Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'Tis a Gift to be Curious

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

In the midst of a gubernatorial campaign year, I’ve been asked a number of times to participate in discussions about Kentucky’s Academic Standards.  Each time, I shared that the four-year trend in our test scores is positive, that 3rd grade reading and math proficiency levels are up since we adopted the new standards and ACT scores have increased. But, adoption of standards - any standards – is not a magic fix to increase student outcomes.  I challenged the audience each time to look more deeply into the classroom - to look for evidence that teaching and learning is changing and that students and teachers alike are deeply engaged.

At a national meeting recently, I quietly rejoiced when I heard Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute assert that we are generally “incurious about the classroom”. We spend so much time discussing and debating standards, assessment, and accountability and, while these are necessary and important policy discussions, we so rarely step back to peer into the classroom where policy and practice converge. 

This holiday season, we would like to give you the gift of curiosity - a window into Kentucky classrooms in Bowling Green, Nicholasville and Covington.  We were curious about implementation of the standards, how teachers are improving their practice and how students are responding.  We hope you enjoy the three briefs below and, as a result, feel inspired and curious about what is happening in Kentucky classrooms near you. 

The real test of any set of standards is what’s happening in real classrooms, between real teachers and real students. 
 Finding Solutions

 Expanding Literacy: Reading, Writing Emphasized Beyond English Class

 Making Connections: Language Arts Skills Enhanced Across Genres

Friday, December 18, 2015

Celebrating Vicki Phillips - Visionary and Kentucky Native

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting with Vicki Phillips while she and her colleagues at the Gates Foundation were visiting Pikeville, Kentucky.  We gathered around a table during a reception at the Blue Raven and Vicki began recounting her path to becoming a leader in education. 

From a humble beginning in a small Kentucky town, Vicki didn’t even envision herself in college.  She found herself there, nonetheless, because of the encouragement and active support of a high school peer who could see Vicki’s potential. She went on to complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.  She taught in Kentucky schools and ended up working alongside leaders in the Kentucky Department of Education to implement the Kentucky Education Reform Act.  Very early on, Vicki was known for her leadership and her ability to connect best practices in schools to policies at the state level. Before long, Vicki was on the national stage - leading school districts, state departments of education and national conversations about education.  Her focus has always been on changing outcomes for students and knowing that this happens in a rich classroom environment and in the relationship between teacher and student. 

Like so many who have a lasting and positive impact on our world, it became clear to me that Vicki’s passion for her work is deeply rooted in a desire to make things better for those who come behind. Her life’s work is in service to the students and teachers in our classrooms and the system that serves them. 

Right before visiting with Vicki around that table in Pikeville, she announced that she would be leaving the Gates Foundation.  She remarked that she had been with Gates for eight years - the longest she’d been anywhere and that it was time to open the space for the next person and to move on to her next thing.  This post is a tribute to Vicki’s amazing work, work that has been supporting Kentucky’s reform efforts since the 1990’s.  Below you will find comments from teachers who have been impacted by Vicki’s vision and passion. 

We wish Vicki all the very best and look forward to hearing about the next chapter in her life.  Until then, send your own best wishes to Vicki and see what others are saying at #whyilovevicki.    
Photo: (From left to right) Me, Brian Bishop, Vicki Phillips, Cory Curl and Brad Clark
Vicki Phillips has changed my life professionally and personally by allowing me to serve as part of the Teaching Advisory Council, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Not only did this opportunity open my eyes to a national perspective of teacher leadership, but my doors are now open to best practice outside of Kentucky.  I have colleagues with whom I collaborate daily in all corners of the United States.  Vicki was our mentor and believed that our voice mattered.  She embraced the quote, “Nobody knows teaching like teachers” and I have the deepest respect for the culture change for which she helped create in Kentucky and nationally.  Thank you, Vicki Phillips, for being a true inspiration and elevating the profession for all teachers and students.

~ Kip Hottman, Spanish teacher, Louisville, KY

“Dr. Vicki P” has been one of the driving forces in my teacher leadership journey.  I will never forget being in her presence for the first time at my initial Teacher Advisory Council experience last June in Seattle.  Her passion came through every word; all in attendance were captivated. In the months since, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her speak in several settings.  Her message continues to be that teachers know what the profession needs, and the time is now to make our voices heard.  The work that teacher leaders do across the Commonwealth is linked by her leadership and vision for improving both student and teacher learning.  

~ MeMe Ratliff, Physical Education teacher, Louisville, KY

Vicki Phillips has been a change maker in education and a guiding light for Kentucky teachers. As a teacher who is spreading her teacher leadership wings Vicki provides an amazing example of what a lil’ ole Kentucky teacher can become and what they are capable of doing for teachers and students around the US. Vicki is an inspiration and I am honored to have had the pleasure of meeting her as well as sharing our Kentucky roots. She will be missed at the Foundation, however nothing but great things lie ahead for the amazing Vicki Phillips.

~ Samantha Sams, Math & Science teacher, Versailles, KY

Dr. Phillips has always been a thoughtful supporter of the education reform work in Kentucky.  Her attention to detail and willingness to ask the difficult questions of teachers on how to improve student and teacher learning experiences created ripe conditions for classroom practitioners to lead the redesign of education systems.  Kentucky will miss her support but what Dr. Phillips and her team kick-started in Kentucky is a sustainable distributive leadership movement that has the potential to deeply impact the public school students of Kentucky.

~ Brad Clark, Hope Street Teaching Fellows, Kentucky

Dr. Vicki Phillips has irrevocably changed my life.  She mentored me while I served on the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but has paved the way for Kentucky teachers--and those of the nation--to do what they know best.  Her mentorship has fostered my relationship with teachers across the nation, and her parting words to “raise my voice” collectively with my teaching peers has never been more timely.  I know Vicki will continue to mentor, raise her voice, and challenge all teachers to do what they know best--and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds for her.

