Beyond the Test: A Kentucky Experiment

Over at Tennessee Education Report there’s an article featuring highlights from a piece written by teacher Ezra Howard in Bluff City Ed. Howard notes that the current model of testing doesn’t work well for many students and argues for a move to a portfolio-based model of assessment.

Now, there’s this piece at NPR noting that in one school district in Kentucky, schools are moving toward a form of portfolio assessment.  Early results show this method of assessment holds some promise.

Here are the highlights from the NPR story:

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core and the tests that align with it. This spring, the 1,700-student Danville district thinks it’s found a better way to teach the Core.

Danville has moved to performance-based assessments.  And at one middle school, here’s what that looks like:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

I watch as student after student confidently answers questions about the steps of the scientific method, experimental design, math concepts like mean and median, and, most impressively, how the project relates to his or her life. And they listen respectfully to each other, giving helpful feedback.

Most projects are graded “outstanding” or “competent.” A few are judged “needs revision,” which means the students will keep working on them until they pass muster.

Better than the PARCC?

What makes the Danville experiment particularly noteworthy is that Kentucky was out ahead of the nation on adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English and math. Swann believes the standards are worthwhile, but thinks schools can do better than the tests that go with them. Though the new Common Core tests have been touted as improvements over what they replaced, she says they are really “the same old multiple choice,” and adds, “I feel like on a standardized test you’re really showing what kids don’t know.”

If performance-based assessment is so good, why keep standardized tests?

Of course, there are reasons U.S. schools have gravitated toward standardized tests instead. They’re (relatively) cheap, easily administered, and they carry the promise of some kind of “objective” measure. In other words, they’re “standardized.”

Growing Support?

The chief state school officers in Kentucky and eight other states have formed a group known as the Innovation Lab Network. These states have adopted performance-based learning as one of their “critical attributes” for a successful school. (The other states are California, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin.)

Several of these states are moving to include a performance-assessment option in public schools. Vermont is taking similar steps, and there is a New England Secondary School Consortium of 400 high schools using it as well.

In other words, a state can have both Common Core State Standards AND “authentic assessment.”

And while for now, the kids in Danville still use the state test as well, there’s a move in the legislature to allow exemptions for districts that implement performance-based testing.

Moving toward a hybrid model, where performance-based assessment becomes the primary means of assessment and standardized tests are used at key checkpoints in a child’s educational career, could be the educational wave of the future.

Yes, there are costs associated with administering and grading these assessments.  And they don’t easily fit into existing statistical “growth models” for teacher evaluation. But, shifting toward performance-based testing could facilitate a shift in the way teachers are evaluated — where teachers are assessed based on the actual, demonstrated growth of the students they actually teach.

Much is said in the world of education policy about the importance of putting students first and not doing what is convenient or expedient for adults. Performance-based assessment is student-focused and sets a high standard for teachers and school leaders. As Kentucky continues its exploration of this model, surely there are lessons that can be applied across the country.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

Teacher Preparation Changes in Kentucky

Dr. Ann Elisabeth Larson, Vice Dean and Professor, Dean-elect of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville, offers some insight on how teacher preparation is changing over at the Prichard Blog.

The bottom line: MORE classroom time for aspiring educators and stronger partnerships between universities training new teachers and the school districts hiring those teachers.

Some key takeaways:

New standards, priorities and reform in policy and practice will shape and be shaped by clinically rich, effective forms of teacher preparation programs. Dr. James Cibulka, president of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), reflected on the transformation of teacher education: “One of the major themes of NCATE’s Blue Ribbon Panel Report, Transforming Teacher Education: A National Strategy for Preparing Effective Teachers, is the need for new types of partnerships between higher education and P-12 in the service of P-12 student learning (Cibulka, 2010).”

KACTE recognizes that by bringing together theory, practice, preparation and application in the clinical setting of a P-12 school, all stakeholders gain new knowledge and skills aimed at improved P-12 student learning. Teacher candidates have authentic teaching opportunities with excellent and dedicated teachers; teachers have professional development opportunities to develop innovative “best practice” teaching strategies; and inquiry and data based decision-making guide instructional and program improvement in both the school and university settings. The need for new types of partnerships between higher education and P-12 schools to educate teachers in the service of P-12 student learning has never been more compelling.

Essentially, lots more focus on actual classroom experience and feedback to adequately prepare teachers for the career they will enter.  And a stronger focus from colleges on providing the supply of teachers school districts need.

