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.