Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ambitions goals, better tests (Prichard statement on accountability)

Here's the Prichard Committee press release issued this morning...

Ambitious goals, greater transparency and better tests are among the recommendations of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence for the state’s new accountability system. The statewide citizens group said the accountability system should be a major driver of education excellence for all students no matter their background or the barriers they face to success.

Noting that a steering committee led by the Kentucky Board of Education is working to design a new accountability system, Prichard Executive Director Brigitte Blom Ramsey urges lawmakers, “to consider legislation to give greater prominence to three elements we find essential to achieving a brighter future for our students and for the competitiveness of our state.”

Those elements are:
  • An ambitious and achievable statewide goal for student performance that is specific and measurable and establishes a clear timeline and expectations.
  • Policies that ensure transparency by making comparable education information at the state, district and school levels far more understandable, accessible and timely for parents, students and the public; accountability ratings should take into account the performance of each group of students.
  • Tests that measure the depth of knowledge expected in higher standards, including what students should know and be able to do to compete in the economy of the future.

Ramsey describes the elements as representing the next essential steps to ensure Kentucky delivers a world-class education for each student. “These steps build on a long tradition of leadership from the General Assembly. … It is because of this strong leadership and shared commitment that we find ourselves now ready to fully embrace the next giant leap.”

Accountability and transparency for student results have long been high priorities for the Prichard Committee, which believes the system should serve the following four essential purposes:

  • Provide information about student performance to parents, policymakers and the broader public that they can act upon to make improvements.
  • Sustain a sense of urgency to improve student learning, including identifying schools and districts that need special support to better serve students.
  • Communicate priority focus areas for statewide improvement.
  • Illuminate the return on investments in Kentucky’s public education system.

“Above all, the accountability system must drive high and consistent expectations for all students, schools and districts,” Ramsey said. “This is the key education issue facing the 2017 General Assembly.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Eight Charter Questions: Senator Neal's Bill Request [NOW A BILL]

| Susan Perkins Weston |

Update: Senator Neal's bill request has now been filed as Senate Bill 70.  An updated summary of his bill, labeled as for SB 70, is available here.

Moving toward the 2017 legislative session, Senator Gerald Neal has a new bill request on charter schools. Using the eight questions from the Prichard Committee's Informational Guide, here's a summary of his legislation.  A two-page version to print out is available here, and you can download a complete copy of the bill request here.

Each charter will have a “performance framework” that includes “indicators, measures and metrics” for student academic proficiency, student academic growth, achievement gaps, attendance, student health and safety (including behavior data, suspensions, and expulsions), recurrent enrollment from year to year, college or career readiness at the end of grade 12, financial performance and sustainability, and board of directors' performance and stewardship. The framework can also include “additional rigorous, valid, and reliable indicators proposed by a charter school or authorizer to augment external evaluations of its performance.”

Each school will also have “student learning performance targets … set, in accordance with the state accountability system.”

  • State assessments and school report card data
  • Health and safety laws (including vaccinations, emergency drills, criminal record checks, weapons rules, student seclusion and restraint rules)
  • Civil and disability rights, including individualized education plans.
  • Plans for identifying and serving gifted students and students who are academically behind “including but not limited to the school's plan for compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations” on serving those students.
  • School staff being school district employees, fitting state certification requirements and receiving benefits and collective bargaining agreement protections benefits (appears to include single salary schedule)
  • MUNIS records, financial audits, and state purchasing rules
  • Open meetings and open records rules
Not required:
  • Program reviews
  • Free and reduced-price meals for low-income students (application must describe “the health and food services to be provided to students attending the school, if health and food services are not provided by the authorizer”)
  • Student learning services, including primary talent pool, primary program, family resource and youth services centers, individual learning plans, college-level courses in high school, and class size caps
  • 2% contingency reserve
Possible Questions: Do health requirements include physical activity in grades K-5? Do civil and disability rights include Title IX gender equality and alternate diplomas? Must school report card data be gathered using Infinite Campus?

Students must live in the school district. If parents apply by April 1, students will be admitted if they already attend the school, have siblings who attend the school or parents who are teachers or administrators there, attend “needs improvement” schools under state accountability rules, or qualify for free or reduced price lunches. If too many students from those groups apply, a lottery will be used to decide who will be admitted. If too few students from those groups apply, additional students who apply by May 15 will be admitted in order of their applications.

Possible question: If there are openings after May 15, will students be able to apply for those slots?

Charters will be authorized by “the local school board of the largest local school district located in a county with a consolidated local government.” In practice that means the Fayette and Jefferson County boards of education. If an application is denied, there can be an appeal to the Kentucky Board of Education about the process for the denial, and that Board can direct the local board to use the appropriate process.

Authorizers will be encouraged to give preference to applicants with “intent, capacity, and capability” to serve students at risk of failure, who go to schools where 65% of students have low incomes, or who have individualized education program for students who are blind or have impaired vision (KRS 158.281).

“Teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations, private organizations, or a combination thereof” can apply, with a January 1 deadline. Applications to convert a private school to a charter school or to create a charter school “wholly or partly under the control or direction of any religious denomination or affiliation” will be rejected.

At least half of the members of the charter school’s board of directors must be parents of students who are enrolled or will be enrolled during the member’s service.

Charter school boards can contract with a non-profit education service provider, but budgets for that work must available on line and a provider that is paid more than $10,000 is subject to open records rules for all records related to the contract

Possible questions: Does the charter school board need to be incorporated? Does it need to be a non-profit organization?

Each of the two authorizing school boards will be able to authorize two charter schools each year.

Charter revocation or nonrenewal will be mandatory after three consecutive years when the school misses state student performance measures adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education under KRS 158.6453 and program requirements found in the charter school's contract.

Charter revocation, nonrenewal, or probation will be also be allowed (not required) if the school does not make enough progress on state learning measures and the charter contract’s performance requirements, fails to follow accounting rules, or violates a set of other rules.

