news release this week highlighting the membership of the Next-Generation Council. I am excited about the opportunity to talk directly to students and to hear their ideas.

Six Kentucky public high school students have been named to the Next-Generation Student Advisory Council, a group that provides input to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.

The newly-selected members will serve for one year.
·         Nolan Calhoun – 10th grade, Grant County High School
·         Zachary Creekmore – 11th grade, Whitley County High School
·         Jiahui Hu – 12th grade, DuPont Manual High School, Jefferson             Co.
·         Karson Johnson – 10th grade, Marshall County High School
·         Deanie Pedigo – 10th grade, Barren County High School
·         Quincy Penn – 11th grade, Frankfort High School, Frankfort                   Ind.

The students were selected for the council based on their responses to application questions. A committee of department staff reviewed the applications and scored them on how well each student expressed his or her ideas and goals.

The six new members join five returning members on the council.
·         Vincent Cao – 12th grade, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School,               Fayette Co.
·         Morgan Casto – 12th grade, Russell High School, Russell Ind.
·         David Hormell – 12th grade, Martha Layne Collins High School,            Shelby Co.
·         Tiffany Parham – 12th grade, Murray High School, Murray Ind.
·         Guyron Spalding – 12th grade, Bardstown High School,                             Bardstown Ind.

The purpose of the council is to provide valuable feedback from Kentucky students and to engage student leaders in learning by doing. This group will meet with the commissioner and Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) staff, both in person and virtually, to discuss how decisions made at the state level are affecting public school students throughout Kentucky and will provide feedback -- from a student perspective -- on critical issues impacting Kentucky students and schools. The group’s first meeting will be in Frankfort on October 30.

The Next-Generation Student Council is a year-long program for Kentucky public school students in grades 10-12. The council is composed of a diverse group of students with ideas and insight into how public schools and student achievement can be improved.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Breathitt Co. schools improving under state management

I visited our schools in Breathitt County this week, and am happy to report they have made good progress under state management.

The district has improved in a number of ways.

– The average daily attendance rate is up by more than 150 students.

– The graduation rate is 86.5 percent, which exceeds the state average.

– The college- and career-readiness rate for graduating students has improved from 16 percent in 2010 to 46 percent in 2013, meaning more students are prepared for life after high school.

– On a scale of 0-100, the overall accountability score moved from 44.9 in 2011-12 to 53.8 in 2012-13.

– Its overall ranking among the state’s districts increased. The district moved from among the lowest ranked in the state – in the 5th percentile overall in 2011-12 (meaning only 5 percent of districts in the state ranked at or below Breathitt Co.), up to the 43rd percentile in 2012-13 (43 percent of districts in the state ranked at or below Breathitt Co.).

– Basic algebra and integrated science have been added to the 8th grade curriculum, providing a more rigorous course of study that will better prepare students for high school classes.

– The Next-Generation Academy, a dual credit program in cooperation with Hazard Community and Technical College, Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky through which students can earn enough college credit to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree, has been launched.

We are pleased to see the advancement students and staff have made under the guidance of state management. This confirms that the Kentucky Board of Education’s decision to approve state management of the district was the right course of action. Breathitt County teachers, administrators and students are clearly responding to the need to improve. 

But the state’s role is far from over. There still is much work to be done and we have a long way to go to ensure that the Breathitt County school district is providing students with the world-class education they need and deserve.

The Kentucky Board of Education put the district under state management in December 2012 after an audit found “a pattern of a significant lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the governance and administration of the school district” and that the district lacked “the necessary capacity to develop and implement systemic change on its own.”

I appointed Larry Hammond, retired Rockcastle Co. superintendent, as state manager for Breathitt Co. Under his leadership, the Breathitt Co. school district has been able to develop a common vision and set goals. Communication within the district and with the community at-large has also improved and they are rebuilding trust in the schools and a belief by parents and community members that their students will benefit and have a better life as the result of the education they receive.

