Friday, June 27, 2014

Changing preschool delivery could be a win for all

This week, I welcome Kentucky Department of Education Chief of Staff Tommy Floyd as a guest blogger. Dr. Floyd weighs in on some new ways of thinking about delivering quality preschool experiences and how they can lead to an increase in kindergarten readiness and greater school success for students.
Many school systems across the country and several in Kentucky are seeing success by using some non-traditional, mixed models for delivering pre-K learning experiences for children.

The model typically involves combining half-day pre-K and quality childcare in a single location to provide full day learning experiences for children. The result is a better continuity of care and learning for children, often leading to higher kindergarten readiness rates.  

While the exact model can vary depending on local needs and capacity, it almost always involves collaboration among a school system, private childcare and Head Start to leverage existing resources. Partnerships can be tailored to maximize the capacity of the local school system and childcare providers to meet the needs of the children and parents in the community.

Often a district provides space in a school for private childcare to serve preschoolers before or after class. Children, Inc. partners with schools in northern Kentucky to use this model. Depending on enrollment, these in-school centers can also serve children who otherwise would not qualify for preschool.   

Another example places the school’s preschool teachers in private childcare centers. For instance, Christian County Public Schools partners with Let’s Go Play Academy in Hopkinsville to send teachers into the private child care center to teach preschool part of the day.

Mixed delivery has many benefits. Parents avoid the difficulty of arranging childcare before or after preschool classes. It eliminates the need to transport kids from one place to another which allows for more quality instructional time. In addition, it saves money that otherwise would be spent constructing new classrooms (approximately. $250,000 per classroom) or retrofitting space (approximately $80,000 per classroom).

In addition to the benefits of co-locating preschool and childcare in the same space, mixed delivery also has the benefit of increasing continuity and quality of care and instruction. It provides easier transitions from childcare to preschool to kindergarten. In addition, preschool teachers and childcare teachers learn from each other and bring their different strengths to the classroom.

Childcare is an important part of the education continuum. Most parents of children under age 5 work and depend on private childcare, which strives to provide children with high quality learning experiences in safe surroundings.

Many private child care providers participate in Kentucky’s quality rating system called STARS that measures the quality of instruction, teacher quality and parent engagement.  In fact, Kentucky intends to enhance the quality rating system and apply it to all childcare centers, Head Start, and school-based preschool. This would establish a common, shared measure of quality that would lead to greater kindergarten readiness.  Currently, state kindergarten readiness scores indicate that 71 percent of children in private childcare enter kindergarten ready to learn.

When schools operate their own preschool program, they typically take 4 year olds from private childcare centers. That tends to create a financial hardship for the centers because 4-year-olds help defray the higher costs of caring for infants and toddlers.  This, in turn, causes centers to cut back or close, leaving parents with fewer or no childcare options. Children then lose the learning experiences that the centers offered and that can lead to lower impact kindergarten readiness scores.

Carefully considering a mixed model for delivering preschool in Kentucky could result in a win for everyone involved – parents, districts and child care providers – but especially for the children who will soon be headed to kindergarten.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Consortia assessments – yours, mine or ours?

As states moved to implement new, more rigorous college/career-readiness standards in English/language arts and mathematics, they faced a challenge:  how would they assess student progress on the new standards?  Writing high quality assessment items that truly measure student mastery of the standards would be no small task.  It would be both time consuming and expensive.

In Kentucky, due to the mandates of Senate Bill 1 (2009) to implement new standards and aligned assessments in 2011-12, the Kentucky Department of Education contracted with vendors to provide end-of-the year tests for students in grades 3-8, and an on-demand writing test and end-of-course exams in Algebra II, English II, Biology and U.S. History at the high school level.  The majority of the tests were traditional, multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests that were really more narrowly focused than the standards demanded, but were nonetheless valid and reliable. 

Meanwhile, in 2010 through the Race to the Top Assessment Program, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) awarded $330 million to two assessment consortia to develop a new generation of tests designed to provide ongoing feedback to teachers during the course of the school year, measure annual student growth, and more accurately gauge students’ understanding and application of the standards. Through the consortia, states would benefit from having their dollars used in highly leveraged ways to support goals that would not otherwise be achieved without an infusion of federal funding.