Read all of Dr. Larson’s piece.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Where Does the Money Go in JCPS?

Toni Konz at the Courier-Journal has a fascinating breakdown of the JCPS budget and where the money goes, school-by-school.  65%, or $733 million, goes directly to schools.

Eastern, Ballard, and PRP are the most expensive JCPS schools, coming in at around $12 million each.

 

 

The Importance of Family Engagement

Prichard Committee member Cory Curl writes about the importance of family engagement to the success of schools. In addition to being a Prichard Committee member, Curl has worked in the Tennessee Governor’s Office on education policy as well as for the Tennessee Department of Education.

One key takeaway from Curl’s article is the importance of training parents to be effective advocates not only for their own children, but their community’s schools.  Curl writes:

How can parents and families help their child’s school? My perspective is that the best things parents and families can do are to help their children learn at home, and to help other families do the same. In Kentucky, the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (GCIPL), is a treasured resource to help parents learn about the education system and how to be education leaders. Most importantly, GCIPL guides parents in putting in practice what they have learned – and many end their training by launching a program in their child’s school or districts to help other parents.

Programs like GCIPL are also transformative in that they help parents and families understand what questions to ask administrators and teachers in their child’s school, to whom and how to ask the questions in order to both support the school’s efforts and spark action to make changes when needed.

Promoting community engagement around schools — rather than simply talking about the importance of community engagement — is critical to make schools successful.  Too often, parents don’t know how to be engaged or where to direct important questions.  Programs like GCIPL help address this concern and give parents the tools to be powerful advocates.  Education-minded groups in other states would do well to replicate a proven program like GCIPL.

For more from Cory Curl, read here.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Education Advocacy in Kentucky

Oldham County High School Spanish Teacher Kip Hottman offers his take on advocacy in Kentucky.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Last, but not least, I have had the pleasure of witnessing what Kentucky teachers are implementing in their classrooms. I am absolutely amazed at the passion and best practice that happens daily in classrooms all over our state, and I think that the students are blessed to be part of classroom environments in which they participate.

I love teaching and want to continue to advocate for my students, but I have learned that to be an educator I should advocate for all students, not just those that I see daily. My eyes are now open. My world has changed and I have to show some much needed respect to all of these organizations and to the wonderful educators in our state. So, I end this blog by addressing all those who advocate for our students by saying a simple, “Thank you Kentucky! Thank you for all that you do!”

The article breaks down the key education advocacy groups in Kentucky — though it leaves out Kentucky Association of School Administrators and the Kentucky School Boards Association.  Of course, Hottman’s piece is focused primarily on those who advocate on behalf of teachers.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Kentucky’s Impressive AP Gains

This graph tells an impressive story — and it is happening in Kentucky.

 

ky-ap2

How did they make it happen?

A few key takeaways from this article on Kentucky’s success:

Teachers receive extra training in the AP course content in the summer, the support of a mentor during the school year and $500 for being an AP teacher participating in training and a $100 bonus for each of their students who receives a qualifying score. This past summer, more than 1,000 teachers participated in AP and pre-AP training sessions at four locations in Kentucky.

Focusing on teacher training and support is a critical element of this program’s success.  Teachers are trained, they are paid extra, and they are supported over the course of the year.  This type of model would seem to hold promise for overall education improvements.  Provide teachers with targeted training, offer them the support of a trained mentor, and provide them with improved pay.

High standards alone are not enough.  Teachers must also be trained, supported, and adequately paid.  The Kentucky AP experience shows what can happen when ALL of those elements are included in a plan to improve student achievement.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

KY Schools Need Technology Funding

Tabetha Cooksey, a middle school science teacher at Cumberland County Middle School discusses the importance of school funding as it relates to technology.

Here is her central argument:

If dollars are not included in the budget for textbooks or e-books, then how are our students going to become independent learners? We want our teachers to facilitate student learning, but without these tools it is impossible to improve the learning experience of students. Our students need the opportunity to extend their learning beyond the classroom with virtual labs and interactive assignments that expand their understanding of what is being taught.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

KY Ed Report Interviews Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen serves as the student member of the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence.  He graciously agreed to an interview with Kentucky Education Report. You can follow him on Twitter @aebrennen

Andrew Brennen is a high school senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.  He and his partner were state champions in public forum debate this season.