~ Missy Callaway, English Language Arts teacher, Louisville, KY

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Kentucky teachers work together to implement standards

| by Suzetta Yates, Development Director |

On Saturday, December 5, I observed a teacher convening in Louisville organized by Student Achievement Partners. Student Achievement Partners is a nonprofit working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of academic standards focused on college and career readiness for all students. Their website is full of free content designed to help Math and English Language Arts (ELA) educators understand and implement college- and career-ready standards. The goal is to build teacher capacity by giving them tools to increase student achievement.

Jana Bryant, a Daviess County math instructional coach, is the captain of a group of 14 state-wide Kentucky teachers that have been trained on implementing standards here in Kentucky. Jana led a group to organize this convening to train even more teachers.  “The Kentucky Core Advocate convening offered teachers the opportunity to reflect on the necessary shifts needed within their own instructional practices that are essential to implementing the math and ELA standards. Teachers had time to learn about new resources and to collaborate with one another about strategies that are working within our classrooms. Conversations focused on how we must set the expectation high for EVERY student and use the time we have within our school day most effectively. We are honored that Student Achievement Partners selected Kentucky to support as we built a Core Advocate Leadership team who designed programming specific to the needs of students and teachers,” Bryant said. 

Sandra Alberti, Director of State and District Partnerships and Professional Development at Student Achievement Partners, welcomed the crowd of over 100 educators by saying, “Kentucky always ends up first”.

“The Standards first and foremost were designed to support teachers in their commitment to prepare students for opportunities after graduation.  It has always been the intent that teachers own this work – that they have the opportunity to build understanding, share that understanding with their colleagues, and support each other as they do the work with the students in their classrooms. My colleagues and I from Student Achievement Partners left Kentucky completely inspired by some amazing and incredibly committed educators.  I am confident that the educators and the students of the state stand to benefit from this network,” Alberti said.

Dr. Angela Gunter, a National Board Certified Teacher from Daviess County writes,I think the real power of the convening was the energy in the room. Spending two long days on a weekend digging deeply into theory and practice of knowledge building and acquisition could seem daunting, but the genuine dedication to improving practice and the spirit of collegiality among the Kentucky Core Catalysts made the time fly by. We had to make people leave their work groups to go to lunch and breaks. Teachers are thirsting for training that helps them improve their practice, and the Kentucky Core Advocate Text Set Project offers the training, the alignment, the relevance, and the ongoing collaboration designed to affect both teacher and student growth.”

Michelle Ruckdeschel, Heritage Park High School, writes, “it is quite a commitment to ask a teacher to give up their weekend to come together to have deep, meaningful conversations about mathematics and literacy, but the overall feeling in the room as the Catalysts left on Sunday was renewal and excitement to get back to their schools and districts to share the information that they had received. The conversations and sharing of practices and initiatives from all corners of the state were wonderful. The KY Mathematics Coherence Campaign allows the new Catalysts to educate others on the importance of understanding the connections of mathematical concepts across grades as well as within grades to allow students the best possible designed instruction our Kentucky teachers can offer.”

Spending time with this group of teachers was a privilege and the enthusiasm in the room was contagious. Kentucky students are in good hands.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Federal Education Law Set for Revamp

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

It appears that the United States Congress is poised to give state and local education leaders a mighty and surprising gift as 2015 comes to a close – a very long-awaited reauthorized version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA). The new version appears to be one that gives far greater influence to state and local leaders to design and carry out school accountability systems.

(Some background: A conference committee of House and Senate leaders has approved a draft version of a bill to replace the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which has been overdue for reauthorization since 2007. In 2011, given the delay in reauthorizing the law, the U.S. Department of Education began a process to grant waivers from NCLB for state accountability systems – waivers that came with some additional strings attached. Currently, Kentucky’s school accountability system operates under the federal waiver policy.)

The new name of the federal law will be the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Here are a few ways that ESSA will look the same and look different from the world according to NCLB and the slightly different world according to the Department’s waiver policy, and potential implications for Kentucky.

What looks the same, or mostly the same:
  • States will test all students each year in grades 3-8, and once in high school, in both reading and mathematics, with testing in science once per grade span.
    •  A new provision will allow up to seven states to pilot test new kinds of assessments that would then be deployed in districts across the state.
  • States will need to report assessment data at the school level as well as for groups of students – by race/ethnicity, income, students with disabilities, and English learners.
    • As a departure to the waiver policy, states will not be able to combine groups of students into “super-subgroups” – such as Kentucky’s “Gap Group” – for accountability purposes. 
  • Similar to the Priority Schools approach in the current waiver policy, states will need to identify the lowest performing five percent of schools based on test results and graduation rates. States also need to identify schools where specific subgroups of students are struggling – similar to today’s Focus School approach.
    • At least initially, however, local districts will have greater discretion in how they support these schools.

What looks different:
  • States will have greater autonomy to select academic and non-academic indicators in the accountability system. They will need to include proficiency on state assessments, another academic indicator (such as student growth rates), and English language proficiency – and these need to have greatest weight in the system. They will, however, need to include at least one indicator beyond test results, such as student engagement, completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, etc. High schools will also need to include graduation rates.
  • States are pretty much on their own in setting school performance goals based on these indicators. States will need to set goals that call on improvement from all groups of students, but faster progress for students that start out farther behind. This is an important opportunity for state leadership, and a critical area for Kentucky to get right, and with shared ownership and enthusiasm across the Commonwealth among educators, families, policy leaders, and communities for meeting the goals.
  • The ESSA draft does not include any federal requirements for teacher evaluation, as in the current waiver policy, or highly-qualified teachers, as in NCLB. As a result, implementation of Kentucky’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), as well as its continuous improvement, will not be affected by federal requirements.