The charter school and authorizing school board will negotiate funding, providing at least “levels comparable to funding provided to other schools in the local school district.” The charter school will also receive “moneys generated under federal and state categorical aid programs for students that are eligible for the aid in charter schools in the same manner as distributed for eligible students in non-charter schools.”

The district will keep all transportation funding, and will provide transportation between students’ homes and charter schools if that does not require “expanding existing bus service.”

Possible questions: Will charter schools be eligible for state facilities funding? Will they receive any portion of district funding allocated for facilities operations, maintenance, construction, or purchase?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kentucky's NAEP Strength By Race and Income

In 2015 NAEP scale scores, Kentucky students almost always matched or outscored students of the same race and income levels nationwide. That is:
  • All race/income groups with reported results showed Kentucky statistically tied or ahead in fourth and eight grade reading, fourth and eighth grade science, and fourth grade mathematics.
  • In eighth grade mathematics, Kentucky had statistical ties with the national results for black students with low incomes, black students without low incomes, and Hispanic students with low incomes. 
  • The only groups that were behind at all were white students with low family incomes and white students without low family incomes, and then only in eighth grade mathematics.  
These comparisons do not mean that either Kentucky or the U.S. has delivered on the full potential of students in any of these groups, and they do not mean that the gaps between the groups are acceptable.  They do, however, mean that Kentucky schools are delivering results generally in line with the national outcomes, and our primary challenge now is to pull ahead on a consistent basis for all Kentucky students.

Results for the other subjects are shown below, with a summary chart at the bottom.

Here's the summary version of the same comparisons.
--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Friday, December 9, 2016

PISA puts US near OECD average in science and reading, lagging in math, behind Canada

Newly released PISA results show American results for 15-year-olds to be near OECD average results in science, but clearly behind Canadian outcomes. Shown below, reading results look similar, while mathematics results put the United States behind the OECD member nations (mostly thosewith advanced economies but including "emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey.") Canada's well ahead of the U.S on those subjects as well. Compared to 2009, our science and reading results are pretty flat, and mathematics seems to be losing ground.

PISA identifies seven levels of student proficiency (1b, 1a, and then 2-6). For science, the newly released report specifies that "Level 2 is considered the baseline level of science proficiency that is required to engage in science-related issues as a critical and informed citizen," and the scoring is similar for reading and mathematics. The report treats Level 2 as an important benchmark and notes that:
Only in Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China) and Singapore do at least four out of five 15-year-old students master the baseline level of proficiency in science, reading and mathematics. These countries show that there are countries on nearly every continent that could achieve the goal of universal basic skills by 2030.
Notice Canada! Starting now, we have a national demonstration of what is possible much closer than past reports on Singapore, South Korea, or Finland. 

PISA reporting identifies students scoring at either part of Level 1 or below as low achievers, while students at Levels 5 and 6 are considered top performers.

So here's the reading pattern, much like science:
Mathematics looks sharply worse.
Looking at trends, Americans do not see what we want to see. In science and reading, results are pretty similar to 2009, but we hoped for noticeable improvement. In mathematics, there's more to worry about, with clear increases in low achievers and decreases in top performers.
PISA does, however, report on one positive trend for the United States:
While between 2006 and 2015 no country or economy improved its performance in science and equity in education simultaneously, the relationship between socio-economic status and student performance weakened in nine countries where mean science scores remained stable. The United States shows the largest improvements in equity during this period. 
The full PISA report is available here, with the data above coming from Volume I of the release.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Top 20: Moving Closer AND Losing Ground

Here's today's press release on the 2016 Update for Top 20 by 2020: 

Prichard Committee report shows KY schools 
moving closer to nation’s top 20, 
but still losing ground in some areas

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky has made important progress toward reaching the nation’s top tier of states on several indicators of education performance, but is flat or losing ground on others. The result: clear evidence that the state needs to work harder to deliver for its children and future.

Those findings are included in a new report from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, “Achieving the Top 20 by 2020: An Update.” The report assesses the progress Kentucky has made since the committee set a “Top 20” goal for the state’s schools in 2008. The new report identifies 19 indicators, showing Kentucky’s past and current rank and comparing Kentucky results to the current state ranked 20th on each measure.

Some of the new results are strong, showing Kentucky on track to reach the top tier of states:
  • Reading and science scores are already in the Top 20 for grades 4 and 8.
  • High school graduation and associate degree completion are also in the Top 20.
  • Results are moving up quickly enough to reach the Top 20 goal by 2020 in grade 4 math, high school Advanced Placement credits, and students starting higher education.
However, there are also reasons for concern about Kentucky’s progress on some other indicators:
  • Preschool enrollment has declined dramatically, from ranking 24th in 2008 to 40th in 2016.
  • Rankings are also down for eighth grade mathematics, higher education funding, and the share of higher education funding paid by families
  • Progress has been very slow on degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as “STEM,” and Kentucky will be far from the Top 20 if the current improvement pace continues.
  • Progress is also too slow on the proportion of young working-age adults with high school diplomas and bachelor degrees and too slow on funding for P-12 education.
“This year’s report confirms that Kentucky can reach the Top 20,” noted Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the Prichard Committee’s executive director. “It also shows that we have significant work ahead to reach that level in all areas. To achieve the goals by 2020, we will need a substantial new commitment, in targeted areas, from educators, community members, business leaders and policymakers to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states.”

The report is available online here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

2016 Trend Snapshots (Part 2)

Here are the small tables that summarize changes for Kentucky's African American students, Hispanic students, and students of two or more races. As with the other tables shared yesterday, a dash across a red background indicates results that did not improve from 2015 to 2016.  A check mark on a green background means positive change, and double check marks on darker green show positive change of two or more points. 

 Of the three charts, the one for African American students is the most positive, but the trends are still pretty mixed. Results improved in three subjects in ready graduation, but also went down in three subjects. The gaps compared to white students only improved in two subjects, and the writing gap change is based on both groups losing grounds but white students taking the larger loss.

