Friday, July 31, 2015

What state testing tells us

There has been a lot of controversy over state testing in the last year. 

Fortunately, Kentucky has not seen much of this controversy thanks to the leadership of our General Assembly. In 2009, the Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 which required Kentucky to develop college- and career-ready standards, assessments based on these more rigorous standards and an accountability system aligned to both the standards and assessments. 

What has happened in other states?

While most other states adopted college- and career-ready standards in 2010-11 time frame, the adoption of the standards was voluntary. Major push back on college- and career-ready standards occurred after President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan supported adoption and implementation of the standards through the Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind Waivers. 

Most states moved slowly to implement the standards and relied on the Race to the Top (RTTT) assessment consortia – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced – to develop new assessments. The first administration of these consortia-developed state assessments took place during the 2014-15 school year, and only now states are beginning to report the results.

Major push back on the state assessments happened within the last 12 months primarily due to opposition to the college- and career-ready standards; opposition from teachers who were concerned about being evaluated based on student test scores (a Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waiver requirement); and opposition from parent organizations who were concerned about over testing of students and narrowing of curriculum due to an emphasis on tested subjects.

At one time, almost 40 states belonged to one or more of the assessment consortia. Very early in 2010, Kentucky belong to both. However, it became apparent to us that the consortia would not be able to provide an assessment that met our budget or timeline. 

Kentucky worked with classroom teachers and assessment experts to develop a Kentucky-specific assessment that was aligned from 3-8 through high school with the college-readiness expectations based on the ACT. Kentucky parents and teachers are able to determine as early as 3rd grade if a student is on track to reach the ACT college-readiness benchmark in the 11th grade. Since the ACT is a state-required assessment and is widely recognized by parents and colleges, this alignment seems to have given Kentucky an advantage with helping parents understand the importance of annual testing.

As I reflect on events since Senate Bill 1 in 2009, the key reasons that Kentucky has successfully navigated the rough political waters that have sunk other states are:
     1) General Assembly support and action on a comprehensive college- and career-ready agenda
     2) Overwhelming support and buy in from educators and parents for the college- and career-ready agenda.

Moving forward, I believe that we will continue to see other states struggle with state assessments. 

I predict the RTTT assessment consortia will have difficulty providing an assessment of college- and career-readiness that is comparable to accepted measures such as ACT. The consortia also will struggle to provide an assessment that is cost effective for states. Due to the political environment, we will continue to see more states drop out of the assessment consortia (currently the majority of states do not belong to an assessment consortium).

I am very proud of the leadership of the General Assembly and the work of Kentucky educators to make a smooth transition to a college- and career-ready agenda. I predict that the Kentucky economy will continue to improve due to the education focus on college- and career-readiness. 

Just this week, I reviewed data for the Class of 2013 that revealed students who graduated from high school, met the Kentucky college-readiness benchmarks and attend postsecondary out performed students who were not college ready. According to the data, in their first year of postsecondary, college-ready students 
     • have a much higher GPA (2.6 vs 1.7)
     • complete nearly double the number of college credit hours (21.9 vs 11.1) and 
     • return for a second year of postsecondary at a higher rate (85 percent versus 65 percent) 

This is great validation that our assessments and college-readiness benchmarks are strong predictors of postsecondary success.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Recovery of dropouts should be seen as opportunity

Senate Bill 97, which the Kentucky General Assembly passed in 2013, raises the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 for all Kentucky public school districts once 55 percent of districts voluntarily adopt such a policy. This took only two weeks in 2013. Because of the vision and leadership of these local boards of education, now all Kentucky school districts have adopted a policy to raise the dropout age to age 18, with the vast majority of districts implementing the policy in the upcoming 2015-16 school year. 

As a result, local districts are contacting students between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of school so the students can re-enroll in school this fall. 

The recovery of young adults who have made the unwise decision of dropping out of school is an economic, moral, and civil rights imperative for Kentucky. For too long, Kentucky has chosen to forget about these students and hoped that they were able to find their way in life. For too many of these students, the path forward has led to unemployment, dependency on social programs and for some, incarceration. More than 70 percent of the inmates in our nation’s prisons are high school dropouts.

