Friday, March 28, 2014

Disparity in school discipline

Kentucky schools can reverse the national trend

Reggie was on the school playground acting out a game of cops and robbers when it happened.  He pointed his index finger, thumb up, at a classmate and said “pow.”  The next thing you know he was in the principal’s office looking at a three-day suspension.  Reggie is black, male, and is a 4-year old preschooler with a mild disability. The same thing happened at another school in the district the month before. Only it involved Rory who is white, female and a 5-year old kindergartener.  Her mother was called and that was the end of it.  

Reggie’s and Rory’s stories, while fictitious examples, easily could have been part of data collected by the Office of Civil Rights and released last week by the U. S. Department of Education. The report was a snapshot of discipline data for 2011-12 school year and included the following highlights.

Suspension of preschool children, by race/ethnicity and gender (new for 2011-12 collection): Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43 percent of preschool enrollment but 26 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension. Boys represent 79 percent of preschool children suspended once and 82 percent of preschool children suspended multiple times, although boys represent 54 percent of preschool enrollment. 

Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. 

Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent). 

Suspension of students with disabilities and English learners: Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13 percent) than students without disabilities (6 percent). In contrast, English learners do not receive out-of-school suspensions at disproportionately high rates (7 percent suspension rate, compared to 10 percent of student enrollment). 

Suspension rates, by race, sex, and disability status combined: With the exception of Latino and Asian-American students, more than one out of four boys of color with disabilities, served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receives an out-of-school suspension. 

Arrests and referrals to law enforcement, by race and disability status: While black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, they represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51 percent of enrollment, 41 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 39 percent of those arrested. Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent a quarter of students arrested and referred to law enforcement, even though they are only 12 percent of the overall student population. 

Restraint and seclusion, by disability status and race: Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent 12 percent of the student population, but 58 percent of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement, and 75 percent of those physically restrained at school to immobilize them or reduce their ability to move freely. Black students represent 19 percent of students with disabilities served by IDEA, but 36 percent of these students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement.

Of particular concern to me was the restraint and seclusion data. Kentucky worked on this issue during the 2013 legislative session and regulations were enacted requiring training for all school employees. We will be able to determine the impact of our state regulation and training by tracking the restraint and seclusion data from the Office of Civil Rights. Based on the OCR report for the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of the national student population is students with disabilities, however, these students represent 58 percent of students placed in seclusion and 75 percent of those physically restrained. In Kentucky, students with special needs represents 14 percent of the student population, however, these students represent 58 percent of those students physically restrained. 

The bottom line is that there is much work to do in not only restraint and seclusion but the overrepresentation of minority and special needs students in suspensions and expulsions data. An online database is searchable by school and district provides a starting point. Kentucky has an excellent school safety program and significant resources are available for Positive Behavior Intervention programs. I hope schools and districts will review their data and make appropriate plans for 2014-15 to address these issues. 

Let’s make sure that Reggie and students like him have access to an excellent education and the opportunity for a good life.

Friday, March 21, 2014

School make-up days

Finding an equitable solution to balance instruction, family vacations

During 2009-10, my first school year as commissioner of education in Kentucky, we faced an especially harsh winter due to ice and snow.  Many school districts missed in excess of 30 instructional days. Through budget language that year, the General Assembly provided some relief to districts on making up time missed.

In the subsequent school years of 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13, we saw relatively mild winters and districts were able to easily meet calendar requirements.

The 2013-14 winter has been very severe once again and as of today, districts have missed on average about 16 instructional days; however, a large number of districts have missed more than 20 days of school and a few more than 30. Currently, the General Assembly is negotiating between the House and Senate to find a path forward to help school districts.

Since my first winter in Kentucky in 2009-10 and through today, as commissioner, I have been consistent in my approach to handling calendar challenges due to inclement weather. My guiding principle is that students and teachers deserve an adequate amount of instructional time and the public expects students to receive and adequate amount of instruction time. An adequate amount of instruction time is defined in legislation as 1,062 hours. To allow some school districts to go below the minimum would do a disservice to students, teachers, and the tax-paying public. As a matter of record, each school day costs taxpayers about $17 million. To completely waive 10 days would seem to be a waste of $170 million. However, by requiring all districts to meet the 1,062 hours, we would have a system that ensures taxpayer funds are providing an equal opportunity to all children.

Here are a few examples that show the majority of districts would have more flexibility on the last day of school with the 1,062 hour provision rather than the 10-day waiver.

Days Missed
End-of-Year with 1,062 hours
End-of-Year with
10-day waiver
Instructional hours under
10-day waiver
Floyd Co.
Clay Co.
Logan Co.
Boone Co.
Morgan Co.

While I understand that parents and teachers make plans for spring break and summer vacation, I continue to focus on the critical need for adequate instructional time. Of course, there should be some consideration of context. No one expects a school to continue operation beyond mid to late June, so we must have flexibility to add time to school days so that most districts are able to meet the 1,062 hour requirement.

My concern with giving a blanket waiver of 10 days is inequity. A school district that has missed 34 days would have to make up 24 days. A school district that has missed 11 days would only have to make up only one day. However, by focusing on the minimum instructional time of 1,062 hours, all school districts would be treated equally and all students would be treated equally. The majority of school districts would have more flexibility with the 1,062 hour requirement than a 10-day waiver.

As commissioner, I will implement the legislation that is agreed upon by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. While we may have some disagreement on which method of flexibility is best for school districts (waiver of 10 days or 1,062 hour requirement), one thing we all agree on is that the decision needs to be made as soon as possible so school districts can set graduation dates and inform parents of make-up days or extended school hours.