Students of two or more races also had mixed results, while Hispanic results were pretty steadily troubling: only math showed score improvement and both of the gaps that narrowed shrank because of white declines that were bigger than those for Hispanic students.

More generally, do note that the positive changes leave plenty of work still to be done to serve all students well.

All three tables come from the Prichard Committee's new “2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report.” The press release announcing the report is available here, and the full report can be downloaded here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

2016 Trend Snapshots (Part 1)

The three small tables below summarize changes for three student groups from 2015 to 2016.  below, a dash across a red background indicates results that did not improve.  A check mark on a green background means positive change, and double check marks on darker green show positive change of two or more points. 

At a glance, thesnapshots  show a good news pattern for students with identified disabilities, mostly good news for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and quite troubling news for English learners.  Do note that the positive changes leave plenty of work still to be done to serve all students well.

All three come from the Prichard Committee's new “2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report.” The press release announcing the report is available here, and the full report can be downloaded here.

2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report (New Prichard Report!)

Latest state test scores show modest progress in narrowing achievement gaps for some student groups, but far more challenges remain

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The latest state test results reveal a mixture of good news and troubling challenges about Kentucky’s progress in narrowing achievement gaps among groups of students and delivering educational excellence with equity statewide.

That is the conclusion of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s recent report to raise awareness of achievement gaps and accelerate community and state efforts to eliminate them.

“2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report” is the first of what will become an annual analysis of the test results recorded by Kentucky’s elementary and secondary students. The study asserts that while no one assessment can give a complete picture of student learning, the results provide an important snapshot of recent progress and the work that lies ahead.

The report, based on information in Kentucky’s 2016 school report cards, reveals the following:

  • Good news for students with identified disabilities, including improvement in math, reading and college/career ready graduates along with narrowing gaps on most indicators.

  • Mostly good news for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, with growth in math, reading and college/career ready graduates and with all gaps shrinking between those students and their classmates with higher family incomes.
Mixed news for African American students and students of two or more races, with improvements in math, reading and college/career ready graduates, but many gaps getting wider compared to their white (non-Hispanic) classmates.

  • Troubling news for Hispanic students, with math as the only improving subject and most gaps getting wider compared to their white (non-Hispanic) classmates.

  • Troubling news for English learners, with a pattern of declining scores and widening gaps compared to students who are not English learners.
The report visually displays the results with a series of charts that reflect the status of the achievement gaps in various subjects. 

“Where there is good news here, it is good news about making one worthwhile step in a long journey,” the report states. “We need sustained improvement at a robust pace, year after year, to equip all of Kentucky’s students for successful futures.” The report adds that progress in math is worth celebrating, but much more work must be done. Three examples illustrate this point:
  • For elementary students with identified disabilities, 3.4 percent growth in math proficiency is good news and it still means only 28.2 percent of those children are proficient.

  • For middle school students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a 4.4- point step up in mathematics is important and it only moves that group to 35.6 percent proficient.

  • For high school African American students, a 4.5-point increase is exciting and not nearly enough when only 27.3 percent of those students have reached proficiency.
The framework for the Prichard Committee’s initiative on achievement gaps is provided in Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business.

“We are making headway, but not enough. This year’s results underscore the need for Kentucky to make faster progress, particularly for students starting out farthest behind. Education is the key to future opportunity for our young people and our state. To increase student outcomes, we need communities to come together in support of our schools and each student’s success. With urgency and focus, we will rise to the challenge. Kentucky has done it before, and we can do it again,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee.

The full report is available for download here.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Accountability Changes: Six Big Questions

| Susan Perkins Weston |

Kentucky is building a new accountability system. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives us more options than No Child Left Behind offered, and that’s one reason for the change. The bigger reason for change is to identify where we want to take our own children, how we’ll check and report our progress, and how we’ll respond if that progress gets off track. Six questions look to me like the minimum topics Kentucky must address in a new system. Here, I’ll explain those questions and share a few notes on each.

1. What should our rising generation know and be able to do?
Kentucky law sets our overarching goals, and the Kentucky Academic Standards add detail, including expectations for each grade or level.

ESSA requires Kentucky to set “challenging State academic standards” that are “aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education [and] State career and technical education standards.” Keeping current standards, modifying them, or starting over will all be options.

So far, I haven’t heard much talk of major standards changes, but there is discussion of reviewing math and language arts after six years of use, and social studies may also be ready for some fresh thought.

2. What indicators can we use to track our progress toward those desired results?
Our current accountability rules use assessment data to indicate how students perform each year in six subjects and their year-to-year growth in reading and math. They also consider graduation rates and program reviews.

Under ESSA, Kentucky needs five kinds of indicators:
  • Achievement, shown by proficiency on assessments
  • Growth or another “statewide academic indicator”
  • Graduation rates
  • English language proficiency for English learners.
  • At least one additional indicator of “school quality or student success.” 
English language proficiency does not have to be broken out (disaggregated) by student groups, but disaggregation is required for all the other indicators we use.

Kentucky is completing a major discussion of elements to include in a school’s “dashboard “ of data. Next steps may include specifying which assessments Kentucky will use and whether Kentucky will choose the growth or the “other academic” option. There is interest in using attendance or chronic absences as a “school quality or student success” measure, and other data may also be included there.

3. How far and how fast do we intend to raise those indicators?
In years past, Kentucky aimed for proficiency in seven subjects by 2012 (and later by 2014). Our current system asks schools to move Next Generation Learner scores up half a point or a point a year—setting a somewhat slower improvement pace.

ESSA calls for “ambitious State-designed long-term goals, which shall include measurements of interim progress.” ESSA also calls for subgroup goals calling for underserved groups to “make significant progress in closing statewide proficiency and graduation rate gaps.”

At the Prichard Committee’s Annual Meeting, Kati Haycock of the Education Trust urged the participants to pay close attention to these choices. The long-term goals and interim measurements are where Kentucky can show our sense of urgency about our students’ futures.