In addition to academic progress, the district has also taken steps to improve its precarious financial situation by cutting operational costs while minimizing the impact on educational programs. For example, reconfiguring bus routes and disposing of surplus buses will save the district more than $300,000 in transportation costs each year. State personnel are also working to ensure the district maintains the 2 percent contingency fund balance required by law.

State management of the district will continue through at least December 2015 at which time the Kentucky Board of Education will evaluate whether state management is still required. 

While we don’t like to put a district under state management, it is for the benefit of the children that such action is taken.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Teachers speak out on Common Core Standards

Scholastic recently released some early results from the third edition of Primary Sources, a survey of more than 20,000 teachers across the nation. The early release highlighted three major findings concerning teachers’ views on the Common Core State Standards, which in Kentucky are called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Here are the key findings.

Awareness – Teachers’ awareness of the Common Core State Standards is now universal. Approximately 97 percent of teachers surveyed were aware of the Common Core State Standards.

Impact – Teachers expect the Common Core to enhance students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills. This is especially true of teachers who have the most experience with standards including math and English/language arts teachers, and those who teach elementary grades.

Implementation – Teachers are enthusiastic about implementation. At the same time, teachers share the realistic view that implementation is going to be challenging and have concerns for specific student populations, but are able to point to supports and resources needed to help these students.

I really enjoyed reading a few of the quotes from teachers.

“I think it’s about time that we implement the Common Core State Standards. It’ll give consistency district to district. We should have done this years ago.”

“It’s going to be a huge mind shift for both students and teachers. With Common Core, we need to allow for exploration so students can learn more ‘why’ now.”

“I feel strongly that the Common Core State Standards will do wonders for education. For the first time in a long time, I think education is getting back on track.”

With all the political gamesmanship over the Common Core State Standards, it is essential that we listen to our teachers. So, I have asked staff to survey Kentucky teachers with questions similar to those in Primary Sources. I believe the results will be even more positive from Kentucky teachers because they have been working to implement the standards since 2010. Once we have the response back from our teachers, we will provide this information to the House and Senate Education members and hope that they listen to teachers rather than special interest groups who are spreading misinformation about the Common Core State Standards.

Teachers are not alone in their support for the Common Core. This week I read an article that reported the Common Core State Standards also have strong support from the military. Military children will relocate at least twice during their school careers and having common standards across states will allow them to continue their education with the least amount of disruption. In addition, common standards will help Department of Defense Schools raise educational expectations, and improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Kentucky is home to two military bases – Fort Campbell and Fort Knox. Both bases work closely with local school districts. By using common standards across states, those children who move into Kentucky from other states will have an easier transition.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The GOOD! The BAD! And the UGLY!!!

The annual School Report Card on school and district performance and accountability has been publicly available since last Friday. Over the past week, I have been reviewing the data to find the good news and the areas for improvement. Of course, the terrific news is the increase in our college/career ready rates ­ 20 percent in 3 years ­ and the results from our first year with cohort graduation rate ­86 percent. However, there are many areas for improvement.

We are not improving proficiency in math and reading (combined reading and math proficiency rates) as fast as we need to. Also, our various No Child Left Behind student groups are not improving as much as we need them to. Here are some summary numbers:

            –Combined reading and math gap groups for elementary
               schools – we improved in 7/8 groups
            –Combined reading and math gap groups for middle schools                       we improved in 8/8 groups
            –Combined reading and math gap groups for high schools –                        we only improved in 2/8 groups

Why the low performance in high school? This was a result of having only one math test at the high school level. We only test Algebra II for proficiency and gap group purposes. In 2012, we had 40,628 students take Algebra II and in 2013, we had 44,117 students take Algebra II. This increase of over 3,500 students had an negative impact on our high school math proficiency and gap scores.