Here are his answers to our questions:

1. Tell us about your role with the Prichard Committee? How were you selected? What do you do with the Committee?

I have two roles within the Prichard Committee for Academic excellence.  I serve as the first full voting student member of the Prichard Committee.  This role came about after 13 other Central Kentucky students and I worked with adult allies for the better part of the school year to make the case to Prichard Committee members at their spring meetings that students could and should be education policy partners.We premised the argument on the idea that the Prichard Committee has been a national leader in mobilizing stakeholders in the education system but in 30 years of work they never fully integrated students in that effort.  This represented a necessary change.

The second role I play is as a co-designer and active member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, the initiative that came out of the original presentation last June. If last year was our think-tank stage, this year is a very active pilot phase in which we’re hoping to serve as a national model for student integration in substantive education policy work.  I have leveraged an independent study from my high school and been able to devote an unusual amount of time to helping to direct the group with a team of adults and other students   We have been prototyping ideas all year long and are constantly refining and innovating both our infrastructure and activities. Here’s more on the Student Voice Team.

 How did you become engaged with education advocacy?

My interest in Education Advocacy arose initially from my involvement with the Kentucky YMCA’s KYA and KUNA programs.  The mock/experiential government programs in many ways served to help me identify and strengthen my interests and by my junior year, it was clear to me that civic engagement and education policy were my twin passions.  The Prichard Committee and the Student Voice team serve as a way for me to practice those passions moving from the practice-for-the-real-world policy making at KYA to the real-world policy making with the Prichard Committee

3.  What do you see as the most pressing need facing Kentucky schools?

 There are two.

  Adequate Funding for Kentucky Public Schools and inequality of funding.  The current level of funding for Kentucky public schools is not adequate to accomplish the goal of bringing every student to the level of efficient.  Many national standards will tell you that though Kentucky does very well with what we have if you compare our funding levels to other states, we rank extremely low in our absolute per pupil spending and students from Whitesburg to Bowling Green are feeling the pinch.

 Lack of Student Voice in decision-making.  Why do we not engage students–particularly those in middle school and older–in the challenging issues that face our schools? Why not teach students to think critically about testing, the debate around the Common Core, discrepancies in funding across and within school districts, the achievement gap between races, socio-economic classes and students with disabilities and supporting effective teaching?  Why not engage students in helping to find solutions to the very problems they face every day in the classroom?  Why not support students to practice democracy instead of just learning about it?

4. Do you think Gov. Beshear’s budget goes far enough, or can more be done to improve education in the Commonwealth?

Gov. Beshear’s budget takes an excellent step toward the direction of adequate funding.  Encouraging the state legislature to pass the budget as is one of our top priorities; however, when it comes to improving the quality of education in the Commonwealth, funding isn’t the only issue.  The Prichard Committee’s Team on Teacher Effectiveness recently produced a report outlining some steps Kentucky can take to increase the quality of teaching in the state which is arguably the most immediate indicator of student achievement.  Additionally, work having to do with increased internet access and early childhood education needs to be prioritized as both affect significantly quality of education here in Kentucky.

5. What would you say to policymakers unwilling to make schools a top budget priority?

I would remind these legislators that funding K-12 education is more than just an expenditure in the now.  The return on investment as a result of a higher quality of education is significant.  Legislators can either make the choice now to invest more in those students who supposedly mean the most to Kentucky or avoid making the hard choice only to face the repercussions in the future.  Kentucky has made huge strides in education since the passing of KERA, however, the rocket we have been riding on is losing fuel. We need to reinvest before our plan takes a nose dive.

6.  What would you tell other students who want to get involved with education advocacy?

Do it. If you are interested in getting involved with the work being done with the Prichard Committee do not hesitate to contact us at studentvoiceteam@prichardcommittee.org.   As far as being involved with other work education-related or not, just remember that you are only limited by your imagination and passion.  In school, we spend hours learning what democracy is and looks like, But I would encourage all students to go out on their own or with a team and discover how they can apply democratic values themselves.  We live in a society that seems to suggest that your responsibility toward civic engagement only begins on your 18th birthday.  But it’s not true, and our communities need you.  Your responsibility begins now.

7. Where will you be going to college? Why’d you make that choice?

If you ask me again in 20 days I will probably have an answer for you.  I am still waiting to hear back from some schools and scholarships before I make a final decision.  What I do know is that I want to study public policy and business while in college, and most of the schools I am considering have strong programs in both.