The recovery of these young adults presents a tremendous opportunity for our schools and communities. The Kentucky Department of Education provided planning grants of $10,000 to assist school districts with this transition. Implementation grants also were provided to assist districts. And it should be pointed out that students who re-enroll are included in federal, state and local per pupil funding.

As with any new initiative there have been some missteps with implementation of the recovery system. Recent media articles have drawn attention to isolated cases of students caught in the middle of the transition to raising the dropout age.

One of the transition issues is related to the GED. For many years, high school dropouts looked to the GED as an alternative to a high school diploma. The GED was not intended for students between the ages of 16-18. The GED was intended for adults who were seeking to re-enter the education system to gain credentials that could help them gain better employment opportunities. 

A leading economic researcher, Dr. James Heckman, has well documented evidence that 16-18 year old high school dropouts who seek a GED have no better economic future than high school dropouts. Today’s economy does not support high school dropouts. There is substantial research to show the earnings difference between a high school dropout and students who move forward to a high school diploma and postsecondary credentials. 

Also, the GED has made a major shift in the level of performance expected to pass. The GED transition was based on the academic and career skills that students need in order to be competitive in the current economy. Very few of the students who have dropped out would be able to pass the new GED without significant support in literacy and numeracy skills. What better place to receive this support than in our public schools?

While Kentucky is shifting to a higher dropout age, there will be a number of students caught in the transition over the next two years. We must seize this opportunity to be creative and innovative. School districts must look at innovative ways to provide educational opportunities to these students. Educators must use common sense. It makes no sense to tell a 17-year-old who will turn 18 in December and has only a handful of high school credits that he/she must return to school and enter traditional credit coursework. Instead, educators should look for creative alternatives. Educators should utilize the plans created as the result of the planning and implementation grants provided by the Kentucky Department of Education. Educators should look for community-based solutions that would provide academic skills in a competency-based model and career and technical skills in work-based learning model that would provide the students caught in the transition with an improved hope of job readiness. 

The alternative is doing nothing and continuing to ignore these students. This alternative would only serve to sentence these students to an outlook based on poverty, despair and hopelessness. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

College and Career Readiness – Part II

Over the last few weeks, I have been spending a significant amount of time meeting with other states and presenting at national conferences on issues related to accountability and career and technical education. 

In the past year, several very important reports have focused on career and technical education. The Council of Chief State School Officers published a report titled Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students and the Southern Regional Education Board recently released Credentials for All: An Imperative for SREB States. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has published a report addressing the talent management pipeline and the National Governor’s Association has a major initiative with states that tackles the same issue. 

A common theme among all the reports is that we must change the national conversation concerning career and technical education and one of the strategies that can help is to elevate and integrate career and technical education within a state accountability system.

With the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2009, Kentucky had a clear mission to develop an accountability system that focused on the academic preparedness of high school graduates for entry-level courses at the postsecondary level. As we were developing the accountability model in late 2009 and 2010, every stakeholder group asked us also to address career readiness. One of our first steps was to come up with a clear definition of what that meant.

Career Ready:  the level of preparation (core academic skills, employability skills and technical, job-specific skills) a high school graduate needs in order to proceed to the next step in a chosen career, whether that is postsecondary coursework, industry certification, or entry into the military or workforce.

Once we came to a consensus on how to define career readiness, it was critical that we have measures to gauge how well our students were doing in the areas that it encompasses – core academic skills, employability skills and technical, job-specific skills

With the ACT already in place, we had a measure of core academic skills. It is clear that most jobs that pay a living wage will require reading and math skills that are commensurate with college-ready academic preparedness. A national organization has completed Lexile studies that show the reading level for jobs in most career-related areas require similar reading levels to college freshmen textbooks.

While the ACT provided the basic screen for academic readiness, Kentucky higher education provided tremendous support for Compass and other college placement tests (KYOTE), so that students had an opportunity to become academically ready during their senior year if they failed to do so on the ACT during their junior year. 

Additionally, working closely with the business community, Kentucky was able to determine that the WorkKeys silver, gold and platinum levels were excellent predictors of academic readiness and some employability skills.

