Friday, February 22, 2013

The State of Kentucky Education

It’s good to stop every so often to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The governor’s recent State of the Commonwealth speech inspired me to reflect on the State of Kentucky Education. The following is an Op-Ed I wrote that highlights our achievements, upcoming work and challenges for the future. I wanted to be sure to share my thoughts with you. So, in the event you don’t see this in your local newspaper, it is the subject of today’s blog.

The State of Kentucky Education
I was heartened by Gov. Steve Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth speech, and his strong commitment to the future of Kentucky’s children. He has consistently supported education, even in difficult economic times, and I am grateful he continues to place such a critical focus on the children of this commonwealth.

I do not take the governor’s support and commitment to education lightly. That is why we are working diligently to ensure ALL Kentucky’s students are college/career-ready when they graduate high school. It is an economic imperative not only for our students but also for our state.

Over the past year, Kentucky has undertaken a number of initiatives and realized some major achievements that underscore our efforts:

• Improved readiness – We made major strides toward our goal of college/career-readiness for all students. The percentage of students who graduated college and career ready jumped from 38 percent to 47 percent in a single year – that translates to more than 4,500 students with a better opportunity to be successful after high school.

• Gains in achievement – Kentucky students showed steady progress on major national tests such as EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT, in many cases scoring above the national average for the first time. More Kentucky students are taking challenging Advanced Placement courses and scoring higher on tests. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress 8th-grade science test, Kentucky students significantly outperformed their peers nationally. According to a report from Harvard University, Kentucky is tied for fifth place nationwide in the improvement of its students’ performance in assessments of reading, mathematics and science since 1992.

School Report Card – This new online tool allows all Kentucky citizens to easily see how their school or district measures up against others. It provides detailed information on accountability, assessments, school safety, and more. It also provides graphs showing actual performance against annual improvement targets in the areas of proficiency, gap and college/career-readiness. All this data is available at and will equip parents, businesses and communities with information to ask tough questions and demand excellence of their schools and district.

No Child Left Behind/ESEA waiver – In February 2012, Kentucky was among the first states granted flexibility from some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind/Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While we are still focused on proficiency, closing achievement gaps, increasing graduation rates and annual progress, the waiver allows funding flexibility and for the state to use a single comprehensive method – the Unbridled Learning: College/Career Readiness for All Accountability System – to determine whether students, schools and districts are meeting state and federal goals.

Districts of Innovation – HB 37 (2012) allows Kentucky public school districts exemptions from certain regulations and policies in exchange for them creating new, innovative learning environments. By re-thinking what a school might look like, districts will be able to redesign student learning to engage and motivate more students and increase the numbers of students who are college and career ready. KDE will begin accepting applications from districts this spring.

We have made great strides this past year, as we worked to transform our schools into vibrant, engaging and innovative places that equip Kentucky’s children with the deeper knowledge, stronger critical thinking skills and the entrepreneurial spirit they need to succeed in a 21st-century world. But our work is far from done.

• This year we will be implementing a statewide kindergarten readiness screener that will give teachers valuable information they can use to meet student needs and maximize learning from the first day of school.

• Next-generation science and social studies standards that promote 21st-century skills are on the horizon in 2013. And we must remain steadfast in our support of common core standards in English/language arts and mathematics knowing that short-term setbacks in scores will yield more competitive students in the years to come.

• We will continue working to raise student proficiency rates and close achievement gaps between all student groups. While not quite half of our lowest performing schools are showing progress, we must find answers and implement solutions to put those that aren’t on the path to improvement.

• This fall we will be piloting a statewide Professional Growth and Effectiveness System designed to provide educators the meaningful feedback and tools they need to improve their practice and impact student learning in a positive way. This is a critical piece in our overall strategy to advance education in Kentucky.

We have our work cut out for us. Based on the progress I have seen and the efforts I have witnessed as I visit classrooms around this state, however, I remain confident Kentucky educators are up to the task.

