Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ACT results show far too few Kentucky high school graduates have academic preparation they need for postsecondary pursuits

ACT results from the graduating class of 2016 released today indicate that Kentucky’s graduates have only narrowly sustained the progress that has been made in English (57% meeting Kentucky’s college- and career-ready benchmark) and reading (50% meeting benchmark) over recent years. The results, however, show that graduates have lost ground in mathematics, falling from 44.5% meeting benchmark in 2015 to 41% in 2016. Achievement gaps, meanwhile, have not budged.

It is imperative that Kentucky make rapid progress in the number of students graduating with the academic preparation they need for their next steps. It is also imperative that this journey ensure that students in groups with the lowest rates of meeting college- and career-ready benchmarks make dramatic improvement.

A high school graduate’s preparation for postsecondary education and training involves a range of academic, technical, and employability knowledge and skills that go well beyond what can be measured on a single test. The ACT test, however, which is taken by all 11th grade students in Kentucky, provides one important data point with which to evaluate Kentucky high school graduates’ preparation for their postsecondary pursuits.

Today’s results matter for two distinct reasons.

The first reason is that a students’ scores on the ACT have a direct bearing on his or her opportunities after high school. Meeting Kentucky’s college- and career-ready benchmarks means entry into credit-bearing courses in Kentucky colleges and universities, putting students on a solid footing to meet their postsecondary goals. Results from 2016 raise an alarm that fewer students will be ready for credit-bearing courses in mathematics, increasing the cost of postsecondary education and lowering students’ likelihood of completion. These results have real costs for families and the state’s economy.

The second reason is that these results provide a comparable measure of student learning of essential academic knowledge and skills. ACT’s own research shows that the best strategy to increase scores is to expose students to rich and rigorous coursework. Test prep is not a sound strategy. Across the board, Kentucky’s results on a variety of state and national measures show that mathematics needs considerable and urgent attention.

These results call for Kentuckians to work together to accomplish the following:

  • set high expectations for each student along with school culture and climate that helps each student achieve at high levels, as students will rise to the expectations of adults that they respect and admire
  • increase investments in effective and equitable strategies to ensure that each student engages in challenging work that aligns to the state’s standards
  • put an emphasis on mathematics with a systematic approach that encompasses elementary and middle school years that set the foundation for high school success

Finally, as Kentucky works to rebalance a college- and career-ready accountability system for all schools, it’s critically important that the state use national benchmarks of readiness rather than Kentucky setting its own, lower benchmarks that fail to set expectations for students at an adequate level relative to their peers in other states. Setting benchmarks lower than the national bar puts Kentucky’s students at a disadvantage.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Kentucky schools prioritize educator diversity

| by Cory Curl |

One of the many reasons that we Kentuckians have such devotion to Kentucky is the strength we draw from the rich and textured cultures flourishing in communities between the Mississippi River and the Appalachians, from country to city and everywhere in between.

We aspire that our young people, in particular, draw strength from their cultures as they take their education journeys. As such, leaders across Kentucky have long prioritized efforts to recruit and retain educators whose experiences or expertise reflect the full range of our students' cultures. 

The Prichard Committee study group report released last week, Excellence with Equity: It's Everybody's Business, calls on the state to redouble these efforts and to do so with urgency. 

The report illuminates, for example, that past efforts to recruit teachers of color have not met their promise. Today, Kentucky has 20.9% students of color but only 4.6% teachers of color. 

We are encouraged by new momentum to increase intentional efforts to recruit and retain a more diverse teacher workforce. For example, in Paducah Independent, district leaders point to the need to make sure students have role models that look like them and know where they came from. Kentucky's 2016 Teacher of the Year, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, shares her own story of why educator diversity matters for all students. 

Many states and communities across the nation are also bringing renewed energy to educator diversity. We look forward to learning from these efforts as well as strategies that our Kentucky communities take in coming years.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Why Knowledge Matters

| by Cory Curl |

Reading comprehension has a lot to do with students’ knowledge and vocabulary.

To build a foundation for reading comprehension for all future learning, students need exposure to a well-rounded curriculum including science, social studies, arts, music, and other subjects beginning in early elementary school. Susan Weston has shared this point several times here at PrichBlog.

Fortunately, Kentucky’s education community has understood this for a long time. Both policy and practice have emphasized a well-rounded curriculum, and we have the results to suggest that this is the right track.

Science is a case in point. As Lisa Hansel of the Knowledge Matters campaign pointed out in a webinar that we hosted last evening, Kentucky ranked 4th in the nation on the 2009 4th grade NAEP science test. That year, Kentucky elementary schools had the highest amount of instructional time devoted to science (see this paper by Dr. Rolf Blank).