Kentucky worked with the military community to identify the appropriate level on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) that clearly established a potential military candidate had the academic skills needed to enter a military career path, which equated to a private career path and a job that pays a living wage. 

The technical and job-specific skills are more wide ranging than the academic readiness. These skills require career pathway-specific measures. Students in Kentucky can gain technical readiness through the completion of a set of career and technical courses that are aligned to career pathways. Additionally, students are required to exhibit an appropriate level of employability and technical skills through either the Kentucky occupational assessments (KOSSA) and/or an approved industry-recognized certificate.

What we were able to do in Kentucky is to incentivize career and technical education by awarding accountability points for both college readiness and career readiness. In doing so, we elevated career and technical education to an equal status. The key for the future will be that we no longer talk about college- and career-readiness as separate issues. Educators should talk about students becoming “life ready.” 

Educators also should focus on the concept that there are no dead ends in education. A student may choose a career pathway and enter the workforce after gaining a one year technical certification and industry certification or a student may choose to enter the work force after a two-year or four-year degree. Either way, students should always be encouraged to return to education to gain additional and stackable credentials. 

Countries like Switzerland, Germany and Singapore have recognized the need to elevate and integrate career and technical education and their economies show the wisdom of this national focus. Kentucky has been at the forefront of this work in the U.S. and I anticipate that in the next 3-5 years we will see many more states move in a similar direction. 

Creating the workforce of the future should be one of our primary goals of education. This does not run counter to the goal of creating an adult with a passion and commitment to lifelong learning. College- and career-readiness are two concepts go hand in hand since both ensure success for children and our nation.

Friday, July 10, 2015

College/career-readiness for ALL – Part I

As I reflect on the last six years of working with educators in Kentucky, one of the most successful strategies has been the focus on college- and career-readiness.

Recently, the Education Commission of the States recognized the Kentucky Board of Education for the innovation of the Unbridled Learning accountability model, which has college and career readiness as a primary focus. The board’s recognition highlights the terrific job that our educators in Kentucky have done over the last six years helping more students reach college readiness.

The focus on college readiness was a result of Senate Bill 1 in 2009. At that time, only 30 percent of our high school graduates were able to enter credit bearing courses at the postsecondary level without the need for remediation. That number came from ACT results, the only measure we had at the time.

Thanks to a strong collaboration with our postsecondary partners under the leadership of Bob King at the Council of Postsecondary Education, Kentucky colleges developed several other measures of college readiness. Kentucky colleges expanded the use of the ACT Compass and the Kentucky-developed placement tests for math and language arts – KYOTE.

Many of our Kentucky colleges offered college remedial courses at high schools so that seniors who had not met the ACT benchmarks for college readiness were able to successfully complete the remediation during their senior year at no cost to parents. By utilizing multiple measures of college readiness, high schools and colleges were able to help more students reach the postsecondary-defined college-readiness levels for language arts and math.

Kentucky has been recognized nationally for this work in many publications due to the strong collaboration between K-12 and postsecondary. It is critical to note that the measures for college readiness were not defined by K-12. ALL measures for college readiness were defined and agreed upon by Kentucky colleges. What this means is that any student who reaches college readiness as defined by Kentucky colleges on the ACT, Compass, and/or KYOTE can be placed in a credit-bearing college course upon being enrolled in the college. Since Kentucky began this work, the college readiness rates have moved from 30 percent to more than 60 percent.

It is estimated that students and parents have been able to save more than $1,000 per student by avoiding non-credit bearing remedial course tuition at the college level. With almost 15,000 more students reaching college readiness for the class of 2015 compared to the class of 2009, Kentucky families have realized an estimated savings of almost $15 million. On top of that, high school graduates who reach college readiness levels are more likely to return to college for a second year, take more credit-bearing courses, and have a higher GPA.

I am extremely honored to have worked in a state with such a focus on student success. The partnership between K-12 and postsecondary is a model for all states. Kentucky teachers are the envy of the nation. Kentucky students and families have benefitted. Thanks for letting me be a part of such important work.

Next week, I will focus on the tremendous work done in career readiness.