Based on their applications, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) planned to test students' ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media. 

The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) would test students using computer adaptive technology that would ask students tailored questions based on their previous answers. 

The consortia would develop periodic assessments throughout the school year to inform students, parents and teachers about whether students were on track.

The requirements of the grant provided that  the consortia “…make all assessment content (i.e., assessments and assessment items) developed with funds from this competition freely available to the States, technology platform provides and other that request it for the purposes of administering assessments, provided they comply with the consortium or state requirements for test and item security.”

This provision was designed to ensure that content developed with public funds was widely available – including to states that were not part of grantee consortia. Initially, Kentucky was a participating state in each consortium, meaning we were monitoring but not leading the work. Eventually, due to capacity issues and a potential conflict of interest if either or both of the consortia would bid on Kentucky’s testing contract, the state withdrew from each.

Now, in an effort to save millions of dollars, the Kentucky Department of Education is seeking access to consortia-developed assessment items at the end of the 2014-15 school year so that we may enhance Kentucky's assessment item pool for the 2015-16 state assessments. Of course, before any new items are added to state K-PREP tests, they would move through the normal state review process.

It is my understanding, however, that several states have already contacted the consortia to request access to assessment items and have been denied access or told they would have to pay for access to assessment items. Both of these conditions seem to violate the program requirements of the publicly funded grant.  

So, the question is, who owns the assessment items and the consortia-developed assessments?  Are they yours (the consortia’s), mine (the states’) or ours (the federal government’s)?

I have written Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask for clarification. Kentucky and several other states anxiously await his response. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Preparing students to be globally competent

Ever since the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has strongly supported the addition of world language to the state accountability model. On June 4, the board took action to do so approving implementation of the World Language Program Review for high schools in 2014-15 with accountability in 2015-16. Elementary and middle schools will follow a year later with accountability in 2016-17.

There has been much consternation over the World Language Program Review from the time the idea was first mentioned. Lawmakers worry that world language was added to the list of Program Reviews even though the content area was not specifically mentioned in Senate Bill 1.  Of course, SB 1 allowed the KBE to add to the accountability those areas that were of importance to prepare students for college- and career-readiness. 

Local superintendents have not been supportive of the World Language Program Review either. The key areas of concern have been funding, time, resources, availability of certified teachers and professional learning.

However, the reasoning behind the board’s action was driven home in its recent meeting. David Karem, former chair of the KBE and former state senator during the time of KERA, said the idea that our students need an understanding of the world is not a new one.

“We were talking about world language and global competencies over 26 years ago when we recruited Toyota to Kentucky and we have not made much progress,” he said.  “It is past time for action.” 

Secretary of the Workforce and Education Cabinet, Tom Zawacki, echoed Karem’s sentiment  based on his employment experience at Toyota and now as cabinet secretary. Tom said a running joke with international executives was, “What do you call a person who can speak two languages?” Answer: bilingual. 
“What do you call person who can only speak one language?” Answer: American. 

The need for global competency is real.  Karem cited a recent article in the state bar association magazine that supports his argument. The article, titled “Kentucky’s Global Economy:  96% of your market may be outside the US,” shares some interesting facts.
• Kentucky exports in the past three years have increased, with over $25 billion in sales in 2013.
• Kentucky’s exports growth rate of more than 14 percent translates to the 2nd highest growth in the nation
• 96 percent of potential consumers reside outside the U.S. 
• U.S. exports reached an all-time high of $2.2 trillion last year
• Kentucky exports created 47,000 in 2010

As Commissioner, I support the KBE’s decision. It is time for our schools to clearly understand the global economy and better prepare students for the future marketplace. We have known for some time that many of our lost jobs in Kentucky will not come back due to scientific advances and international competition. It is time to turn those conditions on their head and focus on selling Kentucky products and services to the international community. 

