Spring brings opportunities to engage with Kentucky students, schools

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Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

Throughout the commonwealth, educators are working diligently and with a sense of urgency to ensure ALL Kentucky’s students are college/career-ready when they graduate high school. They know it is an economic imperative not only for their students but also for our state.

Together, we have made great strides this past year, as we worked to transform our schools into vibrant, engaging and innovative places that equip Kentucky’s children with the deeper knowledge, stronger critical thinking skills and the entrepreneurial spirit they need to succeed in a 21st-century world. But our work is far from complete – and there are always opportunities for educators, parents, community members and the business community to join us in our efforts.

March brings one of those opportunities with Operation Preparation, a community-based advising activity designed to help 8th- and 10th-grade students plan for life after high school. While this was a weeklong event in 2012, this year the entire month of March has been designated for Operation Preparation.

Operation Preparation engages not only students but also the local community in the postsecondary planning process. Using a student’s Individual Learning Plan (EXPLORE and PLAN scores), trained community volunteers meet one-on-one with students to start them seriously thinking about their futures, the role education plays and how they need to start planning and preparing to reach their life goals. I encourage educators, parents, community members and business leaders to take some time in March to participate in this worthwhile event.

Also, from March 4 through March 29, all certified school staff around the state will have an opportunity to share their experiences through the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky survey. I wrote about the survey in my column last month, but I wanted to again take the opportunity to encourage all educators to share their perceptions of teaching and learning conditions through this confidential, Web-based survey. For more information about the survey, visit www.tellkentucky.org.

Also, in March, all public high school juniors will take the ACT college-entrance exam, a major component in determining college and career readiness rates for schools. We have already seen some gains in this area. The percentage of students who graduated college and career ready jumped from 38 percent to 47 percent in a single year – that translates to more than 4,500 students with a better opportunity to be successful after high school.

As we move further into spring, Kentucky public schools will begin preparing for and administering the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests in grades 3-8 in reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing, and on-demand writing in grades 10 and 11. Students also will be taking end-of-course exams in English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History at the high school level.

All of the assessments are part of the state’s new Unbridled Learning: College and Career Readiness for All accountability system. We did see drops in proficiency rates of between 20 percent to 30 percent with our first assessment of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in English/language arts and mathematics during the 2011-12 school year. However, we believe these results gave us a realistic baseline as we strive to meet our ultimate goal of college and career readiness for all students. As teachers and students become more familiar with the new, more rigorous standards we should see scores begin to rise.

For our part, the Kentucky Department of Education will continue working to raise student proficiency rates and close achievement gaps between all student groups. Additionally, while not quite half of our lowest performing schools are showing progress, we must find answers and implement solutions to redirect those that aren’t on the path to improvement.

I hope you will join me in this work, and take advantage of some of the opportunities that have been highlighted. Transforming our schools and preparing Kentucky’s students for success is not easy. It is hard work, and it is going to take all of us to make it happen.

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