Kentucky has made tremendous progress in education in the past several years. Yet, as the governor noted during his speech, 88 percent of Kentucky students attend schools in districts where per pupil spending is below the national average. I, too, share Gov. Beshear’s sense of concern and urgency regarding the need for additional K-12 funding and will continue to encourage Kentucky lawmakers to identify additional revenues for our schools and educational efforts.

The state of education in Kentucky is certain. Our focus and commitment to prepare Kentucky’s children for the future does not waver – it remains stronger than ever.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Professional Growth and Effectiveness System Critical to Students’ Futures (Please Contact Your Legislators)

One of the most important education bills that the legislature is considering this session is HB 180, which amends KRS 156.557 to update statutory language to reflect changes to the teacher effectiveness system.

For two years, a steering committee comprised of teachers and principals from across the state have worked in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education and other partners to put an educator effectiveness framework in place to move us forward in Kentucky. It focuses on several areas including: Planning and Preparation; Classroom Environment; Instruction; Professional Responsibilities; and Student Growth. The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) is a comprehensive statewide system to help teachers understand and implement the framework and make changes necessary for all students in Kentucky to become college- and career-ready. It is currently being field tested in schools across the commonwealth and overall feedback has been very positive.

Current evaluation systems in Kentucky do not provide our educators the information they need to support their professional growth and effectiveness and in turn, to support increases in student achievement. PGES provides teachers, administrators and districts the data and tools needed to improve. The proposed system moves educators from simply being qualified to becoming highly effective. It also defines what effectiveness looks like. Yet, ALL our children, regardless of where they live, deserve to be taught by an effective teacher at a school led by an effective principal. PGES provides that consistency.

The proposed changes to KRS 156.557 are also specific to meeting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver requirements. Under the provisions of the U.S. Department of Education’s waiver, each local school district must commit to develop, adopt, pilot, and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that support continuous improvement of instruction and use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor, data on student growth for all students. HB 180 will set the stage for implementation of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System and meet the federal requirements.

If the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System is not implemented, it puts our federal flexibility waiver at risk and in fact all of our federal funding ($480,693,090). In this time of tight budgets, this would be devastating to our schools and districts. Below is a chart showing the federal funds that would be impacted.

Kentucky’s Federal Funding
Total Award
Title I - Part A
Title I - Part C - Migrant
Title I - Part D - Neglected & Delinquent
Title II A - Teacher Quality
Title II B - Math & Science Partnership
Tilt II C, Perkins
Vocational & Technical Education
Title III - English Language Acquisition/
Limited English Proficiency
Title IV 21st Century After
School Learning Center
Title VI - Rural and Low Income  
Advanced Placement Test Fee Program
Deaf - Blind
IDEA-Special Education-Preschool
IDEA-Special Education Basic
State Assessments
Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems
State Program Improvement Grant
Stewart B. McKinney Homeless

Yesterday, HB 180 passed the House Education Committee but still faces an uncertain future.

I ask each of you to contact  your legislators, in both the house and senate, to help them understand why this piece of legislation and the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System are so important to Kentucky’s continued success. Please ask for their support of HB 180. Without it, we will not have a systematic approach in place for professional growth and effectiveness and our educators and Kentucky’s students will be subject to a system of education that is inferior to what they deserve and need to become college/career ready and ultimately successful and productive taxpayers in our state.

Please direct any questions you may have to Tracy Goff Herman, KDE Legislative Liaison, at (502) 564-4474 or via e-mail at

Thank you for your support of HB 180 and your commitment to Kentucky’s students. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Importance of Federal Flexibility

This week I had the honor of testifying before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee at a hearing titled “No Child Left Behind: Early Lessons from State Flexibility Waivers.”

In February 2012, Kentucky was one of the first states granted a waiver from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by the U.S. Department of Education. The waiver cleared the way for the state’s new Unbridled Learning: College/Career-Readiness for All accountability system to be used for both state and federal accountability.

With this testimony, I had the opportunity to not only urge reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and explain our experience with the waiver process but also share on a national stage the great work we are doing in Kentucky and the progress we are making to ensure all our students graduate college/career ready.