Lisa also suggested that this commitment to building knowledge in the early grades contributes to Kentucky’s strong showing in NAEP reading, where Kentucky 4th grade students score in the top 10 in the nation.

The webinar also featured Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who went into lively detail about why knowledge matters for reading comprehension, as well as why attention to this connection is important for equity for all students. Lisa provided five concrete recommendations of how states can incentivize a well-rounded approach in the early grades. You can learn more about the research and recommendations in this issue brief.

We had a great discussion about how parents can advocate for a knowledge-rich curriculum. Lisa and Robert also shared stories to illustrate why an emphasis on building knowledge provides an opportunity for engaging and active classroom learning rather than rote memorization.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides some policy spark for states to incentivize a well-rounded education, an opportunity that Secretary of Education John King underscored in recent remarks. As always, we encourage you to be involved in Kentucky’s efforts to redesign its accountability system and otherwise take advantage of opportunities provided in the new law.

We welcome your suggestions on how can help keep you informed and engaged through the process.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What Kind of Student Writing Do We Want? And Where?

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

 Some writing makes an argument to support a claim.  Other pieces inform or explain, and still others provide narratives or real or imagined experience.  Our Kentucky Academic Standards call for students to become skilled in all three, but that still leaves room to puzzle about how much teaching and learning time should be invested in each kind. 

In EdWeek's new coverage of Changing Practice in Writing Instruction, that balancing pops up in multiple places.  In one interview, Lucy Calkins says "the common core says that a third of kids’ writing should be narrative."  Another article reports that "By the time students are in 12th grade, literary writing to convey experiences is expected to take up 20 percent of the time allotted to composition, compared with 40 percent each for informative writing and argumentative writing."

Both statements share a part of story. The 2010 Common Core State Standards aimed to align with an earlier Writing Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  The original CCSS document show that framework using this table:
It's clear that Dr. Calkins' comment is about the grade 4 expectations, and the other article was explicitly looking at grade 12.

Both leave something big to be said.  This isn't all about English and the study of composition. Much of the high school writing for argumentation and explanation can be, should be, and must be part of mastering scientific communication and civic participation. That work belongs in science classes and social studies classes. That version of literacy needs teachers who are expert in the work of those disciplines.  Still more, those disciplines need literate students: they need students who are equipped to make sense of texts about science and social studies and equipped to organize and share thinking in those fields. 

For example, a high school's writing plans might be spread out like this, with plenty of room for narrative in English because major slices of argument and explanation happen in other classes.

The elementary and middle years can prepare students for that high school range, with argument and explanation becoming increasingly important as students mature.

Seeing the role of disciplines beyond English is essential to understanding how richly English classes can engage narrative writing, literary texts, and other classic undertaking.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky's Future Postsecondary Success

The Prichard Committee today released a report outlining the the key elements of the Committee's work in postsecondary education going forward, as well as establishing guiding principles for ensuring Kentucky reaches its education, economic, workforce, and civic potential.
The full report can be found via the Committee's web-site here, The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky's Future Postsecondary Success
Below is the full text of the Prichard Committee's statement released today:
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Providing a framework for a productive discussion on the future of postsecondary education in Kentucky is the goal of a series of guiding principles developed by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“The Pursuit of Excellence: Principles to Guide Kentucky’s Future Postsecondary Success” provides a focus for the committee’s return to an area of advocacy that served as its foundation in the early 1980s.

The citizens’ organization was known at the time as the Prichard Committee on Higher Education in Kentucky’s Future. Its 1981 report, In Pursuit of Excellence, noted that “despite a tendency of people to become pessimistic about the value of institutions, (they) still look to education as the road to a better life and as the source of information and talent needed to solve problems.”

That remains true today as Kentucky faces issues of access, affordability, accountability and the relative value of achieving success through postsecondary education, the committee said.

In encouraging parents, students, business and community leaders, institutions and policymakers to participate in a discussion to ensure Kentucky builds and maintains an educated citizenry and a talented workforce, the Prichard Committee issued guiding principles that focus on access, affordability and quality:
  • Access – High-quality postsecondary educational opportunities in Kentucky should be inclusive of all students, and Kentucky should ensure that all students are prepared for, have knowledge of, and are encouraged to pursue opportunities through postsecondary education pathways.
  • Affordability – High-quality postsecondary education in Kentucky should be affordable to all students who want to benefit from and pursue such opportunities.
  • Quality - To ensure the highest quality postsecondary education system and student outcomes, Kentucky should focus resources on and measure institutional performance in improving the lives of students and the public at large.
“In the current fiscal and political climate, investments in postsecondary education – both funding and strategies to achieve public goals – must remain a public policy priority,” the committee concluded. “Abundant research and the reality of the lives of countless Kentuckians make clear that greater educational attainment does, indeed, represent the path to a larger life for individuals and the state as a whole.”

