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.