It is imperative that our high school and college graduates who will be obtaining work in firms that are exporting products and services understand the language, culture, business climate and geopolitical issues they will be facing. This work must be integrated with existing programs in our schools. It cannot be seen as an “add on” or just another program. We must integrate in language, social studies, math and other content areas. Yes, we should make certain our students have opportunities to become bilingual, however, it is even more important our students understand the global competition they will be entering upon graduation. 

Look for more details about grants and support programs for this work in the coming months. We will have many partners in this work – from economic development, to universities and many education groups.

At last, after more than a quarter of a century, Kentucky has seized the opportunity for our students to become globally competent.  It is a decision that will serve them and the state’s economy well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Science standards, assessments and Senate Bill 1

Since the day Senate Bill 1 passed the General Assembly in spring 2009 and was signed into law, the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education have been working diligently to fully realize the requirements of this visionary legislation: more rigorous academic standards, new assessments, a balanced accountability system and professional development for educators in support of the new standards.

In early 2010, the Kentucky Board of Education, Council on Postsecondary and the Education Professional Standards Board took the first big step in carrying out Senate Bill 1 when they joined to adopt the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. Teachers immediately began working to unpack and interpret the standards.  During the 2010-11 school year, educators began developing curricula and instructional materials. Schools gave the first assessments of the new standards in spring 2012. Teachers had almost two years to develop instruction and materials that were aligned to the new standards prior to the assessments.

States began working to develop new science standards in 2010. These standards went through numerous review cycles and to date, 12 states have fully adopted the Next-Generation Science Standards. Kentucky did so in 2013, and since that time, we have been working with educators to repeat the process used for implementing the English/language arts and math standards. Also, just as we did with the new standards in the first two content areas, we will delay assessment of the new standards until teachers have had nearly years to implement. Testing on the new science standards will occur in spring of 2016.

The new science assessments will be very different than any previous assessments – not confined to  paper and pencil, fill-in-the-bubble, multiple choice.  The science assessments would be taken online – similar to what is being done with the new National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessment in Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL).  This assessment measures not only science content, but also measures scientific process and problem solving. Early reports from the first administration of the TEL assessment are extremely positive. Students are much more engaged in the test- taking process and the data provide educators not only information on students’ factual knowledge but also their problem solving skills.

Due to the complexity of developing such a test, the new science assessment will require more funding to create than traditional tests.  However, online assessments produce savings in the long run since we are able to eliminate printing paper tests, shipping, storage and other related costs. With the need for additional funding to develop the science assessment, the Kentucky Department of Education identified a short term cost savings by not administering the K-PREP science exam in 4th and 7th grades in 2014-15. Teachers and administrators strongly supported this decision since the current K-PREP test in science assessed the old standards and starting in the fall, students would be learning the new standards.

However, this decision does not mean that we cannot track science learning  in Kentucky. In 2014-15, our students will still take science assessments as part of the Explore (8th grade), Plan (10th grade), ACT (11th grade), and Biology  end-of-course (high school) assessments. These assessments will provide a clear picture of our performance in science relative to other states and the rest of the nation. Also, Kentucky will continue to participate in and receive state-level results for the National Assessment of Education Progress science assessment for 4th- and 8th-grade students.

By 2015-16, we will have one remaining subject area to implement – social studies. We anticipate that the draft social studies standards will go out for public comment this fall and we will begin working with teachers in 2015-16 to implement the standards and develop new social studies assessments for 2016-17.

Transformation does not happen overnight. From a concept laid out in Senate Bill 1 in 2009 through actual implementation of all the requirements in 2017, will be an eight year journey that, thus far, has been very rewarding, frustrating and just plain hard work for teachers and administrators. Parents and students have also had to endure many changes and modifications to K-12 schooling during this time.

Over the next year or so, we will hear from many politicians (state and national) who were not involved in the Senate Bill 1 process. For political reasons, they will push for “education reform.” We will hear calls for new standards, new assessments and new accountability – once again.  However, we should all be persistent in asking why change is needed, what the cost will be, what impact another change would have on teacher morale, and what the impact would be for parents and students.