Below is a transcript of my testimony before the HELP committee. Video of the full proceeding can be accessed here.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Testimony
Washington D.C.
February 7, 2013

Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Alexander, and Senator Paul, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to the Committee today about Kentucky’s ESEA flexibility waiver. I am honored to explain to you how we are best serving the students in my state.

First, though, let me be clear that Kentucky and my fellow chiefs across the nation support ESEA reauthorization first and foremost. We feel that only reauthorization gives us the long range expectations of federal accountability and the long-term sustainability of our efforts to best serve the needs of students. With reauthorization, we can implement policies that address the requirements of the legislation with fidelity, knowing that we will not have to alter those plans for any reason other than their success in meeting the goal of getting our students to college and career readiness.

I also thank Secretary Duncan and President Obama for the opportunity to innovate and build a new college and career readiness-based assessment and accountability system in Kentucky through the ESEA waiver process that I hope will inform reauthorization efforts and highlight the value of state flexibility in federal law.

From the very beginning of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), I have been an ardent supporter of the vision of the legislation. EVERY child should reach proficiency. For too long, our schools had failed to meet the needs of many children who needed our help the most. However, as we all can agree, while the vision of NCLB was right, we lost something in the translation to details. NCLB had some unintended consequences. Among these were:

Wide variation in standards and proficiency levels across states
A focus on “teaching to the test”
Loss of a balanced approach to education with reductions in the arts, physical education, science and other critical subject areas
A focus on “bubble kids” who were close to passing state tests and not providing support for gifted/talented students or low-performing students
Confusion of parents with different systems for state and federal accountability that often reported contradicting results

Given the challenges of implementation and the looming 2014 timeline of NCLB to reach 100 percent proficiency, the Council of Chief State School Officers convened a group of chiefs to develop a model for next generation accountability systems that would focus on college and career readiness. This group was a natural progression to the successful work of the Common Core Standards. During this time, the administration was also working on the waiver process for states who wanted to create innovative accountability systems.

The timing was right for Kentucky. In 2009, our General Assembly had unanimously passed Senate Bill 1, which required more rigorous standards, rigorous assessments, a balanced accountability system, and support for educators to implement the new system. Kentucky was one of the first states to apply for the ESEA waiver due to our state legislation.

Kentucky completed a waiver application that built on the key components of NCLB. We kept a focus on proficiency, achievement gaps, graduation rate, and annual progress. However, we moved to a more rigorous standard – college and career readiness for all students. Our state legislation had recognized the economic imperative of having more students graduate from high school that had achieved college and career readiness in addition to basic skills proficiency.

Let me highlight a few elements of our waiver request:

K-3 Program Review – This component measures every child’s readiness for kindergarten based on common readiness expectations. Through this component, we ensure early childhood providers use the information to improve services to children. Also, we ensure that schools are ready for children and help all children reach success in reading and math by the end of 3rd grade.

College and Career Readiness – Perhaps the most innovative component of our system is the partnership with business and higher education to clearly define college and career readiness and have measures in place that track progress of individual students, schools and districts. In grades 3-8, we have built an assessment system that measures college/career ready standards and reports on the progress of individual students, classrooms, schools and districts toward the goal of college/career readiness for all students. At the 8th, 10th, and 11th grade levels, we have added end-of-course assessments and independent college/career-ready assessments that provide college/career readiness measures accepted by colleges and businesses.

Balanced system – Our accountability system supports the concept of the whole child. It was very important to our General Assembly that we provide opportunities for students to excel in arts/humanities, career and technology, physical education and health, world languages, and writing/research programs. Our Program Review accountability measure uses the latest in performance-based assessments and project-based learning to measure student learning and student opportunities in these areas. This ensures we have a balanced approach to accountability rather than a limited focus on basic math and reading skills.