In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to vote on the bill, and the President is expected to sign it by the end of the year. From there, it appears that the current waiver policy – under which Kentucky’s school accountability system falls now – will sunset in August 2016. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Common Core as political football ignores its benefits to students

Today, Lydia Burns, a senior at West Jessamine High School and chair of the Committee on Academic Standards for the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, shares her perspective on Kentucky's academic standards:
Though it has everything to do with what students are learning, "Common Core" is a phrase you're more likely to hear about on the presidential campaign trail than in a Kentucky classroom.
Sound bites like "frankenstandard," "rotten to the core" and even an outright "disaster" pepper the national conversation, fueled by controversy-hungry news media.
But it can be difficult to wrap one's head around why academic standards have become such a political football in the 2016 presidential race in the first place when, five years into their adoption here in Kentucky, they have enjoyed strong bipartisan support and produced some solid success stories in our classrooms, where it ought to matter most.
At least some of the political rhetoric against the standards is based on the faulty premise that they are a federal mandate and fly in the face of states' rights. This is despite the fact the core academic standards evolved out of grass-roots state initiatives.
More specifically, though their implementation was encouraged by a $4.4 billion grant from the Obama administration, Common Core standards were developed by Republican and Democratic governors together with state education officials.
And even more specifically than that, it was Kentucky's education leadership that spearheaded the national effort.
But even beyond that, as a student myself, I take offense that politicians are having conversations about education in which we are hardly even a factor. Education policy should revolve around students, not the whims of an election cycle — especially since so many of us are too young to vote and these decisions so directly affect us.
The political noise is drowning out the voices of people who are directly affected by the Core: students and our dedicated teachers. Why are we not serving as the more credible feedback loop? Why are more people not asking us what we see at the classroom level?
No one says the Core is perfect, and many of us in the classroom paying attention can tell that their implementation might have been better planned.
We can see firsthand, for example, that some of our teachers did not anticipate, or simply could not accommodate, the amount of time and effort it would take for them to plan their new lessons. And we directly feel the fallout of tests that seem not exactly aligned with what we are learning.
But even still, when informed and aware of the impact, many Kentucky students and teachers can agree that Kentucky's academic standards are good for the type of deeper learning we will need to succeed after high school. Under the newer academic standards, lower level and average students are learning to think like mathematicians, scientists, English professors, engineers and doctors. We are also being encouraged to make clearer connections between what we learn in school and how we can apply that knowledge.
But in the end, it doesn't take any exposure to the Common Core to tell you what you really need to know about this issue. More rigorous standards that prepare students for a global economy that will likely involve more innovation and uncertainty than ever before are more than a good thing; they are a necessity.
I just hope our future president can put politics aside long enough to hear the voices from the classroom — particularly those in Kentucky — that so strongly affirm that.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/11/05/4122743_common-core-as-political-football.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NAEP Mathematics Comparisons

Here come a set of charts to illustrate how Kentucky's 2015 NAEP math results line up, following the reading post shared yesterday.

Point 1: For fourth graders, Kentucky student results were generally in line with national average, with students with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced-price meals scoring better than similar students elsewhere. 

Point 2: For eighth graders, Kentucky results were lower than national average.  For student groups  historically been under-served, results were similar to those for similar students elsewhere.  For one set of students who often get the best our schools have to offer–white students without disabilities or meal eligibility–results were also well-below national results for the matching group.

Point 3: Kentucky fourth grade math results did not improve significantly from 2013 to 2015.  That's true for all groups shown. 
Point 4: Kentucky math results went down for eighth graders overall, though not for all subgroups.
Point 5.  None of these results are good enough.  Even in the couple of cases where Kentucky fourth grade results were a bit above national average, that will not good enough preparation for the challenges our children will face in the future.

Point 6.  In addition, the gaps shown above mean student potential unfulfilled and a weaker future for all of us.  We must especially build greater improvement for those groups of students.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NAEP Reading Comparisons

Here come a set of charts to illustrate how Kentucky's 2015 NAEP results line up. 

Point 1. 
Kentucky fourth grade results were significantly better than national results for all students, students with disabilities, students with free or reduced-price meal eligibility, African American students, and Hispanic students, and in a statistical tie for white students without disabilities or f/r meal eligibility.
Point 2: Kentucky eighth grade results were significantly better than national results for all students, students eligible for f/r meals, and Hispanic students, and tied with the nation for students with disabilities, African American students, and white students without disabilities or f/r meal eligibility.

Point Three:  Fourth grade results improved significantly from 2013 to 2015 for all students, student with disabilities, students with f/r meals eligibility, and white students without disabilities or meal eligibility.  (African American results are shown with greater growth than any of the other groups, but that result was not statistically significant.  The number of Kentucky African American students participating in NAEP is small enough that many comparisons over the years have fallen in that statistical uncertainty zone.)

Point 4: Eighth grade reading results did not show statistically significant change from 2013.

Point 5.  Matching or mildly exceeding national average is not good enough preparation for the challenges our children will face in the future.

Point 6.  Even the fourth grade progress should make us impatient for more rapid improvement in students readiness, and the eighth grade sluggishness is far from what we need to see.

Point 7.  Those gaps mean student potential unfulfilled and a weaker future for all of us.  We must especially build greater improvement for those groups of students.

Prichard Committee Statement on Latest National Assessment for Education Progress Scores

 LEXINGTON, Ky. – The latest results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, released today, show Kentucky’s students performing above national averages in fourth and eighth grade reading and in line with national averages in fourth grade mathematics, with eighth grade mathematics slightly below national performance.