8.  Will we see Andrew Brennen for Governor signs in the future? Do you have political aspirations?

I prefer to think of my future in terms of the goals I hope to have accomplished and not necessarily in terms of specific titles.  I want to be following my beliefs and passions.  I want to support the right to an education and the right to speech. I want to be happy with what I do in life and help serve as a microphone for those whose voices are often stifled. If I end up running for some political office to help accomplish those goals, it will be mainly because I find it the best vehicle to help me do just that.

 Will Kentucky or Louisville win the national title in basketball this year?

University of Kentucky signs my father’s paycheck so my allegiance is secured.

For more on Kentucky education policy and politics, follow @KYEdReport

 

Kentucky Teachers Talk Education Funding

The Prichard Blog features two teachers talking about the importance of a legislative commitment to education funding.

First up is Kim Delaney, a first grade teacher in Boone County.

Here is the central portion of her argument:

First grade has changed a lot since you and I were in a classroom. The days of Dick and Jane basal readers have passed. I have the responsibility to teach    24 students, and sometimes more, to read. First grade students are required to read 67 words per minute in fiction as well as non-fiction texts by the end    of first grade. We expect our children to be equipped and prepared to be college- and career-ready to compete in a global society. Despite the    responsibility I have for those 24 students, I am given 11 reading textbooks to use with them. This is a tragedy. Children learn to read by holding a book    in their hands, tracking print, looking at pictures and more. My children must have the tools they need to read in order to learn to think critically and    to become accomplished readers and writers.

 Standards require my students to be able to research and utilize technology, yet I have three desktop computers for 24 students to share.

 We can accept no further cuts to education for our children and grandchildren.

Next, Michelle Rynbrandt-Hendricks, currently a 4th grade teacher in Bullitt County, offers her thoughts.  She talks about what it’s like being a high school special education teacher, a job she previously held.

Here’s what she has to say:

The reality is that teachers will do what it takes to make things happen for kids. Teachers will buy Kyle a new pair of shoes when his are so full of holes    and won’t stay on his feet, they will pitch in to pay a plumber to fix the toilet for the family who can’t flush theirs, they will beg for someone to give  Andy a haircut; get the heat turned on where Morgan lives and make sure Jamie and her 3-year-old little brother have presents from Santa.

  Teachers always have been and always will be givers. They are fiercely protective of their charges. Just because teachers and other school employees will    move mountains in order to get what their kids need, doesn’t mean they should have to move mountains.

  Fully funding education means that the above situations don’t have to be so common. Safe and functional spaces for kids to learn, fair compensation and a    protected retirement for teachers, adequate support for professional development and training so that teachers can be prepared for the subjects they   teach–these things should not be the exception. Fully funding education should be the rule.

Kentucky teachers are speaking out about the needs of their students — and their own very real needs.  Teachers, as Michelle notes, deserve professional compensation and a secure retirement. Students deserve safe spaces to learn and adequate learning materials (textbooks, technology, classroom supplies).

Kentucky is in danger of falling behind after years of making great gains.  As these teachers note, Kentucky students deserve better — and they can’t wait for the legislature to put it off until a more comfortable budget year.  Leadership requires tough choices.  The question is: Will Kentucky’s legislators lead, or will they allow Kentucky to fall behind?

 

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

A Student Speaks Out on the Need for School Funding Increases

Andrew Brennen, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and a member of the Prichard Committee’s student voice team, penned an op-ed that appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

His article comes on the heels of notice by the Fayette County Superintendent that absent additional funding, the school system would have to make $20 million in cuts to next year’s budget. Items like elementary band maybe eliminated and library services will be reduced.

Brennen notes that this problem is not unique to Fayette County and cites the following dismal numbers:

Kentucky has joined 14 other states in decreasing state support of per-student spending in the last year.

■ Slashed funds to support tutoring by nearly two-thirds since 2008. 

■ Decreased professional development funds for teachers from $13 million in 2008 to just $3 million in 2013. 

■ Committed zero state dollars toward textbooks and other learning materials since 2011.

Brennen points out that students are noticing.  He cites students from other Fayette County Schools who are also lamenting the loss of important programs and in some cases, the loss of valued teachers. Brennen is letting Kentucky policymakers know they are at a crossroads.  They can either embrace the step forward envisioned in Governor Steve Beshear’s budget proposal or they can see their now solid schools begin to slip away.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport