Kentucky public schools will operate under a new accountability system soon, and Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt appeared in Louisville this week to report on what that new system might look like.
Public school accountability – often just referred to as “testing” – is the way school systems show that they are providing a return on the public’s investment in them. While test scores often become the focus, there is much more to showing student success.
“This is my report back to you about what we’re done so far,” said Pruitt. “This is not a final product.”
This meeting, held at the Kentucky School for the Blind, was the second of 10 meetings around the state to gather public opinion on the best ways to gauge student and school success. Last year, as the work to update the system was just beginning, Pruitt held a round of these community meetings to hear concerns early, before design work began.
He said what he heard a year ago was that “students must be the heart of the system,” and “well-rounded education is important.”
And that’s still what he heard in comments from those who attended this event, as development of the new system is in its final stages. People want to ensure kids are not reduced to a test score or a categorical label.
States now have a lot more say in designing an accountability system as a result of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the measure that governs the federal involvement in public education. Under ESSA, signed into law in December of 2015, the federal sector retains some requirements regarding measuring and reporting student success.
An overall goal of Kentucky’s schools, said Pruitt, would be to ensure students are “transition ready” at every level, and are prepared to pursue the pathway of their choice after high school graduation.
A summary sheet of the draft plan provided at the meeting listed four main purposes of the accountability system:
- Promote higher levels of learning
- Promote greater equity and reduced achievement gaps
- Foster understanding, support and improvement of public schools
- Guide state support and assistance to schools and districts
Attendees included parents, educators, social workers, nurses, community leaders, the JCPS superintendent and three board members, representatives from the NAACP, and others.
Here is a summary of some of the key comments:
- A teacher representing the Kentucky Council for the Social Studies addressed importance of quality teaching and assessment of social studies to ensure “civic awareness.”
- A representative from U of L’s Kent School of Social Work emphasized the need to address the “whole child” and social-emotional development.
- A parent from a priority school raised concerns about parent involvement when their school-based decision making councils are disbanded.
- Nurses from the Kentucky Nurses Association advocated for utilizing nurses in schools to address critical issues, like attendance.
- A couple parents urged attention to students with dyslexia and those who learn differently.
- The NAACP asked for specific initiatives to increase the number of teachers of color.
- A teacher at the KY School for the Blind explained the need for accessibility to appropriate assessments and opportunities for her students.
- A school librarian thanked the commissioner for acknowledging the importance of quality library services in schools.
- Two parents asked that gifted and talented students be sufficiently challenged.
- One man reminded of the need for adequate funding for education, and urged the commissioner to advocate for funding and efficiency.
- Several talked about the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education.
Commissioner Pruitt told the group that the new system’s development has involved nearly 3,500 people to date in various committees and through community meetings such as this. He added that any new system will be based on multiple academic and school quality measures, not a single high stakes test or indicator.
School and district ratings will be determined using five indicators – Proficiency, Growth, Achievement Gap Closure, Transition Readiness and Opportunity and Access.
As part of the Transition Readiness indicator, there will be an emphasis on essential skills needed for postsecondary and the workplace, such as work ethic and punctuality. Kentucky employers have weighed in on this indicator.
There was a lot of discussion of the new Opportunity and Access measure. It is an overall assessment of the health and development of the whole child, and ensures there is attention to reducing any barrier to learning such as absenteeism, discipline concerns and differences in learning needs.
Proficiency for all remains a key indicator, but Commissioner Pruitt said his #1 focus is the achievement gap. “If you have a big achievement gap, there’s no way you can be excellent.”
After these public sessions are completed and adjustments are made, the accountability plan will be considered by the Kentucky Board of Education, and a final version will be provided to the U.S. Department of Education in September as required. The 2017-18 school year will be a transition, and a new system will be in place by 2018-19.
You can read more about the draft accountability system, make comments on line and find information about upcoming input sessions at these links.