The fourth grade reading results are especially exciting, showing statistically significant improvement in our scores for students overall, for students with disabilities, and for students eligible for free or reduced price meals. (African American and Hispanic fourth graders also have improved scores, though the changes were not statistically significant.) Kentucky now ranks 8th across the states in fourth grade reading, up from 17th in 2013 and 26th in 2007.

Overall, the results confirm that Kentucky’s students are doing work in line with national performance, but are still facing the urgent challenge of moving to the higher levels they will need for full participation in postsecondary education, our economy and our communities.

As Kentuckians, we can also take a moment of pride in seeing key groups of students doing better than similar students nationwide in:
  • Fourth grade reading for students with disabilities, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, African American students, and Hispanic students
  • Fourth grade mathematics for students with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced price meals
  • Eighth grade reading results for students eligible for free or reduced price meals.

After noting that good news, however, there are important problems that need our attention:
  • A decline in eighth grade mathematics results for all students must be reversed
  • A lack of significant progress in fourth grade mathematics and eighth grade reading does not match our commitment to substantial improvement in our statewide performance
  • Our students with disabilities, low-income students, and students of color are still not receiving the full benefits of an equal education, creating gaps that persist over time and risks lasting damage to Kentucky’s prosperity.

The Kentucky Board of Education has already added important new efforts to reduce novice performance in all groups of students that are furthest from meeting state standards, signaling that it is time for deeper, more sustained work to end these gaps. To support renewed and expanding work on increasing achievement and closing gaps, a Prichard Committee study group is working through the fall to analyze data, scholarship, policy and first-hand accounts of current work in our schools, aiming to share analysis and recommendations at the beginning of 2016.

For Kentucky to flourish, we need for students of every background to reach their potential and join in building a strong, shared future. In fourth grade reading, this year shows progress worth celebrating, shared by students of many backgrounds. We need matching progress in all subjects, with special attention reversing the eighth grade mathematics decline. Our goal must be for all Kentucky students to graduate from high school truly ready for adult success, making important progress toward that goal in each year of school.

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group. Since 1983, the Committee, made up of volunteer parents and citizens from across Kentucky, has worked tirelessly to improve education for Kentuckians of all ages.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed: Puzzling about Students and Graduates with Disabilities

Where did the students with disabilities go?

The chart above tracks roughly the same group of Kentucky students with disabilities through their school careers by:
  • Starting with the count of 2005 students taking the grade 4 mathematics assessment
  • Following through matching math counts for the next three grades in the next three years
  • Leaving a grade 8 gap because 2009 testing reports did not include numbers of students tested
  • Adding the number starting high school, reflecting the figure used to calculate the statewide four year graduation rate as a count of the entering grade 9 class for the 2009-10 school year
  • Continuing with number of students taking state writing assessments in grades 10 and 11
  • Closing with the 2013 number who graduating in four years and the 2014 number graduating in five years or less

This way of looking at the data raises two big questions:
  • How did the class lose almost 2,400 students between grade 7 testing and the start of high school/grade 9?
  • How did the class regain more than 1,100 of those students for grade 10 testing?
The puzzles only grows when the same method is applied to the next two classes. The testing numbers change only slightly, but the number of students with disabilities starting high school and graduating drop even further in the charts below.

Answers may include admission and release committees making sound decisions that some students no longer need special education services, specialized details of how data is gathered from our statewide student information system for graduation calculations, or other factors I haven't yet guessed at. I can't supply the answers yet, so I'll simply say that I'm thoroughly puzzled.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

For number-lovers: Testing numbers come from state-level NCLB reports for 2005 through 2008, the Interim Performance Report for 2011, and the school report card assessment files for 2012 through 2015. The starting high school numbers are the denominators used to calculate the four year graduation rate and the graduate numbers are the four year and five year numerators, all found in the school report card delivery target files.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Guest Post: The Way We Used To Teach Math Isn’t Cutting It Anymore

Today, Joe Payne, a teacher at James Lane Allen Elementary and a  Kentucky Hope Street Teaching Fellow, shares his take on Kentucky's standards and effective learning: 

Early in my teaching career, when asked what I do, the response to me being a teacher typically included, “That is so admirable,” “My ____ is a teacher and he/she loves it,” or “You must be crazy!” In the past two years, almost without fail, the response of non-educators almost always includes two words, “Common Core.” Having spent a significant amount of time exploring and implementing the standards, and immediately recognizing the positive impact on the students, those comments initially frustrated me.

After seeing the impact the Standards have had on my students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics, I now embrace those moments with citizens as an opportunity to share my first-hand experiences in the classroom and dispel the misconceptions around teaching and learning in Kentucky.

Just days ago, while on a field trip, our fifth grade was taking a tour of a famous Kentucky landmark when our tour guide pulled me aside. “I don’t know how anyone can be a teacher anymore. I hate that Common Core stuff. That stuff is crazy. I try to help my granddaughter in third grade with her math, and I don’t understand any of it. What a waste of time!”

While comments like these are not atypical, the setting and timing most certainly was. Knowing my time to respond was limited, I simply said, “I love the Standards, and I assure you, if they are being taught correctly, your granddaughter will have a much deeper conceptual understanding of math at a young age. In order for our students to be prepared for jobs that don’t exist yet, they have to learn to think deeply and critically.”

“Wow. You are really passionate about this aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

She smiled back, “I haven’t ever really talked to a teacher about it. Maybe I need to give it another chance.”

Misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Standards are running rampant across the country. Common Core and standardized testing are almost always coupled together in the same breath. Examples of math problems are shown without context. Anytime there is a fundamental shift in thinking, there is going to be a level of discomfort. The fact of the matter is, the way we have been teaching math isn’t cutting it anymore.

My greatest takeaways from interacting with citizens around education issues are that:

1) With snap judgments being made on claims from media outlets, social media posts, and informal conversation, with little to no context, policy implementation of the standards is being greatly misinterpreted and misunderstood, and

2) Those of us in the education field need to share our classroom experiences with the standards with the public, shifting the focus back on the students and their learning.