4. How will we differentiate schools each year?
Our indicators will be used to report annually on how each school is doing. Recently, Kentucky has differentiated schools by calling them distinguished, proficient, or needs improvement. Our next system could use those terms, other words, letter grades, or another approach. A system of star ratings appears to be the leading idea.

ESSA also says the process must “include differentiation of any such school in which any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming.” The term “underperforming” seems to include all gaps rather than just the larger ones. Deciding how the differentiation method can make those student group issues highly visible will be an important challenge

5. How will we identify schools for added support?
Kentucky’s currently identifies priority schools and focus schools. ESSA lets us move to identifying schools for:

  • Targeted support and improvement if they have the underperforming subgroups mentioned in the differentiation discussion.
  • Additional targeted support if a student subgroup performs like the bottom 5% of schools.
  • Comprehensive support and improvement if they are in the bottom 5% of schools or if one-third of students don’t graduate (high school only) or if schools are in additional targeted support for too many years (with the state defining too many).

Can Kentucky identify the bottom 5% of schools (and groups scoring like the bottom 5%) without combining all indicators in a single number? So far I have not seen a mathematical way to do that, but one good demonstration could quickly convince me.

6. What support will we provide to identified schools?
How can we change results at schools that have not moved students forward in the ways the state calls for? Kentucky has tried consequences, and we’ve tried intervention, and ESSA calls for Kentucky to identify its own best plan for support and improvement work.

For this challenge, I hope Kentucky can choose a short list of key elements a school should work on, allowing the folks at the school do deep, sustained work on that short list.

Source note: The ESSA requirements listed here are set in Section 1111 of the new federal legislation.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Career Readiness at a Crossroads

On November 10, the Prichard Committee and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce co-hosted an informational webinar with Kate Blosveren Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director at AdvanceCTE, to discuss approaches to integrating measures of career readiness into school accountability and performance reports.

Kentucky has been a trailblazer in incentivizing college and career readiness through its accountability system. Today, Kentuckians are working together to design a new accountability system for schools and districts.

This is a moment for the state to build on what we have learned, to set ambitious goals and define indicators that send clear signals to schools and communities about the preparation students need to succeed in postsecondary education and careers.

It is important for business, education, and community leaders, as well as parents and students, to be informed and engaged through this process. 

The webinar included discussion about a few key questions from participants.
What needs to be in place to make sure that students have the encouragement and support to follow a rigorous, meaningful pathway of their choosing?

What questions should local business, community, and postsecondary education leaders ask at the local level to find out how students are being supported in career pathways?

How can the accountability measures be designed to ensure equitable opportunities for students regardless of background?

My three big takeaways from the webinar are that 1) college readiness can be seen as a foundation, with employability and technical skills for career readiness building on this academic foundation and 2) multiple career readiness measures are needed that reflect achievement, attainment, experiential learning, and postsecondary success and 3) that within each of these areas, there is a range of measures from those that better reflect where a state is today to those that reflect higher aspirations, or stretch, for where the state wants to be in the near future. 

Here are some resources to learn more about this topic:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

NAEP Science: Good, Bad and Ugly in Grade 8, Too

| Susan Perkins Weston |

2015 NAEP science results came out this morning, with grade 8 scale scores showing:
  • Good news with Kentucky students matching or outscoring their peers nationwide both for all students and for those we have historically underserved
  • Bad news with 2015 results not showing improvement from 2009 (the most recent previous year fourth graders took the NAEP science assessment)
  • Ugly news with continuing achievement gaps by race, income, and disability
Here's the good part:

Here's the bad part:

And here is the  all too familiar ugliness of our gaps:

Together, these three charts underline the importance of intensive work to implement Kentucky's ambitious new science standards and the urgent need for leadership and community mobilization to sustain those efforts. Past Kentucky work in science has move our students past national average, but we have major work to do to equip them for full full future success.

All data used here was downloaded today from the NAEP Data Explorer, and a matching grade 4 post is available here.

NAEP Science: Good, Bad, and Ugly In Grade 4

| Susan Perkins Weston |

2015 NAEP science results came out this morning, with grade 4 scale scores showing:
  • Good news with Kentucky students matching or outscoring their peers nationwide, both for all students and for those we have historically underserved
  • Bad news with 2015 results not showing improvement from 2009 (the most recent previous year fourth graders took the NAEP science assessment)
  • Ugly news with continuing achievement gaps by race, income, and disability.
Here's the good part:

Here's the bad part:

And here is the  all too familiar ugliness of our gaps:
All three charts underline the importance of intensive work to implement Kentucky's ambitious new science standards and the urgent need for leadership and community mobilization to sustain those efforts. Past Kentucky work in science has move our students past national average, but we have major work to do to equip them for full full future success.

All data used here was downloaded today from the NAEP Data Explorer, and a matching grade 8 report will be posted in a few minutes is also available.

Prichard Statement on 2015 NAEP Science Results

Kentucky Still Above the National Average for NAEP Science
However, Scores are Flat Compared to Last Assessment

LEXINGTON, Ky. ─ The latest results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), released today, show Kentucky’s students performing above national averages in science in 2015, but also show a lack of improvement since the previous round of testing.

NAEP or the “nation’s report card,” shows Kentucky fourth and eighth graders with higher scale scores than the average results for the country. Today’s release also shows Kentucky’s Hispanic students, students with identified disabilities, and students eligible for free or reduced price meals performing at higher levels than similar students across the nation.

However, the results show no significant improvements since the last time Kentucky students took the NAEP science assessment (2009 for fourth grade and 2011 for eighth grade) and there has been no narrowing of gaps between student groups based on race, income, or disability.

For Kentucky to compete nationally and globally, each and every student must develop deep scientific knowledge and skills, moving well beyond current Kentucky levels and the national level of performance. It is not enough for Kentucky to sustain past strength while other states make significant headway. Continuing and vigorous improvement is needed.

Kentucky has already taken two important steps to ensure improvement. First, the Kentucky Academic Standards for Science expect more out of students than any past set of standards. Second, the Kentucky Department of Education is in the process of developing high quality aligned assessments that will measure student mastery of important scientific knowledge and skills while also providing information to adjust instruction.

