CARROLLTON, Ky. - Kentucky's tough new academic standards defining what students should know before they graduate from high school offer exciting opportunities for progress, a group of teachers told the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence during its recent spring meeting.
Beginning this fall, teachers and students across Kentucky will be working with a new set of standards in math and English language arts. A few school districts got an early start with the standards under a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Educators from one of those districts spoke with Prichard Committee members about their experiences so far with the new language arts standards.
"The beauty of these new standards is they take these big ideas (of what students should know upon graduation) and back them all the way to kindergarten," said Marty Dixon, middle and high school English language arts specialist for Fayette County Public Schools.
Robin Reid, social studies department chair at Lafayette High School in Lexington, said she was excited about the new standards because they encourage the use of writing to help students learn more about all subjects - a view echoed by Brian Toy, the science department chair at Lafayette. "This type of writing increases content knowledge and prepares students for college and careers," he added.
"Students can do this. They really can," noted Lafayette literacy specialist Sherri McPherson who has worked with diverse classrooms and had initial concerns about whether struggling students could master the work.
The committee also heard from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who encouraged the group to continue its vocal advocacy for the tougher standards and the new assessment and accountability system that is being developed.
The state's limited resources will result in more cuts in education funding, Holliday said, predicting that the department will be pressured to spend less on the standards and assessment work to make money available for other purposes. He reinforced the importance of the standards and the need to improve the college/career preparation of all students with some statistical projections. According to the commissioner:
- Of the 50,000 students who finished 8th grade this spring, between 10,000 and 15,000 will drop out before graduating from high school.
- Of the remaining 35,000, only 10,000 will graduate ready for college-level courses or the demands of the modern workplace. The rest will need additional training or instruction.
The Prichard Committee has launched a public engagement initiative, ReadyKentucky, to help teachers, parents and other involved Kentuckians understand and prepare for the new standards. The committee is working in partnership with several other organizations and the support of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to disseminate information statewide. More details are available at ReadyKentucky.org.
The role of teachers in student success is critical, and improving the way teachers are evaluated was the focus of another presentation to the committee by Sarah Buhayer, program manager of the MET Project: Measures of Effective Teaching for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"In this country, teacher evaluation is broken," Buhayer said in describing the research project that involves more than 3,000 teachers in seven school districts across the country. "Teachers want to be evaluated in ways that are fair and meaningful."
The study includes student surveys, correlations between student responses and classroom performance, videos of teachers' classroom presentations that they can use for self-evaluation, coaching and materials. The goal is to boost the effectiveness of all teachers through effective evaluation and targeted professional development.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a statewide citizens' advocacy group, founded in 1983, working to improve education for all Kentuckians.