Reading Gap Group Scores
          –Elementary schools – 2/8 improved
          –Middle schools – 8/8 improved
          –High schools – 6/8 improved

Math Gap Group Scores
          Elementary schools – 8/8 improved
                  –Middle schools – 5/8 improved
                  –High schools – 1/8 improved

Writing Gap Group Scores
                 Elementary schools – 8/8 improved
                  Middle schools – 6/8 improved
                 – High schools – 7/8 improved

Overall in reading, math and writing, gap group scores improved in 51/72 cases which is 71 percent of gap groups. Clearly, we have concerns with elementary reading and middle/high school math. While we can explain a drop in high school math due to the increased number of test takers, it is imperative that we figure out how to support all students in meeting Algebra 2 expectations at the high school level. Also, the foundation for all learning is elementary reading and if our students are not progressing in reading at the elementary level, then we will see declining performance throughout their school careers.

All in all, we are making progress with the implementation of our Kentucky Core Academic Standards. The strong improvements in college/career-readiness and strong performance of our cohort graduation rate are indications of our strong interventions with high school students through transition courses, dual credit, credit recovery, and numerous others. However, our long term success in helping every child reach college/career-readiness upon graduation depends heavily on our ability to improve proficiency in reading, math and writing in grades 3-8. While we made improvement in 71 percent of the gap groups, we did not meet our expectations for improvement.

As a result, I am asking our KDE team to revisit our proficiency and gap plans for improvement and to develop specific Response to Intervention strategies and professional learning opportunities that are proven to work. This will impact districts and schools since every district and school must write improvement plans to address lack of progress with gap groups in reaching proficiency in reading, math and writing.

Soon parents will be receiving individual score reports for their children. It is critical that parents review the reports and see if their child has reached the proficient or distinguished level in reading, math and writing. A student in grades 3-8 and in high school courses that has reached proficient/distinguished is on target to reach college/career-readiness by graduation. If your student is not at the proficient or distinguished level, you should not panic since many children will take longer to reach these higher expectations. Also, it may take students 3-5 years to gain the background knowledge and skills required by the Kentucky Core Academic Standards that they may have missed in earlier grades. However, you should have a conversation with your child’s teacher about what actions you can take as a parent to support your child’s teacher and help your child at home.

Reaching college/career ready requires collaboration between student, school and parent. All three must take responsibility and be accountable for the results.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Results show progress; work to be done

This week, we released the Unbridled Learning assessment and accountability results from the 2012-13 school year. We have some really positive news. Our cohort graduation rate is 86.1 percent which places us among the top states. Our college- and career-ready rate is 54 percent which is 20 percent higher than our 2010 baseline. It is clear that Kentucky educators are helping more students reach success.

While we have made tremendous progress the last few years, but we have much work to do. I am concerned that students are not making sufficient progress on assessments in grades 3-10 on states tests. These tests measure progress of students toward the goal of college- and career-readiness. Our performance on language arts and math improved, however, the improvement will need to accelerate if we are to maintain and continue to improve our graduation rates and the rate of graduates who achieve college- and career-ready status.

Over the coming months, we will be providing schools and districts with best practices on raising proficiency and closing achievement gaps for all groups of students. It is essential that every classroom, every school and every district in Kentucky have in place a system of interventions to help students when they are struggling academically.

I am very proud of the work of educators in Kentucky. Kentucky has been featured in numerous national publications for our work in college- and career-ready standards, assessments and accountability. I have full confidence that our students, teachers, administrators and parents will continue to push for more student success.

To find out more about your local schools' performance take a look at our easy-to-read online School Report Cards.

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lack of Zzzs Can Lead to More Cs, Ds and Fs

If you’ve ever had a middle or high school student or taught one, you are probably acutely aware of the subject of my blog this week – insufficient sleep in adolescents.  My thanks to the Kentucky Sleep Society’s Adolescent Sleep Task Force, chaired by Sarah Honaker, Ph.D., C.B.S.M. for contributing this guest blog.

