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

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

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

 

 

Governor Beshear’s Proposed Education Investments

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered his budget address last night. His proposed budget includes 5% cuts to most state programs while also including significant new investment in K-12 education and in infrastructure.

Here are the highlights of the K-12 education proposals:

Improving Competitiveness through Education: The most important investments in the Governor’s proposed budget are in K-12 education. The largest item is SEEK, the main funding formula for our classrooms. From 2000 to 2008, SEEK grew an average of 3.4 percent each year. But from 2008 to 2014, funding flatlined – even as enrollment expanded, costs increased and local support in some areas declined. In effect, per-pupil spending dropped, even though the annual SEEK allocation remained the same.

Governor Beshear recommends investing $189 million over the biennium into SEEK, bringing per pupil spending to its highest total ever.

That allocation will include pay increases for all teachers and classified school personnel (2 percent the first year, 1 percent the second year).

Gov. Beshear’s proposed education investments also include:

  • $95.4 million over the biennium for textbooks, professional development, school safety and Extended School Services (restoring funds to near-2008 levels)
  • $36 million over the biennium to expand preschool services to serve 5,125 more 4-year-olds by increasing eligibility from 150 percent of the poverty level to 160 percent. This is a 22 percent increase in enrollment.
  • $50 million for technology and school equipment upgrades, funded through General Fund-supported bonds •$100 million for school facilities construction to replace aging K-12 school buildings through General Fund-supported bonds

 

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

Steve Beshear on Education

Last night, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered his State of the Commonwealth address.  Here’s what he had to say about education in Kentucky and his plans for the upcoming legislative session:

I talk to business executives almost daily about what they need to make their companies successful. They tell me that factors like low taxes, incentives, good roads, logistical support and low utility rates are all important. But their No. 1 concern is their workforce finding enough talented, skilled, energetic, healthy and educated workers.

Many years ago, Kentucky’s national story when it came to education was cause for embarrassment. Scores were low, and on most measures we lagged far behind. But thanks to decades of hard work and aggressive policy changes, Kentucky has carved out a new reputation as a reform-minded state that is innovative, bold and determined.

That new reputation was further strengthened early in 2013, when Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report ranked Kentucky in the top 10 states in student performance and education progress …

and a few months later, when a Harvard study ranked us eighth in student performance improvement over the last two decades. We also rank sixth in the number of teachers earning National Board Certification. So now, when our educators attend national conferences, they are barraged with questions from leaders in other states who want to know: How is Kentucky doing it, and how can they replicate our success? ***

Since I became governor, our efforts have focused on three areas:
Improving early childhood education.
Raising the graduation rate.
And increasing the college and career readiness of our students, who will become the workforce upon which Kentucky’s economic future depends.

In the first area, early childhood, we have coalesced around a concept called “kindergarten readiness” and are implementing a kindergarten entry screener to evaluate where incoming students stand on cognitive, physical and emotional skills.

Three weeks ago, our efforts received a game-changing boost when we were awarded a $44.3 million Race to the Top grant to improve early learning programs for thousands of Kentucky preschoolers.
Here in Kentucky, the initiative is called the All-STARS plan — Accelerating learning Statewide Through an Advanced Rating System. I will seek legislation needed to implement the goals of the All-STARS plan which will  provide for more accountability and better transparency throughout our state’s early childcare system. Getting our children off to a better start in life
 all of our children, not just those in wealthy, two-parent households
 will dictate our success as a state.
In the second area, graduation rates, we are making huge strides.

Our graduation rate improved from 69.7 percent for the class of 2000 to 79.9 percent for the class of 2010. This year, Kentucky joined other states in using a more accurate way to measure the number of students who graduate. Our rate of 86 percent when measured against the most recent data from other states ranks us among the top states. And that rate will continue to improve as we implement the Graduation Bill passed last session and other important supports for these at-risk students. As you recall, Kentucky’s 173 school districts had the option of increasing the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 for the 2015 school year, with the bill  becoming mandatory once 96 of the districts had done so. Well, it didn’t take long. We exceeded that goal in just two weeks, and the First Lady and I are so proud of our education community for stepping up so rapidly. So far, 140 of our 173 districts have adopted that new policy.

The third area, college and career readiness, is a measure of whether our schools are doing their job. In 2010, only 34 percent of Kentucky high school graduates were adequately prepared to take the next step in life. Today, that number is 54 percent putting us on target to meet the 2015 goal of 67  percent. That’s a huge jump, and it is partly the result of new standards for learning that hold students and teachers to a higher bar. Since 2011, public school educators have been using the Kentucky version of Common Core academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics, which define the minimum that students should know at each grade level. Core Content plays down rote memorization, and instead gives students the skills that today’s workplace demands: creative and critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and communication.

 

As the first state to adopt the standards, Kentucky won national recognition in a variety of places. TIME magazine, for example, said we “barreled headlong into the future.”

And I love the headline of the article in TIME: “What Every Child Can Learn from Kentucky.”
 We were also the second state to adopt the Next-Generation Science Standards, and now we’re creating standards for social studies and arts and the humanities. We also are implementing a new model of secondary career and technical education to make it more accessible to students at an earlier age, more rigorous academically and  better aligned with both postsecondary requirements and employer needs. Furthermore, we have seen a 28 percent increase in the number of students transferring credits from our two-year colleges to our four-year programs.
The bottom line: We are fitting the pieces together to create a seamless, cradle-to-career education system that is better preparing our students for this complex world.