Today’s NAEP science results underscore the importance of deepening implementation of the standards and call for a sense of urgency to build excellence with equity across all subject areas - including science.

Accessing Student Financial Aid - Fill out the FAFSA

The FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the gateway to financial aid for most students pursuing postsecondary education. This includes federal aid such as student loans and Pell grants, need-based state aid administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), and a variety of assistance provided directly by postsecondary institutions.

With an increasing reliance on debt to cover rising college costs, it is more important than ever for students and families to complete the FAFSA to access financial aid that will assist in making postsecondary education more affordable.

There are several major changes to the FAFSA this year:
  • An earlier start date: The opening for FAFSA applications used to begin January 1, but for students planning to attend college in the 2017–2018 academic year, the FAFSA application will now be available starting October 1, 2016. This will be the new date for all future application cycle.
  • An easier approach to pulling tax info: Families will now be able to fill out the FAFSA using tax information from two years prior to the aid year they’re applying for. This means students applying for the 2017–2018 year will be able to use their parents’ tax information from 2015. Families will also be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool from the get-go to help fill in relevant tax information, which the federal government hopes will simplify the process overall.
Below is a table displaying the changes and revised deadlines for submitting the FAFSA.

In Kentucky, state financial aid programs are primarily funded through lottery proceeds.  The two main need-based aid programs require a FAFSA and are funded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • The College Access Program (CAP) provides up to $1,900 annually for undergraduate students to attend eligible public and private colleges and universities, proprietary schools and technical colleges.
  • The Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG) provides up to $3,000 annually for aid to help Kentucky residents attend in-state eligible private colleges.
In recent years - according to KHEAA - roughly 70% of public high school graduates in Kentucky have filled out the FAFSA.  But those who do not miss out on the opportunity to access a more affordable postsecondary education.  According to one recent analysis, Kentucky students potentially missed out on $35 million in federal Pell grants in 2014 by not completing the FAFSA.
The U.S. Department of Education has a new data tool that allows students, families and school administrators to track in real time the FAFSA completions in their high schools and school districts.  Below is the completion rate map for Kentucky for the 2016-17 FAFSA cycle as of October 14 - the most recent data available.  This tool can help inform school and community leaders about how their outreach efforts are succeeding.
More resources to help guide students and their families through the FAFSA process are available from KHEAA and the U.S. Department of Education.  For a student's perspective on the FAFSA, check out the KnowHow2GoKY public service announcements and videos produced by the Prichard Committee's Student Voice Team in partnership with GEAR-UP and the Kentucky College and Career Connection Coalition.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Science Assessment: Powerful Developments Underway!

| By Susan Perkins Weston |

I've been hearing for a while that Kentucky's bold new science standards will require a bold new approach to assessment, and this morning I was delighted to spot a great video report on the work underway. Do view the video, both for the information and for the lucid and personal approach taken by Commissioner Pruitt and by Associate Commissioner Karen Kidwell, Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning Division of Program Standards [Added to correct my error on Karen's title.]
To go with their words, I'll share what struck me most as I watched.

Big purpose
In Dr. Pruitt's words, "This is about doing the things we need to do to ensure that our kids are actually being successful." Seeing the process as all about external accountability would be a big mistake.  It's about seeing what's happening for students and creating continuous improvement in their learning.

A system with three kinds of assessments
Students and teachers will be working with three different kinds of assessment, each of which contributes to ensuring that students move forward.

1. Day-to-day, minute-to-minute checks
For student progress, it's important for teachers to check steadily on how the learning is going.  That checks provide evidence to make very rapid learning adjustments. The adjustment may mean quick help for one student to catch up on something missed or some added challenge for a student who has clearly mastered a learning step. It may even mean changing plans for the whole class. These classroom assessments will help teachers gather that evidence and put it to use in "real time."  Done well, this approach can have strong, research-proven, impact on student growth and especially on growth that narrows gaps between student groups.

Two key notes here: First, teachers can gather their data from students' ongoing assignments. This part of the system does not have to involve a pause in learning in order to test.  Second, these results are not going to be used for state accountability. This part of the system is for improving learning, period.

2. Shared through-course tasks
These tasks will happen several times a year, taking a deeper look at what students know and can do and calling for teachers to work together to understand where students are, where they need to go, and what steps can best help students get to full success. These will be "rich, three-dimensional tasks," so that students' responses integrate scientific practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.

The Department's big request is for teachers to form their own networks: maybe within a school, maybe across a district, maybe a team across a larger area. They'll have the option of drawing tasks from a Department library or designing their own using templates that support the science standards.  Then they'll study the task and think together about how to facilitate students carrying out the task.  After students complete the task, the teachers will reconvene to analyze the student products.  The Department also plans to build a bank of "anchor papers," samples of strong work that will help teachers across the state aim for similar levels of quality.

Two more key notes: First, the Department is not going to specify which tasks are given or when they're given or which educators collaborate on the work. This is a system to be build out by and for teachers. And second, this part of the system is also not for accountability use.  It's for improving learning, deepening teachers' professional expertise, and building the kinds of collaboration that let the whole profession share and expand its strengths.

One added comment: Both American and global research on education show that this kind of ongoing professional collaboration can generate importantly higher levels of student learning, so I'm super-excited about this part.

3. Statewide summative assessment
This part will be the most like testing we've seen before, in that it will yield results that are reported to the public and used for accountability. Based on Dr. Pruitt's comments, it will also differ from past science assessments in important ways, but the video doesn't give detail on those differences.  For that, stay tuned!

A concluding thought
If we can make this big shift deeply and consistently, I believe we can make a huge difference for Kentucky's future.  It's a direct bid to change what happens when students and teachers work together on scientific understanding and, as a result, to change what the next generation can achieve with what they've learned. It's got deep roots in what we know about effective learning around the world, and it will be exciting to watch and support its development.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Building excellence (Ali Wright on Glenn O. Swing)

In a post for the Center for Teaching Quality, Ali Wright explores the "recipe for success" at Covington's Glenn O. Swing Elementary, which has a rising reputation for nurturing high student achievement in a context of  high student poverty.

