By Mike Marsee
Brian Gong won’t be making any decisions about Kentucky’s new education accountability system, but he will be a major player in the development of that system.
Gong, who served as the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) associate commissioner for curriculum, assessment and instruction from 1994-98, is serving as a facilitator for the accountability steering committee.
The 37 education shareholders who make up the steering committee are charged with the crucial task of advising and making recommendations to Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt on what the new system should look like, and Gong is charged with keeping them on point.
Gong is a senior associate and former executive director of the National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment and is an expert on accountability systems and related policies. He said he’s happy to have a role in shaping the future of education in the state he once called home.
“I’m really glad to be a facilitator for the meeting, supplementing what the department is doing. The department has a great vision for broad involvement and inclusion in these very complicated and difficult questions,” Gong said. “I think what I’m expected to do is merge some of the technical information about assessment and accountability systems with the group, and then I have the advantage not being with the department, so I can represent a different viewpoint in the process.”
The steering committee’s work is essential to the process of developing a system that is expected to be presented for public comment this fall and in place for the 2017-18 school year. It is, however, only one of a number of moving parts in a machine that is rapidly picking up steam:
- Five work groups – comprised of more than 100 people representing a wide array of interests – are designing various elements of the system and will make recommendations to the steering committee. They are focused on college and career readiness, assessment, opportunity and access, school improvement and educational innovations.
- A systems integration group will determine how to form the recommendations of those groups into a cohesive system, and two review groups will test the vulnerabilities of the system and address any legal and regulatory issues.
- The steering committee will make its recommendations to Pruitt, who will present a draft of the new system to the public for feedback this fall.
- Pruitt will then make recommendations this winter to the Kentucky Board of Education, which must approve any changes to the current accountability system through amendments to administrative regulations.
- The proposed system must make its way through Kentucky’s regulatory process, where any needed statutory changes will be made, and be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) in the spring.
All of that work must be done so the new system can be implemented in August 2017.
The accountability work groups and the steering committee have been holding regular meetings this summer. The work groups will complete their tasks this month, and the steering committee is expected to continue its work through October or November.
“The work that we’re doing in the individual work groups, that has to start coming to a place where we can start figuring out how things come together, and that’s going to be some pretty intense work,” Pruitt said.
The steering committee has held three meetings thus far.
“The committee is very strong. They’re focused,” Gong said.
The committee consists of teachers, principals and superintendents, as well as people from groups representing communities, advocacy organizations, higher education and education support. Two members of the Kentucky House of Representatives also are included on the steering committee.
“We’ve got very good dynamics on the committee. They listen to each other, they’re respectful of each other, but yet they stand up for what they believe, which is great,” Gong said.
The accountability work groups are equally diverse. Their 108 members include students, teachers, administrators and other school staff members from all corners of the state, as well as representatives from higher education, educational cooperatives and groups ranging from the Louisville Urban League to the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board.
Kentucky was given the opportunity to create a new accountability system with the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which became the primary federal law governing P-12 education in the United States upon its adoption in December 2015. ESSA allows states more flexibility and autonomy to redesign accountability systems to better reflect state values as long as certain federal requirements are met.
Pruitt said that while the work must be done quickly, it also must be done well.
“It’s probably the biggest thing that I will experience in my career, and probably the most important,” Pruitt said. “I think in 10 years, we’ll look back and talk about the Kentucky Education Reform Act and Senate Bill 1 in 2009, and we’ll talk about today. This is about 650,000 students across Kentucky, and we have to make a system that will ensure that those kids will get the education they need.”
Rhonda Sims, KDE’s associate commissioner for assessment and accountability, said the steering committee is fortunate to have Gong to help shape the conversation.
“Obviously he brings a lot of knowledge of our history in the state, which is very helpful to the process,” she said. “And you really cannot attend a national ESSA meeting where all states are trying to learn the requirements of this law without Brian being part of an expert panel or a group leading that work.”
Gong said he is happy to see old friends in Kentucky and to be part of the work KDE is leading.
“In my experience, Kentucky has always had a deep commitment to education and educational improvement, and I think that’s only been strengthened,” he said. “This group not only has that same commitment to values, but they have a lot of experience – 20 years or more – on the details of how to make it happen. So there’s a really great combination of vision and operational expertise.”
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