I know that you and I want nothing less than to produce the brightest minds in the world and to create a workforce that companies fall all over themselves to come to Kentucky to hire. And we’re getting there. But ladies and gentlemen, that progress is in jeopardy with every dollar we cut out of education.

Throughout the recent historic recession, you and I protected SEEK, the basic funding formula for classrooms, from cuts. But preserving funding isn’t enough. From 2000 to 2008, SEEK grew an average of 3.4 percent each year. But from 2008 to 2014, it grew zero percent
 even as enrollment expanded, costs increased, and local support in some areas dropped. Furthermore, to balance our budget during the recession, we eliminated funding for textbooks and significantly reduced funding for teacher training and school safety.  Now, despite these austerity measures, Kentucky’s education community still made tremendous progress for our children, placing Kentucky on the leading edge of education reform in this country.

But they have stretched every dollar they have as far as they can — and now they’re out of options. To add to the pain, Kentucky schools are facing the delayed impact of the federal sequester cuts. They will have to figure out how to make up the loss of approximately $28 million in federal funding in the current fiscal year, with the potential for an additional $28 million hit in the next year.

If we continue to cut or freeze education funding, our schools face the prospect of laying off significant numbers of teachers, greatly increasing class room sizes and letting technology and equipment grow more outdated and useless. We are in danger of losing all of the positive momentum which has been built up. And I am not going to allow that to happen. I am determined to find money to reinvest in education
 – 
 even if I have to make harmful cuts in other areas to do so.
Beshear also mentioned the need to increase teacher pay to keep Kentucky competitive.
The education community was likely pleased, as they have been pushing for new funding in recent months.
By contrast, Senate President Robert Stivers released a GOP agenda that did not include education funding among it’s top 5 goals for 2014.
For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KYEdReport

Senate GOP Top Priorities Don’t Include Education

The Kentucky Senate begins its 2014 session today and Senate Republicans have released a list of their top 5 priorities.

Senate President Robert Stivers issued a press release outlining the GOP’s goals for 2014. They include:

1) Reigning in the Governor by giving the legislature the power to overturn administrative regulations proposed by the administration.  This is largely in response to the hugely successful rollout of Kentucky’s healthcare exchange and Medicaid expansion, ideas that are apparently quite popular with Kentuckians but which the KY GOP opposed.

2) Limiting the General Fund debt limit.

3) Legislative Pension Fix — addressing the enlargement of a legislator’s pension when s/he leaves the legislature for a judgeship or executive branch job.

4) Informed consent before a woman receives an abortion.

5) Addressing Kentucky’s growing heroin problem.

Sure, the Senate GOP likely has other top priorities, but these are the five they’ve chosen to highlight.  The first one is simply about frustration with a Governor who has been fairly successful at managing the government even though Republicans disagree with where he’s going.

And yes, the other four items all merit some attention.

But, what’s missing? There’s no mention at all of education. No mention of restoring SEEK funding to 2008 levels. No mention of addressing teacher pay. No mention of investment needed to keep Kentucky schools moving forward.  Not even a mention of one of the Kentucky Chamber’s top goals, charter schools.

Does Kentucky’s GOP have an education agenda? It’s possible, but they sure aren’t talking about it.

 

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

Don’t Stop the Music

A Kentucky teacher makes a plea for the importance of music education in the midst of tough budget decisions:

One of the first things we learned in my music education program my freshman year of college was how to advocate for music education. I always thought it odd that I would learn how to keep my job before I ever got one. Now as the budget gets tight in districts around the state as well as my own, I am continually approached by my teaching peers wondering what programs will be cut next year. Will my program be cut? With the push for more focus on Common Core and reduced funding, is there room for extras? But then I have to ask, why cut something that only reinforces and supports the Common Core while fully implementing 21st Century Skills and the Kentucky Program Reviews?

Read More

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

Silberman: Don’t Stop the Progress

Will Kentucky schools keep moving forward?

That’s the question Stu Silberman of the Prichard Committee is asking.

And he’s not alone.  To date, 100 Kentucky school districts have signed a letter calling for the restoration of SEEK funds to 2008 levels.

Education supporters have a rally planned in Frankfort for Thursday to press the case for increased support for schools.

And by increased support, they mean a return to 2008 funding levels.  Because while dollar amounts for SEEK have remained constant, the number of students in school has increased.  That means districts are being asked to do more (a lot more, due to Common Core and a continued push for high standards in Kentucky) with less.

As Silberman points out, the flex funds are critical, too.  Those dollars, now almost gone, provided the extra support to help those students and families most in need.

Without them, Silberman notes that students will simply fall behind.

Kentucky has made steady progress since 1990.  The 20-year trend in NAEP scores shows the state moving forward year after year.

That progress may well stop if proper investment in proven programs is not provided.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport

 

 

Core Defense

Gov. Steve Beshear and Commissioner Terry Holliday defend Kentucky’s participation in the Common Core in an op-ed in the Lane Report.

In the article, they note that Kentucky was the first state to teach and test using the Common Core State Standards. They also note that the stronger curriculum is yielding results in terms of increased graduation rates and a decreased need for remediation among high school graduates attending Kentucky colleges.

Kentucky’s leading role should be no surprise.  Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, Kentucky has taken the lead on using rigorous, relevant curriculum and holding students to high standards.  The higher expectations combined with increased investment in schools helped Kentucky become one of the fastest-improving states on the NAEP.

The lesson of 20 years of progress is that successful reform requires meaningful investment.  Or, as Stu Silberman put it, Reform Without Funding is Dead.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow us @KyEdReport