Friday, September 26, 2014

Apology to teachers

This week, we sent out an apology to Kentucky teachers. We apologized for the software glitches that teachers were confronted with when they tried to complete the components of the new evaluation system. What happened that warrants an apology?

Kentucky has worked closely with teacher, principal, superintendent, school board and parent organizations to develop a system called the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). This system is in response to federal and state requirements to develop evaluation systems that use student growth as a significant factor. The work has been ongoing for almost 5 years now. In collaboration with teachers, principals, and superintendents, KDE designed software to support the new PGES.

For teachers, the new software system provides them with access to content standards, standards rewritten into “I can” statements, lesson planning tools, assessment design tools, student performance, professional development, and the components of the new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (TPGES). The effectiveness system components in the software are self-reflection, professional growth plan, peer and supervisor observation data, student growth data, and student voice data. The components are grouped together in our state software system within the Educator Development Suite (EDS). By using the software, principals can keep up with the components of the effectiveness system for each teacher they supervise and teachers are able to manage the evidences of the system without having to keep a paper portfolio (paperwork reduction).

The system was designed by teachers for teachers; however, the last few weeks have been very difficult for teachers and principals. The first component of the EDS was the teacher self-reflection. Teachers are asked to utilize the Charlotte Danielson framework for Effective Teaching and identify areas of strength and areas of improvement. This should have been very easy to use and not require too much teacher time. The reality is that the software had a number of problems. Teachers had difficulty logging in. Teachers, who did not save their work often, lost it. The software did not have an auto-save capacity and the time out restrictions were too tight. All in all, many teachers struggled with the software during the early part of the school year when they had little time to spare.

KDE and the software provider have been working overtime to correct the problems. As of this week, we now have more than 32,000 teachers who have successfully started or completed their self-reflection. Many teachers have now moved on to the professional growth plan, observations, and student growth goals. The data are showing that most of the software problems have been addressed and repaired.

As commissioner, I wanted to offer my sincere apology to the many teachers and principals who experienced frustration with the software that was supposed to make their job easier – not more difficult. I wanted to thank teachers and principals for their patience and persistence in dealing with the software problems.

We have worked almost five years together to develop a system that elevates the teaching profession and focuses on professional growth of teachers and principals. We will continue to monitor the software and the teacher experience with the software very closely. As teachers discover problems or concerns with the software, please let the Help Desk know of the problems so that we can quickly address the issues.

It is my hope that the rest of the year and the required components of the new system go very smoothly and that teachers feel they are supported in their efforts to grow professionally.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting aside micromanagement for the sake of students

Last week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) held the second annual Superintendent Summit; almost all 173 school districts were represented either by the superintendent or their designee. The summit is designed so that superintendents can provide feedback on KDE initiatives and they can hear from each other about best practices happening in each district.

We asked for superintendents to respond to three basic questions about KDE/Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) initiatives: What is working well? What needs to be improved? What specific suggestions do you have for improvement? We then compile the superintendent responses and provide a summary of the feedback. Throughout the school year, KDE reacts to concerns and suggestions and provides a summary at the next summit on specific actions KDE/KBE took to address the superintendent’s feedback.

During this year’s summit, I was reminded that every level of an organization believes the level above is micromanaging. Superintendents were certainly clear that they had concerns about KDE micromanagement of local districts and KDE oversight of data and evidences for specific state programs. Of course, principals usually express similar concerns about superintendents and teachers express similar concerns about principals and district office. This reminder was significant because as a state chief, I have expressed similar concerns with the United States Department of Education (USED). Many of my fellow state chiefs also have expressed similar concerns.

Readers may remember several recent posts related to my concerns with USED over the No Child Left Behind waiver process (USED action contrary to state, federal law; The good news and bad news on NCLB waivers; Congressional inaction leaving education behind). As a result of my blogs and expressions of concerns by other state chiefs, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked for a meeting with the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers. That meeting was held on September 12.

The meeting was a very productive. Secretary Duncan and his team wanted to hear our specific concerns about the waiver process. The concerns expressed by my fellow chiefs were very much the same that I had written about. Secretary Duncan and his team had already prepared some possible solutions to our concerns. Secretary Duncan apologized for the breakdown in communication with regard to Kentucky’s waiver request around science assessments. All in all, the chiefs felt they had been listened to and USED was responding to our concerns. Just like my meeting with local superintendents, a leader should listen to concerns from the field and respond with improvements where possible and explain why certain concerns cannot be addressed.

While the chiefs certainly appreciate Sec. Duncan listening and responding to our concerns, the entire basis for the conversation needs to change. Congress needs to do its job. Education must not fall victim to micromanagement by political interests on either side of the aisle – if it does, our children are the ones who lose. Congress needs to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) and allow states the flexibility to manage K-12 education as long as there is a focus on improving teaching and learning.