It will come as no surprise to many educators that the vast majority of adolescent are achieving less than optimal sleep, impairing their ability to learn.  The National Sleep Foundation’s “Sleep in America” poll from 2006 includes disturbing data about this widespread public health problem.  They found that only 20 percent of adolescents were getting the optimal amount of sleep (9 hours or more per night), with 45 percent of adolescents sleeping less than eight hours per night.  Insufficient sleep among children in this age group has also been associated with mental health difficulties, substance use, and risky decision-making. 

There are many factors contributing to the lack of sleep among our young people, including busy schedules, poor sleep habits, and a biological tendency to stay up later coupled with early school start times.  Many studies have demonstrated a delay in the adolescent sleep cycle, which is associated with puberty.  On average, a “natural” bedtime for an adolescent is between 10 and 11 p.m., making it very difficult to achieve the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep on school nights in particular.  As a result adolescents are prone to nap after school and oversleep on weekends, perhaps understandable but often resulting in even less sleep on weeknights. 

The Kentucky Sleep Society’s Adolescent Sleep Task Force was formed to disseminate information to adolescents and their families about healthy sleep habits, and information to educators about the positive impacts associated with later school start times.  In an upcoming blog, we will discuss tips on healthy sleep for adolescents and families and provide links to handouts for families.   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Well-educated workforce key to Kentucky’s prosperity

This week, I read a report from the Economic Analysis and Research Network titled “A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity.” The report began by asking the question – “What can state governments do to boost the economic well-being of their people?” The report summarizes that incomes and wages increase when productivity increases. There are several key policy levers to increase productivity: investments in public infrastructure, in technological innovation at public universities and in workers through the education and training systems.

Many states, including Kentucky, have been taking the opposite approach to investment in the workforce. We have seen in the last four years, major reductions to base funding for our K-12 and our higher education systems. Recently, one state, Florida, took an approach of trying to lure employers from Kentucky to the sunshine state. This strategy does not work in the long run since there is very little investment in helping to make the existing workforce more productive.

The report provides several key findings that our policy makers in Kentucky need to review.

1.  Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are states with a well-educated workforce. There is a clear and strong correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and median wages in the state;
2. States can build a strong foundation for economic success and shared prosperity by investing in education; 
3. Cutting taxes to capture private investment from other states is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that undermines ability to invest in education (I hope Gov. Scott in Florida reads this);
4. States can increase the strength of their economies and their ability to grow and attract high-wage employers by investing in education and increasing number of well-educated workers, and;
5. Investing in education is also good for state budgets in the long run, since workers with higher incomes contribute more through taxes over the course of their lifetimes.

As I reported to the Interim Joint Subcommittee for P-12 education this week, it is time to reinvest in Kentucky education.

For a number of years, Kentucky educators have done significantly more with less. Kentucky education is one of the fastest improving education systems in the nation. However, our educators have hit a wall. Without significant reinvestment in P-12 education, we will begin losing ground. When we lose ground as a state, we have a less well-educated workforce. When we have a less well-educated workforce than our neighbors, we lose jobs and potential employers who pay living wages.

This conversation needs to happen in every community. Every superintendent, teacher, parent and business leader needs to have this conversation with their local school boards and state legislators. We are not going to “cut” our way to prosperity in Kentucky. Investments in education today will pay huge dividends in the short and long term.

Specifically, I am pushing for three major priorities. 

1. Restore the basic SEEK funding per pupil to $3,866 (this will cost $60 million in FY15 and $90 million in FY16 (due to growth and keeping former dropouts in school).
2. Restore funds for safe schools, extended school services, textbooks and preschool. These funds were originally part of the KERA in 1990. We need $60 million each year of the budget.
3. Restore funds to expand access to broadband and network services to our school districts Also, provide a $50 million, 5-year bond to replace aging technology equipment. ($20 million in FY 15 and $20 million in FY16).

While there are many other needs, these are the basic priorities. In a recent meeting with all local superintendents in Kentucky, there was almost universal agreement on these priorities. It is time to connect the dots that a well-educated work force is the key to our Commonwealth’s prosperity.