Subgroup performance – Kentucky continues the focus on individual subgroup performance as required by NCLB; however, due to low student counts in some schools for some subgroups, we found that many Kentucky schools were not being held accountable for closing achievement gaps. Through our new accountability system, we have ensured that ALL schools have the responsibility for closing achievement gaps through an aggregate gap group even if they have small counts for individual subgroups.  The use of the aggregate gap group allows for the inclusion of students otherwise missed due to the low number of students in a single subgroup. To make sure that individual subgroups are not being overlooked, we set ambitious performance targets for all subgroups and use these targets to drive interventions, and require that schools improve the performance of the subgroup that led to their identification.

Comparative data and transparency – Through the use of our on-line accountability school and district report card, the citizens of Kentucky are able to see how their school or district is performing compared to other schools or districts. Also, citizens are able to see the annual targets for improvement of their school and district in proficiency, gap, graduation rate, and college/career readiness.
The results from our accountability model have certainly been catching the attention of many states. With our first assessment of the Common Core Standards, we saw drops in proficiency rates of between 20 percent to 30 percent in language arts and math. However, we are not shying away from these results; in fact we embrace these as a more realistic view of the percentage of our students who are making progress toward reaching the most important goal of college and career readiness. These results also are very much in alignment with the National Assessment of Education Progress.

Additionally, we are seeing some early indications of improvement. Our graduation rates have improved and the percentage of graduates who are college and career ready has improved from a baseline of 34 percent in 2010 to 47 percent for the Class of 2012.

In closing, I again thank the committee for this opportunity to speak, and thank Secretary Duncan and President Obama for encouraging the state-level innovation that we are seeing in Kentucky and across the country.

My request to the committee is very simple. I hope you will move toward reauthorization as soon as possible to provide concrete parameters for states for improving education systems to better serve students. However, I strongly encourage the committee to provide those states that have demonstrated their commitment to accountability and college/career readiness for ALL students, through the waiver process, the ability to continue and grow that innovation through a flexible federal law and additional funding flexibility that will support states as they work to make the vision of college/career readiness for ALL students a reality.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Legislative Agenda for 2013

As legislators return next week, I want to ask superintendents, local boards and readers of this blog to contact their local legislators to push for a couple of issues.

1 – Raising the dropout age – I recently sent Governor Beshear a letter supporting this legislation. The legislation is also a priority for the Kentucky Board of Education. I hope readers will review the letter and contact their local legislator to support this important legislation.

2 – Preschool funding – This is a fairly straightforward concept and one that I know local superintendents support. We need to move from the complicated formula that has been used for preschool funding since the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) to a fairer and simpler formula.

3 – Career and Technical Education (CTE) – The Governor, through executive order, merged the Workforce Cabinet CTE program with the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) CTE program and placed the merged program under KDE. We need legislation this term to sustain this merger.

4 – Teacher/Principal Effectiveness – Last session we were able to get legislation through the House and a resolution through the Senate to implement the work of our Teacher/Principal Effectiveness committees. The session adjourned prior to the House and Senate agreeing on a compromise bill. A similar bill will be filed when this session reconvenes and we need strong support from all stakeholders to move the bill through quickly. Failure to move the bill through this term could have a negative impact on federal funds and Race to the Top grants.

Finally, I sent a letter to Governor Beshear that expresses my concern about support for our schools. I hope that readers will take time to review this letter and contact their local legislators to express concern about school funding.

Kentucky has made tremendous progress as evidenced by recent EXPLORE/PLAN scores, AP scores, ACT scores, NAEP scores, and Education Week’s Quality Counts report. However, we will not be able to maintain our progress without some restoration of funds for schools.

I am concerned about the recent announcement by the Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust (KSBIT) and the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) about the unexpected $50-60 million assessment to districts to cover shortfalls and the increased costs for districts that will come as result of having to procure new insurance coverage once KSBIT is closed.

Also, I am concerned that federal sequestration (cut of 9.2 percent) will happen in March with impact seen in the 2013-14 school budgets.

Given that this is not a budget session for our legislators should not deter readers from beginning this conversation with local legislators about additional education funding. We do anticipate discussion at some point, possibly in a special session dealing with tax reform. It is critical that education be a primary consideration of any tax reform discussion.

I hope readers will use the information in my letters to the Governor and this blog as you contact your local legislators.