Do educators need to continue to improve our practice and collaboration with parents to increase their understanding?


Do teachers need to engage in thorough high-quality professional development, so they are better prepared to teach the standards?


Will there be a steep learning curve before the Common Core standards are widely accepted by the public?


But should we get rid of the Standards because they do not mirror the way we used to teach or how we taught when we were in school?

Absolutely not!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of Students Working Hard and Showing What They Can Do

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

“I didn’t expect…to be so absolutely captivated by my students’ performance.”
-        Katrina Boone
If there is one conclusion I’ve reached during my own journey to understand what works well in education, it’s that there is no silver bullet, no panacea, no one perfect shot that is going to solve all of our dilemmas and produce the results that we have so long sought for our kids.

(It would be very nice if that were the case, though!)

But I do hold dear a few Powerful Concepts. They help me make sense of the thousands of ideas – some good, some not so good – that are floating around out there.

One Powerful Concept that has been tugging on me lately is this simple proposition: learning emerges through quality work.

In a recent blog post, Katrina Boone, a teacher at Shelby County High School and a teacher-in-residence at the Kentucky Department of Education, reflected on the power of a Socratic seminar to help students master several state English language arts standards in reading, speaking and listening. Before the lesson, she didn’t know if the students could pull it off. But they did. They wrote “ridiculously good” discussion questions. She found herself “absolutely captivated.”

Kids can do more than we ever imagined. Engage them in good work. Give them good feedback. See what they learn.

I am not a courageous teacher like Katrina Boone. I am a trying-to-do-the-best-I-can parent of a four-year old. But I recognize that feeling – the feeling of being absolutely captivated.

My child does good work in his school. I know that because he talks to me about it, because some days he doesn’t want to leave school because he is still absorbed in his work, and because he brings his work creations—the products of his work process, the evidence of what he is learning—home. I’ve had moments of being absolutely astonished by what he can do.

Recently, I heard Carmen Coleman, from the University of Kentucky College of Education and Center for Innovation in Education, reflect on efforts in Danville to engage students in deeper, project-based learning. What struck me most was this – she said that, for students, being engaged in this learning environment looked like – well, work. The students had meetings. They made plans. They adjusted their plans. They solved problems together. Work.

Kentucky is fortunate to have visionary teachers who have taken on the challenge of working together to truly bring the still-new Kentucky Academic Standards to life for students. It takes a lot of effort to lay the foundation needed to engage students in aligned, high-quality lessons that expect them to work hard and show what they know and can do. Bold efforts such as the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), Math Design Collaborative (MDC), and the recent Common Assignment study are incredible examples. 

* Note: See these past PrichBlog posts on LDC (http://prichblog.blogspot.com/search?q=Literacy+Design) and MDC (http://prichblog.blogspot.com/search?q=Mathematics+Design), and see this recent blog post on Common Assignment from Renee Boss at the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky.

The challenge for all of us is to ensure that students throughout Kentucky are engaged in quality work that leads to real learning – particularly for students of color, students in poverty, students with disabilities, and those in other student groups that so urgently need access to the most stellar opportunities to learn, to grow, to succeed – to absolutely captivate their teachers, their families, and their communities. Thanks to the LDC, Sherri McPherson’s students at Lafayette High School in Lexington are doing just that.

As parents and advocates, by asking good questions, communicating our priorities, and supporting changes, we can help meet this challenge—to rally for our children, our neighbor’s children, and all children across the Commonwealth to do high-quality work that absorbs them in the learning process, empowers them with knowledge, and prepares them for what comes next on their educational journeys. 

KPREP results for student subgroups: Jefferson County edition

Following up on last week's post summarizing statewide achievement gaps, here's a matching look at results for Kentucky's largest school district.

The weighted averages for the elementary and middle school levels reflect the percent of students who scored proficient or distinguished in five tested subjects. Reading, mathematics, and social studies each contribute 25%, with writing adding 20% and language mechanics 5% of the weighted average. At the high school level, science adds a sixth subject. At that level, 20% weights go to reading, math, science, and social studies, 16% to writing, and 4% to language mechanics.

The students who are not part of the "gap group" are white or Asian or Hawaii Native/Pacific Islander or from two or more races, and they do not have identified disabilities, limited English proficiency, or family incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced price meals.

Historically, our schools have delivered the best results for that group of students, and the graphs above show that pattern unabated.  At the high school level in Jefferson County, that best-served group of students is reaching the proficient/distinguished level at rates more than double the rate for African American students and students from low-income families, and more than five times the rate for students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.

--Posted By Susan Perkins Weston

Source note: The Kentucky School Report Card portal offers disaggregated data on performance levels in each subject. Results for students not counted in the gap group were calculated by multiplying numbers tested by percent proficient/distinguished for all students and for students in gap group.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

KPREP Results for Student Subgroups (Facing Some Brutal Facts)

First, a snapshot of results for different student subgroups using the newly released 2015 K-PREP elementary school results, and then a little explanation.
Explanations for three terms used above:
  • Students are counted in the gap group if they are African American, Hispanic or American Indian/Native Alaska, or have  identified disabilities or limited English proficiency or eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. The gap group is a way the Kentucky Department of Education shares combined data on multiple groups we know have been historically under-served by Kentucky's schools. Naturally, some students belong to more than one of those groups, but those students are only counted once in the group score.  In the tested elementary grades, they're about 67% of all students.
  • The students not counted in the gap group are the the other 33%. They don't have disabilities or limited English proficiency or low family incomes that qualify for free or reduced-price meals. They're also white, Asian, Hawaii native or Pacific islander, or of two or more races.
  • The weighted average combines all the KPREP scores at the proficient and distinguished levels. Reading, math, and social studies results each count 25%, with writing counting 20% and language mechanics 5%. That's the formula the Department used to calculate the gap group component of this year's overall scores.  Using that formula generates one number for thinking about what's happened to each group of students.
The weighted average lets some patterns pop out, like these:
  • Students in the "gap group" are 30 points behind those not in that "group."
  • Students with limited English proficiency are another 20 points behind the "gap group."
  • Students with disabilities, African American students and Hispanic students also score below the gap group, though Hispanic students are quite close.
  • Students with free/reduced meal eligibility have results essentially identical to the gap group result, for the obvious reason that those students with low family incomes hugely outnumber all the other subgroups.
A similar pattern –but with even worse gaps– appears at the middle school level.

