Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster

Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster

October is an important month in Kentucky education. It presents an opportunity for all of us to take a look at how our public schools, districts and students are performing.

The Kentucky Department of Education recently released the results from state testing in the 2014-15 school year, which are used to determine how schools and districts are progressing toward various goals such as proficiency, closing the achievement gap, student growth, high school graduation and college and career readiness. As part of the Unbridled Learning Accountability System, schools and districts also receive an overall determination on how well they are doing.

At many schools across the state, there was reason to celebrate. At others, the mood was much more subdued. But for all, the numbers provide a road map of sorts for how they can continue to improve.

Superintendents, school boards, principals, school-based decision-making councils and teachers must review and analyze the data to determine what instructional changes need to occur and which students may need additional interventions in order to be successful. That involves asking question such as:

  • What does the data tell us?
  • What does the data not tell us?
  • What are the reasons for celebration (analysis of data)?
  • What are opportunities for improvement (analysis of data), including contributing factors and root causes?

Having a clear understanding of the data is essential to develop a data-driven school or district improvement plan. At the district and school level, using data to ensure quality plans are developed is key to increasing student achievement and overall school improvement. Using the data questions to guide the development of the plan helps keep emotions out of the conversation and stakeholders focused on students and what is best for them.

Later this month, parents also will receive individual reports showing how their student performed on state tests.

The major question parents should be asking is, “Is my child on track to graduate ready for college and career?” They should be able to tell as early as third grade. A student in grades 3-8 and in high school who has reached the proficient/distinguished level is on course to be ready for college or the workplace by the time they graduate from high school. If a child scores at the novice or apprentice level, he or she will likely need some additional supports to get back on track. Take the time to look at your child’s report when you receive it and talk with your child’s teachers about how you can work together to provide your child the best chance to succeed.

There are steps that every parent can take to help ensure their child’s success – from creating an atmosphere where expectations are high and education is valued, to making sure homework is completed every night. It’s also important to keep an open mind. Just because your child isn’t learning something the same way you did doesn’t mean it is wrong – it’s just different, and usually it’s different for a good reason. In our increasingly technological world, students must be able to think, reason and apply their knowledge in more varied ways than ever before. Today’s learning ensures they have not just the knowledge, but the skills to be able to do that.

Data, ultimately, is what helps guide educators to see what works and what doesn’t. But any information, no matter how useful, won’t help if it isn’t carefully examined. So take the time this fall to look at how your child – and your child’s school – is doing and investigate how you can help be a part of their success.


Kelly Foster is associate commissioner of the Office of Next-Generation Schools and Districts at the Kentucky Department of Education. She is writing in the place of Stephen L. Pruitt, Kentucky’s next commissioner of education, who will begin his duties Oct. 16.