“The Prichard Committee has focused on increasing the quality of P-12 education for more than 30 years. With more students than ever becoming ready for college and career, it’s critical to ensure our entire education system presents a seamless web of opportunity for all Kentuckians,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee.  “Renewing focus on access to affordable, high-quality postsecondary education will support efforts to ensure Kentucky has an educated citizenry and talented workforce.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

African American Suspensions: Cause for Sorrow

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Both suspensions and in-school removals take students out of their regular classes as a consequence for behavior. The chart above does not mean that every African American student was suspended last year. It does come close to meaning that for every African American student who was not suspended, another African American student was suspended more than once.

So far, what I’ve got on this is sorrow.

Sorrow for the students who separated from their classmates, removed from their school’s broad welcome in the simplest and most visible way imaginable.

Sorrow for the students who watch those separations, puzzling over what it means, puzzling over whether they should learn something general about an “us” or about a “them” from the pattern of who gets sent away.

Sorrow for the educators who decide on the separations, whether they had better options or not, whether they are still searching for other ways to work with the students or settled into despair.

Sorrow for the families, whether they think a particular exclusion just or unjust, whether they are giving the children the best preparation to avoid this kind of consequence or not.

Sorrow for connections not made, relationships not flourishing, potential not growing at its fullest possible speed.

Sorrow for all of us, because these students should be strong, secure, and settling into confident membership in our communities, and we somehow have not come close to making what should be into what happens here now.

I wish I had deep insight into how this happens in schools and classrooms.  I wish I had bold ideas for how to make it different.  I've been looking at these numbers since last October, without finding that kind of clarity.  Sorrow is what I've got, so I'll speak that, and welcome all thoughts on how we can do better.

Below: sharply contrasting data for three other groups of students:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Forward Progress for Early Childhood

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be an unexpected win for progress and innovation in early childhood.

Given the state’s significant state fiscal challenges, the session began with little hope for increasing the state’s investment in our youngest learners, and with a lot of questions about the continued support for the Commonwealth’s commitment to quality early childhood.

Nonetheless, early childhood advocates proposed key measures to help maintain the state’s momentum:

  • Align public preschool eligibility and child care assistance eligibility to the same Federal poverty level (FPL) and incrementally increase eligibility for both programs to 200% of FPL. Current preschool eligibility is 160% of FPL 
  • Current child care assistance eligibility is 150% of the 2011 FPL 
  • Incentivize collaboration between public preschool and private child care to increase participation in preschool and serve children in environments that best suit their needs.

In the end, the final budget approved by the Governor and General Assembly included significant progress – maintaining and increasing the state’s investment while also providing for innovations to build capacity and strengthen the system:

  • Increased child care assistance eligibility to 160% of current FPL, bringing it into alignment with the eligibility level for public preschool 
  • Maintained the full $90 million for preschool and maintained eligibility at 160% of FPL 
  • From the $90 million for preschool, carved out a set aside of $7.5 million in each year of the biennium to establish an incentive grant for local collaborations between school districts and private child care providers to increase participation in preschool. Statewide, enrollment has dropped significantly since 2010.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education Staff Note, June 2015

We are thrilled to see the incentive grant program for early childhood partnerships in the budget. This is a testament to the state’s commitment to innovation and partnership in early childhood. It will be important for Kentucky to make the most of this unique opportunity by building evidence of success by serving more young learners, increasing school readiness, and improving efficiency of programs.

The budget language calls on the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to administer the incentive grant program. It requires KDE to work with the Kentucky Board of Education, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and Child Care Advisory Council to design the program requirements. The next few months will be a pivotal time for these state agencies and advisory groups, as well as for school districts and child care providers to identify ways that they can partner to better serve young learners in full-day programs.

Why is it so important for school districts and child care providers to work together?

  • Increasing access to quality preschool programs helps increase kindergarten readiness and early success in school.
  • Public preschool should be increased in a way that does not crowd out private child care.
  • Public-private partnerships bring diversity into the system that helps build the state’s capacity to serve more children with high-quality services that meet families’ needs.
  • Partnerships between the public and private sectors encourage efficient and effective use of resources.

The idea of partnerships is not new in Kentucky.

  • In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief that detailed the benefits of partnerships and examples of models underway now in Kentucky.
  • In January 2016, the Early Childhood Study Group report recommended partnerships as a way to strengthen school readiness and ensure a stronger system for children from birth through third grade.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, or ideas about effective partnerships between school districts and child care providers. We will continue to keep you informed as we learn more about this unique opportunity for Kentucky’s young learners.