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.