The pattern worsens again at the high school level. At this level, reading, math, social studies and science each count 20%, writing 16%, and language mechanics 4%: the formula used for high school Gap Group reporting. For 2015, only high schools have reported KPREP science results.
Look hard at that last graph. 

Using this weighted average approach, we delivered proficiency for the high school students we serve best, the ones not counted in the gap group:
  • at more than twice the rate we delivered for African American students
  • at more than four times the rate for students with disabilities
  • and at more than six times the rate we delivered for students with limited English proficiency.

Overall Scores Rise for High Schools, Not for Lower Levels

In Kentucky's Unbridled Learning system, overall scores are the quickest summary of results for a public school, district, or the entire state. An overall score combines multiple measures to calculate a single number on a 0 to 100 scale that sums up student and program performance.

For our state as a whole, the high school overall score rose 1.5 points from 2014 to 2015, but the elementary and middle overall scores declined.

Below, you can see the main components that went into the changes at each level.

At the elementary level:
  • Achievement indicates KPREP scores for all students in all tested subjects.
  • Gap Group shows KPREP results for students in historically under-served subgroups: students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, have limited English proficiency, or have identified disabilities, along with African American, Hispanic, and American Indian/Native Alaskan students.
  • Growth reflects how students' reading and math scores this year compare to scores for students with similar results the previous year.
  • Program reviews reflect schools' analysis of the quality of their programs for primary students, arts and humanities, practical living/career studies, and writing.

At the middle school level, those four indicators are combined with:
  • Readiness results  from the grade 8 Explore assessment.  

At the high school level, the four elementary indicators are combined with:
  • Readiness results from indicators that include ACT and a battery of other tests to show that students are ready for college and/or career, with bonus points if a student is ready for both.
  • Graduation rates (using a four-year rate for 2013 and five-year rates for 2014 and 2015).

Graduation and Readiness Continue to Rise

Kentucky's statewide graduation rate showed continuing improvement, and the readiness of those graduates moved up substantially during the 2014-15 school year, as shown in results released at midnight by the Kentucky Department of Education.  This is important good news for Kentucky's Unbridled Learning commitment to college/career readiness for all!

Statement on 2015 Accountabilty Results

Here's the full text of the Prichard Committee statement released today:

The accountability results released this morning show strong growth in the college and career-readiness of Kentucky’s high school graduates, moving from 62.5% to 66.8% of graduates reaching those benchmarks. This good news is coupled with the fact that scores for high school students in groups who have historically struggled to meet state standards have improved at a quicker pace than the achievement results for all students. These indicators are positive news for Kentucky’s students and our shared future.

However, the decline in overall scores for elementary and middle school is cause for immediate concern and focused attention. Student outcomes in the early grades must continue to improve as they lay the essential foundation for later success. As a combined group, African-American, low-income, Hispanic, English-language learners, and students with disabilities also lost ground at the elementary and middle school levels, showing that we need to deepen our focus on providing richer opportunities for each and every child.

In addition, this year’s results fell short of some of the goals Kentucky set for educational improvement. Our statewide elementary and middle school results are below the goals set by the Kentucky Board of Education. While the high school outcomes met these goals and college and career readiness continues to increase, it is important that we recognize the weaknesses in other areas and actively build more consistent year-over-year improvement going forward.

The Prichard Committee plans further study of these results and urges all Kentuckians to renew our focus on making sure all students learn deeply, thrive, achieve, and contribute to our communities. The Committee’s Achievement Gap Study Group, representing participants from across the state, is working this fall to identify the most important next steps to support each and every Kentucky child’s academic growth and achievement. We applaud the Kentucky Department of Education for recognizing the moral imperative of ensuring all students achieve at high levels. It is clear that we have urgent work ahead.

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group. Since 1983, the Committee, made up of volunteer parents and citizens from across Kentucky, has worked tirelessly to improve education for Kentuckians of all ages.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Prichard Committee Statement on 2015 ACT Results

Here's the full text of the Prichard Committee statement released today:

The ACT results released today by Kentucky Department of Education show positive trends for the 2015 graduating class overall, but raise concerns about whether African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students are receiving the full support they need and deserve.

The good news is that members of the 2015 class as a whole looked stronger than their 2014 peers. In English, mathematics and reading, more of them met Kentucky’s benchmarks for college readiness. Progress in mathematics was especially strong, with an increase of more than 4% in students who are ready for credit-bearing college work.

For some student groups, however, the results were clearly not strong enough. Students from different racial backgrounds still have quite different results. Looking at ACT composite scores, 2015 African American graduates did no better than their 2014 peers, and Hispanic graduates did slightly worse. American Indian students improved just slightly faster than white students and not at a pace to close the big gap between the two groups. All three groups have results showing them less ready for college success than their white and Asian classmates.

The Kentucky Board of Education has already added important new efforts to reduce novice performance in all subgroups, signaling that it is time for deeper, more sustained work to end these gaps. To support renewed and expanding work on increasing achievement and closing gaps, a Prichard Committee study group will be working through the fall to analyze data, policy and practice, with the aim to share recommendations at the beginning of 2016.