Hopefully the conference committee will make some decisions in the next few days so we can inform school districts. The Kentucky Department of Education will provide a simple and fast system to implement whichever method the General Assembly enacts.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In support of educators and the core academic standards

This week I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee about the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics and the Next-Generation Science Standards, adopted in our state and collectively known as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. The hearing was on Senate Bill 224, which would abandon the standards and the work of the past four years in favor of new, yet to be written standards.  I appreciated the chance to once again publicly address the misinformation and many of the misconceptions about the standards that those in opposition have been sharing.  Joining me against SB224 were Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association.  Three of our state board members and countless other education advocates were in the audience.  I was proud to represent them and the majority of Kentuckians in favor of doing what is right for our children and staying with the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.  Below is a copy of my testimony.

Testimony to Senate Education Committee on SB 224
Commissioner Terry Holliday
March 13, 2014

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak against SB 224 and for Kentucky educators and students.

In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly recognized that too many students were graduating from high school and entering postsecondary education unprepared to be successful in college level courses. Too many students had to take remedial courses in college which placed a financial strain on students and parents and decreased the likelihood of the students successfully completing a two- or four-year degree. The lack of college readiness, if not addressed, would have a negative impact on the Kentucky economy.

The General Assembly then passed Senate Bill 1 (2009) without dissent. This legislation required the Council on Postsecondary Education, Education Professional Standards Board, and the Kentucky Department of Education to work collaboratively to develop college ready standards, accountability systems, assessment systems, and professional support for educators to implement the new systems. Kentucky educators responded and led the nation in completing this work. The work was done through hundreds of thousands of hours where educators acted collaboratively to complete the requirements of Senate Bill 1. The work was completed without any increase in state funds. As a matter of fact, during the last four years there has been a significant reduction in funds for textbooks, instructional resources, professional learning, student interventions, and basic student funding.

I speak out today to support Kentucky educators and the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Senate Bill 224 would undermine the hard work and dedication of Kentucky educators. Senate Bill 224 would demoralize Kentucky educators. Senate Bill 224 would discard all of the hours and efforts of Kentucky educators and basically tell them to start over and do it again. Senate Bill 224 would derail the significant improvements that Kentucky has made in increasing graduation and college readiness rates.

Finally, Senate Bill 224 would be an extravagant waste of tax payer money. Kentucky educators were able to implement new standards, assessment, accountability, and professional support through redirection of state dollars and the support of numerous foundations. To replicate this process would require, at a minimum, $35 million in additional state dollars. I would not anticipate that school districts would invest their local funds to replicate a process they have already completed and I know for certain that external dollars will not be available to support a replication of effort. Let me be clear. Senate Bill 224 is an unfunded mandate of at least $35 million.

I strongly encourage you to support Kentucky educators and students in the work they have already accomplished.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using intervention strategies to boost student success

When the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009, a key component was the ACT assessment for college readiness. The General Assembly, through KRS 158.6459, made it clear that any student in grade 8 or grade 11 whose high school- or college-readiness scores reveal that additional work is needed in English, reading, or mathematics SHALL have intervention strategies for accelerated learning incorporated into his or her learning plan. 

During my first few months in Kentucky, I worked with the Local Superintendent Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to define what was meant by “intervention strategies.” Many legislators and educators wanted to require specific courses in the freshman and senior years (called transition courses). However, a number of groups fought for more flexibility and in the end, intervention strategies, as defined, allowed districts a great deal of flexibility in providing interventions. 

Fast forward almost five years, and it is now time to conduct a study to find out what interventions are being provided and what interventions are helping more students reach high school- and college-readiness. The REL Appalachia study released this week is the first formal study of transition courses in Kentucky. REL Appalachia looked at ACT scores and identified students in three groups. 

• Meeting state benchmarks – students scoring 19 or higher on ACT
   math and 20 or higher on ACT reading

• Approaching state benchmarks – students scoring within three
   points of the state ACT benchmarks

• Performing below state benchmarks – students scoring 15 or lower
   on math or 16 or lower on reading.

The key findings from that report are as follows.

• Statewide, the percentage of students in the approaching
   benchmarks category (the category recommended for transition
   courses) is higher in math (37.5 percent) than in
   reading (20.5 percent). 

• Statewide participation in transition courses for students in the
   approaching benchmarks category is 28.1 percent in math and
   8 percent in reading. 

• Statewide pass rates for students in the approaching benchmarks
   category who take transition courses are 94.7 percent for math and
   96.1 percent for reading.

Good news – Students who take transition courses have high pass rates (better than 90 percent) which indicate these students are capable of college-level work. Research from Eastern Kentucky University shows that large numbers of students who pass transition courses are then able to achieve college-ready scores on ACT, COMPASS and/or KYOTE.

Causes for concern – Only 28.1 percent students who need interventions in math and 8 percent in reading are taking transition courses. More than 60 percent of high schools are not offering transition courses.

Big Questions – What is happening to the 72 percent of students in math and 92 percent in reading who are not taking transition courses? What interventions are they provided? Are the interventions provided working as well or better than transition courses?

KDE will begin to answer these questions in the 2014-15 school year with the addition of an interventions tab in the student information system. Schools will be required to enter the intervention that is being provided for all seniors pursuant to KRS 158.6459. At the end of 2014-15, KDE will analyze state data to answer the big questions listed above and will require local districts to analyze district data and data for each high school to answer the questions.   

We do know that a number of interventions are working since we have improved from 34 percent of 2010 graduates achieving college/career-readiness to 54 percent of 2013 graduates achieving college/career-readiness. To reach our goal of 67 percent in 2015, we will need to identify and really emphasize interventions that work.

While we are working on the intervention issue for college readiness, we will also be utilizing the intervention tab to address other statutory requirements for reporting on K-3 interventions and closing the gap interventions.  

Given that Senate Bill 1 has reached its fifth anniversary, it is time to take stock of the results and look for ways to push improvement so more students are successful.