If you know Ali, you're already clicking through to see her report.

If you haven't met Ali yet, you should, and this piece is a great introduction to her thinking as a Kentucky teacher leader. Here's the short version of the elements she identifies as making a difference:
  1. The principal sets the tone for the culture.
  2. The principal listens to teachers and creates roles based on student need and teacher expertise
  3. Everyone teaches.
  4. There is an emphasis on student work.
  5. The school schedule is built around teacher collaboration.
  6. Everyone, including the principal, is responsible for all students.
  7. The principal works to intentionally build leadership capacity in the school, not only to improve student achievement, but also to retain teachers.
  8. Did I mention co-teaching?
  9. No barking!
  10. The principal protects the teachers’ time
See? You need to read Ali's full post. It's a lively and thoughtful description of the kind of deep collaboration that can fully develop the potential of all Kentucky's students.

(Hat tip to Cory Curl on Twitter.  Follow her, too.)

--Post by Susan Perkins Weston

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Mixed News for African American Students


2016 statewide results show improvement in math, reading and other subjects, but most gaps have widened

For Kentucky's African American students, recently released 2016 results show some important progress, including:
Mathematics proficiency increased at all levels, growing 1.0 point at the elementary level, 2.9 points at the middle school level, and 4.5 points at the high school level. The double checkmarks celebrate growth of more than two points when the three levels are averaged together.

Reading and social studies proficiency also increased.

Students graduating ready for college and career rose, with a 0.2 increase in the four-year graduation rate and a 0.6 point increase in the percent of graduates who have demonstrated readiness for college and/or career.
However, 2016 results for African American students also provide reasons for concern, including these:
Proficiency declined in writing, language mechanics, and science.

Gaps got worse in most subjects, leaving African American students further behind their white classmates in 2016 than they were in 2015.
The gaps between these students and their classmates remained unacceptably large in every subject and at every level, as shown in the detailed reporting on the next page.
Proficiency remains far away for most of these students. For example, only 23.9 percent of African American students were proficient or above on the middle school KPREP mathematics assessment, even after this year’s big step up in mathematics results.
The chart above combines each subject’s KPREP results, averaging together the percent of students who reached proficiency or above at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, except that science uses the only high school assessment results.  The Ready Graduates rate combines the four-year graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate for graduates. 

For further detail, with results and improvements at each level and full gap details, check out this one-page display of the trends for this group of students.

It is important to remember that no one assessment can give a complete picture of progress towards meeting Kentucky’s ambitious goals for student learning. Many other kinds of evidence can enrich our understanding of how students’ knowledge and skills are developing.

Still, this one-time snapshot shows us mixed and insufficient results. We clearly must accelerate our work to develop the talents of Kentucky’s African American students, providing the supports, challenges, and opportunities these students and all students need to reach much higher levels of achievement..

Note from Susan Perkins Weston: This post is an early sample from a larger report the Prichard Committee is developing, designed to share news like this for multiple groups of students, build attention to achievement and achievement gaps, and encourage statewide commitment to the urgent work of developing excellence with equity across Kentucky public education. Questions and feedback are especially welcome on this effort, as we're working to make the reporting as useful as possible.

Good News For Students with Disabilities

2016 statewide results show improvement in math, reading and other subjects, with most gaps narrowing

For students with identified disabilities, recently released 2016 results show some important progress, including:
Mathematics proficiency increased at all three levels, growing 3.4 points at the elementary level, 2.5 points in middle school, and 0.9 points at the high school level.

Proficiency also increased in reading, social studies, writing, and language mechanics.

Achievement gaps declined between these students and their classmates without identified disabilities almost across the board, with an exception only for mathematics (where growth was even bigger for students without disabilities).
These results for students with identified disabilities still provide reasons for concern, including these:
Science proficiency declined, with gap results improving because scores also declined (and declined faster) for students without identified disabilities.

The gaps between these students and their classmates remained unacceptably large in every subject and at every level
Proficiency remains far away for most of these students. For example, just over 28 percent of students with identified disabilities were proficient or above on the elementary KPREP mathematics assessment, even after this year’s big step up in those results. 
The chart above combines each subject’s KPREP results, averaging together the percent of students who reached proficiency or above at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, except that science uses the only high school assessment results. 

For further detail, with results and improvements at each level and full gap details, check out this one-page display of the trends for this group of students.

The Ready Graduates rate will combine the four-year graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate for graduates –but graduation results are not yet available for this particular group of students. 

It is important to remember that no one assessment can give a complete picture of progress towards meeting Kentucky’s ambitious goals for student learning. Many other kinds of evidence can enrich our understanding of how students’ knowledge and skills are developing.

Still, these results suggest generally positive movement for Kentucky’s students with identified disabilities. We must sustain and build on that improvement, providing the supports, challenges, and opportunities these students and all students need to reach much higher levels of achievement.

Note from Susan Perkins Weston: This post is an early sample from a larger report the Prichard Committee is developing, designed to share news like this for multiple groups of students, build attention to achievement and achievement gaps, and encourage statewide commitment to the urgent work of developing excellence with equity across Kentucky public education. Questions and feedback are especially welcome on this effort, as we're working to make the reporting as useful as possible.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Preschool Partnership Grants awarded for fiscal year 2017

Bravo to a diverse array of Kentucky school districts and local child care and Head Start organizations for their innovative leadership in partnering to promote school readiness in their communities.

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education announced the completion of the review process for fiscal year 2017 awards to school districts and their partners through the Preschool Partnership Grant program. A total of 23 school districts have received awards for up to $25,000 in Tier I planning grants and 46 school districts have received awards of up to $150,000 for Tier II implementation grants.

Awards can be found at KDE's website.