For Kentucky to flourish, we need for Kentucky students of every background to reach their potential and join in building a strong, shared future. While progress is evident overall, important student subgroups still lag behind, demonstrating the need for more concerted efforts to close these gaps rapidly. Our goal must be for all Kentucky students to graduate from high school truly ready for adult success.

ACT Readiness Moves Forward, But With Important Gaps

The Kentucky Department of Education released ACT results for 2015 public school graduates this afternoon, showing a sturdy trend for students overall but raising concerns about how well we're serving our African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian students.

First, here's the overall good news, with upward movement on the percent of students reaching all three of the college readiness benchmarks set by the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Second, here's a look at the trends for subgroups, this time showing composite scores (combining English, math, reading, and science) rather than percent meeting benchmarks. Highlighted, you can see that:
  • African American students made no gains compared to last year
  • Hispanic students lost one-tenth of a point
  • American Indian students gained three-tenths of a point, growing a bit faster than students overall, with results still far behind their white classmates

Results for students with disabilities and students who receive free or reduced-price meals were not included in the press release but will be included in the 2014-15 school report cards now scheduled for release in early October.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Readiness Gaps: Important Work Ahead

While we can take pride in the work that has brought Kentucky to a 62.5% overall rate of demonstrated readiness for college and/or career for our 2014 high school graduates, we still have lots of work to do, both to raise the overall readiness rate and to close some major readiness gaps. Here comes a frank look at the basics of those gaps, in the form of two charts and some comments on each.
Here, the painfully low readiness rates for students with disabilities and with limited English proficiency are first to catch the eye, but the rates for students receiving free and reduced price meals are also bad news.

The gap group is pretty much identical to the free/reduced meal group, which is pretty much to be expected. Within the gap group, the free/reduced students hugely outnumber the other groups, including students with disabilities and limited English proficiency, along with African American, Hispanic, and American Indian or Native American students.

One more note: I've estimated the results for four advantaged groups: those without disabilities, without limited English proficiency, without free/reduced meal eligibility, and not included in the gap group. Most data for this post can be found in the state's school report card, but these better-served groups are not shown. Still, with a bit of multiplication and subtraction, it's possible to get quite close to what those results must be. They're marked with asterisks to show they did not come directly from the Department of Education.

Next, these are the 2014 rates by students' ethnic background.
White and Asian students are clearly being better prepared for adult success than the other student groups, showing another challenge we face if we want all students to reach the readiness they need.

A second, uncomfortable thing needs to be said out loud: the results for African-American students are lower than those for the free and reduced-price meals group, showing that something more than the challenge of family low-incomes has been going wrong for those students. There's something we're doing or leaving undone for those students, beyond the main economic challenge. That's a distinctive problem that we need to look at frankly and tackle with vigor.

More broadly, each of these gaps are about student possibilities not yet realized and adult contributions that may be lost as a result, weakening all our communities as well as their individual opportunities. Changing that pattern and ending those losses will be important work we must take on.

Monday, July 27, 2015

How People Learn: More on Synapse Development

Last week's post on synapse development drew a comment with questions:
I wonder what the research shows for different age groups, and if the results vary, regarding synapse development. I wonder how long synapse development continues!
From How People Learn, here's some background on those issues.

There are two different patterns to how we develop synaptic connections.

In one process, "synapses are overproduced and then selectively lost." That process is especially in early development, and the time it takes varies depending on the part of the brain, " from 2 to 3 years in the human visual cortex to 8 to 10 years in some parts of the frontal cortex."

The other process lasts all  the way through life, and involves adding new synapses as one adds experiences.

Noting the two different processes seems to fit the simultaneous ideas that the early years especially important and yet learning is a lifelong process.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How People Learn: Synapse Building For Rats (And Humans)

Continuing in my summer book study...

In the book How People Learn, the chapter on "Mind and Brain" is heavy on neuroscience, starting with the essential process of synapse development.  Our synapses are connections between neurons, and substantial research shows that learning occurs through synapse development.  Much of the chapter is about studies of what does and does not produce rich synaptic development in lab animals.
One group of rats was taught to traverse an elevated obstacle course; these "acrobats" became very good at the task over a month or so of practice.  A second group of "mandatory exercisers" was put on a treadmill once a day, where they ran for 30 minutes, rested for 10 minutes, then ran another 30 minutes.  A third group of "voluntary exercisers" had free access to an activity wheel attached directly to their cage, which they used often.  A control group of "cage potato" rats had no exercise.
Researchers then examined the rats' brains, looking both for blood vessel development and for synapses per neuron, and found that both sets of exercisers had higher density of blood vessels than the acrobats and cage potatoes, but
But when the number of synapses per nerve sell was measured, the acrobats were the standout group.  Learning adds synapses; exercise does not.
What struck me in this was something I'm not sure the the authors meant me to notice: I heard the word "exercise" in its classroom context, as meaning an activity assigned by the teacher, often with repetitions and an emphasis on speed, like spelling lists and sets of arithmetic problems.

I wonder how many of our teaching traditions reflect the idea that the brain is like a muscle and will build through steady repetition that truly resembles physical exercise.

More than that,  I wonder how much we will need to change if we want learning that happens as developing sets of synaptic connections.  That understanding suggests that the some of the most important work comes in the opportunities to "put things together " and "see how it all connects."