With upcoming mid-term elections, the electorate has an opportunity to send our elected officials a message – do your job!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feedback is critical to success

Kentucky began implementing a new state accountability system in 2011-12. The system is called Unbridled Learning. It was built on the requirements of Senate Bill 1 (2009) and is used to meet both state accountability requirements as well as the federal requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education/No Child Left Behind Act.

The system has been very successful in pushing improvements in the percentage of students who graduate from high school ready for college and career. The system has also been successful in increasing high school graduation rates and the percentage of students who are ready for school when they enter kindergarten. We have also started to see significant improvement in areas such as ACT, grades 3-6 reading and math and closing of achievement gaps for several of our student groups.

While we have seen success in some areas, we have not improved in 7th- and 8th-grade math and language arts achievement and we have not improved as quickly as needed to close the achievement gap and boost student performance on high school end-of-course tests.

We originally committed to a three-year window for implementation of the Unbridled Learning model before we made any significant changes. School year 2013-14 completed that three year cycle and we are tentatively scheduled to share results publicly on October 2.

This summer, we began gathering feedback from our stakeholders so that, at the October Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) meeting, we could provide recommendations for any changes to the Unbridled Learning system. We have met with advisory groups representing students, parents, business, teachers, principals, school boards and numerous advocacy groups. We had an online tool for the public to provide feedback also. This week we gathered superintendents from all of our 173 school districts and provided them with the results of the feedback and polled the superintendents on their support for the numerous recommendations we had received.

What happens now? Next month, the KBE will review all of the feedback and the results of the superintendent survey on recommendations. Kentucky Department of Education staff will take direction from KBE on what changes need to be made to the accountability system and will modify existing regulatory language to reflect those changes.  In December, staff will present proposed revisions of the regulatory language for a first reading. Second reading of regulatory changes will occur in February and, if approved, the regulatory changes will start moving through the legislative review process. There are many opportunities for public comment along the way. If the revised regulation becomes law, the changes will not take effect until the 2015-16 school year. School districts will continue to operate under the existing Unbridled Learning accountability model for the 2014-15 school year.

This process sounds complicated and, at times, it can be confusing to teachers, parents, and administrators. However, it is critical to engage all stakeholders in gaining feedback. The strength of our Kentucky education improvements has been and will continue to be collaboration and communication with all stakeholders.

Kentucky education results will continue to improve as long as we listen to concerns from all groups and make improvements. Feedback and action on the feedback are critical to the success of our students, schools and districts, and meeting our goal of college/career-readiness of all students.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Examining dual credit inequities

Dual credit is one of several strategies that has proven effective in helping more students reach college- and career-readiness and achieve success at the postsecondary level. So, it makes sense to fully utilize this strategy to help us reach our goal of college/career-readiness for all students and our ultimate goal of a better prepared workforce.

However, in June, Council on Postsecondary Education President Robert King, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority Executive Director Carl Rollins and I received a letter from House Education Chair Derrick Graham and Senate Education Chair Mike Wilson. The letter expressed concerns that members of the General Assembly were hearing from constituents about consistency in implementation of dual credit policies across the Commonwealth. The letter asked President King, Dr. Rollins and me to pull together a task force to look at the concerns with dual credit policy implementation and bring back recommendations around access, finance, quality, and transfer of credit.

This week, the dual credit task force had the first of its three planned meetings; the agenda focused on a national perspective and how Kentucky compares. Dr. Jennifer Zinth, from the Education Commission of the States, provided the group with an excellent review of current state policies and best practices for dual credit. The next presenter, Dr. Amy Loyd, shared information from the Harvard Pathways to Prosperity Project, Jobs for the Future dual enrollment strategies and data from a national review of early college programs.  I encourage you to click on the links above to view their presentations.

The task force agenda for the Sept. 26 meeting at the Council for Postsecondary Education will focus on Kentucky-specific issues. The group will hear updates from CPE, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities on how higher education institutions are implementing current dual credit policies in our state. The presentation will focus on access, finance, course quality and transfer of credits. 

Also, KDE will be updating the dual credit survey – first completed in 2013. We will be providing superintendents with survey access at the September 11 Superintendent Summit and ask for a quick response so that we can provide a state perspective at the Sept. 26 task force meeting. 

Finally, at the next meeting we will be inviting a number of best practice sites from across Kentucky to provide examples of the high performing dual credit programs in Kentucky.

Should readers have questions or comments about the dual credit task force, please contact Marissa Hancock in our Office of Career and Technical Education.  We expect to issue a final task force report and recommendations in December.