We commend the leaders from state agencies and advisory groups that worked to advise and fine-tune the grant requirements as well as those who provided technical assistance to potential grantees. This is a major step toward promoting strong partnerships across school districts and child care to increase the number of children served in high-quality, full-day preschool settings - which supports school readiness as well as working families.

As we have highlighted before, the Preschool Partnership Grants were authorized in the 2017-18 biennial budget through a $7.5 million/year set-aside from the preschool appropriation. This year will prove an important time to learn from the efforts of local partnerships, analyze the data, and set the course for stronger partnerships to benefit our youngest Kentuckians well into the future.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Math and College Readiness Are Key Bright Spots in 2016 Data

Here's the Prichard Committee Statement on 2016 school results:

2016 statewide assessment and accountability results released Thursday morning show some exciting progress for Kentucky’s students toward college and career readiness – with mathematics proficiency showing particularly important growth.
Kentucky students have made strong progress in math achievement. The percentage of elementary students scoring at the proficient level in math increased by 3 percentage points, while the percentage of middle and high school students performing at this level increased by 4 percentage points. This is important progress to celebrate because Kentucky has long struggled with mathematics performance.

Even better, the strong mathematics improvement is fully shared by student groups traditionally behind their peers. Students with disabilities, students with low family incomes, African-American students, Hispanic students, and students of two or more races all saw mathematics proficiency increases of 3 percentage points or more.

Similarly, college and career readiness continues to increase. The readiness rate stands at 68.5, up from 66.9 in 2015. Nearly all of that improvement came from growth in college readiness shown on the ACT and college placement exams.

One area of concern is that the 2016 results suggest that the statewide novice reduction effort, designed to lift students above the lowest performance level in reading and mathematics, has yet to realize positive results at scale. In reading, the percent of students scoring at the very lowest level actually increased for most student groups. This is an area where we should pay close attention moving forward.

Now, five years into the implementation of higher standards that better align to the expectations of colleges and employers, it is clear Kentucky is on the right path. We celebrate the educators, parents, and community partners who have been working hard to set high expectations and help more students learn at high levels. It is now more important than ever that we maintain our momentum to increase achievement for all students and close achievement gaps each student.

The Prichard Committee’s recent “Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business” report on the achievement gaps in our schools urges Kentucky to redouble its efforts to close gaps and ensure high levels of achievement for each and every student. Closing these gaps is more critical than ever given the increasing need for education and training after high school to ensure the future success of each individual student and the state’s economy and quality of life as a whole. The Prichard Committee plans to analyze this year’s results for each student group and issue a more detailed analysis later this fall.

Additional 2016 bright spots included:
  • More elementary students reaching proficiency in reading than in 2015
  • More middle school students reaching proficiency in reading, social studies, and writing, making middle school the most improved level overall
  • More high school students reaching proficiency in social studies and language mechanics
  • More students completing high school, raising the four-year graduation rate from 88.0 to 88.6

Additional areas of concern include 2016 proficiency levels that were lower than 2015 rates for:
  • Elementary students in social studies, writing, and language mechanics
  • Middle school students in language mechanics
  • High school students in English 10, biology, and writing.
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, September 6, 2016

Importance of community partnerships to support school readiness goals

The central message that we heard from those who served on the Prichard Committee’s Achievement Gap study group was that it will take everyone working toward the same goal to achieve educational excellence for each and every child. 

Today, we have welcome news that at the national level, trends toward growing educational inequality show signs of reversing - with a hat tip to the broad array of leaders across business, health, faith, community organizations, government, and schools who have worked together to emphasize the importance of the earliest years of a child's life.

Sean Reardon and Ximina A. Portilla have found evidence from three nationally representative samples of incoming kindergartners that between 1998 and 2010, school readiness improved for children overall, with low-income children beginning to catch up with their higher-income peers.

This research should reinforce our resolve to work together to spread the message and ensure each child has the opportunities they need for a strong start in life. 

Communities across Kentucky are now resolving to build capacity for greater collaboration and partnership. 

The Preschool Partnership Grants authorized in the 2017-18 biennial budget are an important opportunity for Kentucky communities and school districts to build partnerships to work toward their school readiness goals. The state agency partners that worked together to design the grant program were right to do so in a way that meets communities where they are – encouraging all communities to apply for planning grants (Tier 1) or implementation grants (Tier 2) for those that are farther along.

Thanks to this grant program, school districts, child care providers, and other partners will have specific support to build capacity to serve more low-income 4-year olds in high-quality, full-day settings that provide the best foundation for school readiness and support for working families.

The 2014 General Assembly increased the eligibility for public preschool from 150% to 160% of the federal poverty level beginning in fiscal year 2016, providing an extra $18 million to cover expected enrollment increases. Across Kentucky, however, preschool enrollment of low-income 4-year olds declined from 9,338 to 9,201 between December 2014 and December 2015. Partnerships between school districts and child care centers will help boost enrollment and strengthen Kentucky’s early childhood care and education system from birth through preschool across all areas of the Commonwealth.

Many states across the nation, including states such as North Carolina with many rural districts, have long had “mixed delivery” models to deliver preschool with public funds in both school districts and child care settings. Several states, such as Oregon and Virginia, are now rolling out system that encourage or require this approach. One of the major reasons they have taken a mixed delivery approach is to maintain the viability of child care centers, which provide such essential care and education for infants and toddlers and working families.

While Kentucky policymakers did not choose a mixed delivery approach for its preschool program, the Prichard Committee’s Strong Start Kentucky coalition has long recognized the need to encourage voluntary collaborative models across school districts and child care to ensure both sectors remain strong, particularly in rural areas where child care options are the most limited.