It seems likely that learning of that kind will require fewer drills and more exploration, fewer lists and more reasoning about how different elements relate, fewer details and more depth on key organizing concepts than we have expected in the past.  That does not have to  mean no drills, no lists, and no details.  It does mean realizing that exploration, reasoning, and organizing concepts must be given a rich share of the time and energy students bring to their learning.  And it does mean that the number of drills, lists, and required details has to be restrained to allow the richer elements opportunity to occur.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Kentucky School Staffing (National Comparisons)

In the fall of 2012, Kentucky enrolled 1.38 percent of all students enrolled in public schools nationwide in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Our share of public school staff was at or below that 1.38 percent level in three categories, with Kentucky having:
  • 1.02 percent of student support staff nationwide
  • 1.21 percent of administrative support staff
  • 1.36 percent of officials and administrators
  • 1.38 percent of teachers
Our share of public school staff was above the nationwide level in the other categories, including:
  • 1.46 percent of guidance counselors
  • 1.48 percent of Instruction coordinators
  • 1.87 percent of Instructional aides
  • 1.94 percent of principals and assistant principals
  • 2.09 percent of school and library support staff
  • 2.10 percent of other support services staff
  • 2.33 percent of librarians
If instead, Kentucky schools and districts had consistently had 1.38 percent of each kind of staff, we would have had:
  • 1,021 additional student support staff members
  • 325 additional administrative support staff
  • 136 more teachers
  • 10 more officials and administrators
  • 7 fewer guidance counselors
  • 69 fewer instruction coordinators
  • 443 fewer librarians
  • 955 fewer principals and assistant principals
  • 2,028 fewer school and library support staff
  • 3,560 fewer instructional aides
  • 8,225 fewer other support services staff
Back in March 2009, I posted a similar analysis using Fall 2005 data. As I wrote then:
I’m not arguing that Kentucky should staff schools to those averages. There may be important benefits to what we do differently, and our students may have different needs. I do think, though, that this is an interesting mirror to look in, inviting us to think about how we currently staff public education.
Coming back to this analysis this time, I still see that issue, and I have these added thoughts:
  • We have 1,087 librarians spread over more than 1,200 schools. That may be the starting example of where our added commitment is a good idea, especially as we ask students to go deeper on research, designing their own investigations, and learning through major projects. 
  • We’re now asking our principals to do sustained observations and give thoughtful feedback for every teacher: for that big growth in responsibility, our added numbers may again be just right.
  • Other support staff seem likely to include food workers, custodial workers, and bus drivers. In other states, that work is often handled by contracting companies, and it's possible that Kentucky isn't so much engaging more workers as engaging them in  a way that shows up under staff rather than service fees.
  • I'd love to know what other states are doing (and Kentucky apparently isn't) in student support services!
Source note: the data for this analysis comes from the Digest of Education Statistics, using tables 203.40 and 213.20 The staff analysis is based on full-time equivalent positions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How People Learn: Learning That Transfers To New Contexts

Continuing my summer book study...

"Transfer from school to everyday environments is the ultimate purpose of school-based learning."  That's the kind of statement that seems obvious and turns out to be important. In How People Learn, the transfer process gets close attention--and now it's got mine as well.

Here, transfer is about ability to use knowledge in multiple contexts. For example, veteran shoppers can be very good at figuring out cost per unit and identifying bargains, but struggle with related division when dropped into a formal classroom.  Conversely, most of us have watched kids part way through elementary school who aren't at all sure which bit of "school math" to use in stores. The studies in the book give examples like seeing if Latin or computer programming develops logical reasoning for other kinds of work and sorting out which kinds of simulations create lasting and useful understanding. If you've learned something that you can only used in the situations that are most like being in school, it isn't going to be a lot of help for other kinds of challenges.

With research citations for each claim, the chaper looks at what scientists know about when transfer is and isn't likely to succeed. Some major points:
  • Time spent on understanding how a process works and when it matters yields better transfer than memorization.
  • Teaching a set of knowledge in multiple contexts makes the learners more able to transfer it.  
  • Transfer is also improved when students are equipped to monitor their own understanding and evaluate their own progress (with "metacognition" as the power word for that process of learning about their own learning.)
All through this section, I was haunted by images students doing worksheets and computer drills to prepare for a math assessment. 

The research in this study gives support to parent concerns that a certain kind of "teaching to the test" creates knowledge that will be only useful on the test. That can be learning for a single context, focused on procedural accuracy, with little insight into how or why the same knowledge could be put to work elsewhere.

Plus, what happens if the school's response to early difficulty is more of the same kind of drill, and more, and more and more again? On this understanding of learning, students may succeed on this year's test, but not be able to transfer that knowledge to next year's work or future challenges. 

That "learning that doesn't transfer" may be central to what's going on when middle school teachers say kids come from elementary school lacking key skills, and high school teachers say that about middle school, and college teachers and employers say it about high school graduates. The folks at the lower level know they worked on that exact skill, but don't know why kids can't put it to use as they move on. The issue may be quality of learning, with students needing to move well past memorization into understanding why the knowledge matters, using it in multiple contexts, and joining in evaluating their understanding as the work goes on. Adding to the quantity of work a student turns in may not change the long-term results much at all.

One final connection: Kentucky has committed to standards that are "fewer, higher, and deeper." Learning that can transfer may take more intensive study, and that's part of why it matters to have a shorter list of expectations with deeper demands about putting understanding to active use.  This chapter adds to my sense that we're on the right track in that approach, and we'd be moving in the wrong direction if we added lots of detailed demands to our standards documents.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Kentucky's Tests Are Harder Now

A new National Center for Education Statistics study provides a sturdy basis for thinking about how our K-PREP assessments, launched in 2012, compare to the earlier Kentucky Core Content Tests.  The study worked out a 2013 NAEP scale score equivalent to scoring proficient on each state's 2013 reading and mathematics assessment, using NAEP's 0-500 scale.  The results for Kentucky are consistently higher than similar findings from 2009, providing a quick, helpful confirmation that Kentucky really is aiming higher.

Sources: 2013 and 2009 comparison studies here, with a hat tip to EdWeek's Curriculum Matters blog.