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, Pre-K Collaboration in Kentucky: Maximizing Resources for Kindergarten Readiness, that detailed examples of models underway now in Kentucky. Several partnerships in rural areas have been pioneers in working together to better serve young children:

  • Christian County - Hopkinsville Lets Go Play Academy and Christian County Schools. The school district sends a preschool certified teacher to the child care center to provide preschool services. The center provides the classroom assistant.
  • Perry County - New Beginnings Learning Center (NBLC) partners with Hazard/Perry County Schools. The center offers Head Start, state funded preschool and private high-quality child care in a fully blended classroom. Children receive a full-day program with wraparound services to meet families’ needs. The preschool teacher is paid half by the school system and half by New Beginnings.
  • Henderson County - Henderson County School District, Audubon Head Start and Henderson Child Development Center. The school district has twelve preschool classrooms providing a half-day program. The child development center is onsite to provide wraparound services and extend the school day.

The Preschool Partnership grant program is designed to help more districts and communities plan to take these steps or to enhance current partnerships.

Of all the stretches of road on a child’s educational journey, those that the child travels in her earliest years are those that often take the most coordination to get her where she needs to go next. We are encouraged by the courageous partnerships across the state and look forward to learning from their efforts. 

 *Note - we have edited this post to clarify that the research draws on a nationally-representative sample of incoming kindergarteners, and to focus on one study cited in the New York Times article which identified reduction of school readiness gaps based on family income. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Helping parents support their children through school

| Guest post from Dr. Keith Look, Superintendent, Danville Independent Schools |

This August, my oldest child began Kindergarten. In my twenty plus years of public education experience, I have hired and fired, hugged and restrained, and cheered and cried in some of the most challenging settings. Yet at this moment, I feel more prepared to revamp instruction and assessment than I did to tell my child good-bye on that first day (and likely the second, the third, and . . .).

Granted, I feel confident in my child’s Kindergarten readiness. But what about in third grade when his friend tells him to try this new “candy?” What about in 6th grade when he decides he is “not doing the work of that math teacher?” What about in 10th grade when he would prefer an “A” in the easy class as opposed to the C+ in its harder version? And what about all the other conversations I have coached parents through as a teacher and administrator but now, all of the sudden, realize apply to my child?!!?

As a professional in and student of the industry, I am the lucky one. I will have the networks and resources to get answers I need, but the average parent may not. So much attention is given understandably to new parents and early childhood educational experiences. As children grow older, information and support plummet. We wonder why parent engagement falters after elementary school. Maybe the answer is obvious. Maybe it is because we do not teach parents how to be “good education parents” at the myriad of stages across all of K-12.

The Danville Schools’ Good Education Parent initiative aims to make parents safe in their vulnerability when it comes to supporting their children through school. There must be space for all of us to help each other figure it out. Race, class, and all other official demarcations that divide us are irrelevant when it comes to understanding how to discipline the 7th grade student who decides to put everyone’s gym clothes in the locker room shower. The only person you want to hear from is another parent who says, “Let me tell you what I did when my daughter . . .”

It is time to begin the conversation anew. It is time to admit our own vulnerabilities and anxieties in order to help the next parent know his/her child is going to be okay. Perhaps more importantly, it is time to empower parents to know that they are not insane, weak, or ineffective for struggling to drop off their Kindergartner, discipline their 7th grader, or help their sophomore become proud of his/her talents and abilities.

The Danville Schools is proud to claim this work and make this charge—for ourselves and all other districts in the state. Start the conversation. Initiate the storytelling. Help me – as well as all the rest of us who are reaching new grades, schools, and milestones with our children for the first time – to be a good education parent in your district and community.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Unleash Student Voice to Make Schools Better

| by Eliza Jane Schaeffer, Student Voice Team |

Eliza Jane is chair emeritus of the School Governance Committee and strategy and development coordinator for the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team. She is a recent graduate of Henry Clay High School and a rising first year at Dartmouth College. 

This month, Kentucky students begin their annual mass migration from backyards and summer jobs to school rooms and study halls. And while we give up our borrowed right to lay in bed all day and watch Netflix, we also give up a more fundamental right, one that older Americans take for granted.

The moment we step into a school building, we forfeit our right to be heard. In our lives outside of school, we are technically free to comment on and change the policies and practices which shape our environment. But as students, a role we are required by law to play, we lack this ability.

My claims are not simply complaints and clamor.

In evaluating the data from the nearly 300 Kentucky schools and districts we surveyed, we found that 57% of schools do not offer their students an outlet for feedback and fewer than one in ten district school boards and school councils have student members. These statistics come fresh from the Student Voice Team’s Students As Partners report, a year-long, youth-led investigation into the merits of supporting students to serve more meaningful roles in school decision-making. 

In spite of this discouraging data, the report indicates real potential for growth. Our results show that nearly half of Kentucky superintendents and principals would be willing to add a student member to the decision-making body under their jurisdiction. This figure provides an opening to further the conversation about what is possible when the primary stakeholders are more fully supported to participate in school governance.

For inspiration, look no further than Northern Kentucky. In Boone County, high school senior Michael Henry serves as an advisory member on the board of education and as the head of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, a group which meets monthly to brainstorm and implement ideas for school improvement, hold question and answer sessions with the superintendent, listen to guest speakers, and interact with district officials.

Henry told the Student Voice Team that the board members “really appreciate the student’s opinion.” More importantly, he shared that students in the district are now excited about and involved in the decision-making process and will routinely stop him in the hallway to share their opinion on a matter the school board is currently discussing. Having a chance to meaningfully contribute to school improvement “is pushing them to get more involved,” he said.

Our research shows that supporting students in shaping their learning environment as Boone County did generates self-efficacy, agency, and opportunities for deeper learning. It also benefits the school system as a whole. A more productive, engaged student body translates to higher performances in the classroom, higher levels of informed discussion, and school policy solutions that reflect the experiences of all stakeholders.

With these education benefits in mind, we hope more of Kentucky’s elected officials, teachers, administrators, and students will embrace a school system that both fully recognizes--and unleashes--the potential of student voice to make our schools the best they can possibly be. And perhaps next year, as our students return to the classroom and lose their summer glow, they will not also lose their right to be heard.

To read the Students as Partners report and learn more about the Student Voice Team’s research, reasoning, and recommendations, click here.

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.