Choosing to be great

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Stephen Pruitt
Stephen Pruitt

Good schools and great districts don’t happen by accident.

For both teachers and districts, greatness comes through much of the same process as it does in the subject I use to teach, chemistry. In chemistry, you come up with a hypothesis based on the best data you have, run experiments and then evaluate the data to see if you’re right.

In the classroom, teachers use the best proven education strategies they can find to help every one of their students be successful. Then several times a year, the teachers and leaders in the school district take a hard look at the data, evaluate what’s working and what’s not and make changes accordingly.

In late September, the Kentucky Department of Education released the latest round of scores from the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) assessments. And overall, things are headed in the right direction in Kentucky.

The numbers of schools and districts performing at the highest levels are up from last year. A total of 802 schools and 138 districts are now classified as either proficient or distinguished. And the percent of students scoring at the proficient and distinguished levels has increased in nearly every subject and at every grade level since 2012, the first year of the K-PREP assessments. The state’s overall score, as well as elementary and high school overall scores, also improved over last year.

While we deserve to feel good about how far we’ve come in the past three decades, there’s more work to be done. Choosing to be great includes a commitment to each and every child. This must be our focus going forward.

This is where everyone in Kentucky comes in.

For teachers and school leaders, the hard work has begun by digging deeper into the scores to discover what the numbers are telling them. If math scores are lagging in one grade, it’s time to re-evaluate the teaching strategies that are being used and start looking for new, research-based ideas. Or perhaps students lacked preparation moving into that grade. If reading scores are lagging in the middle grades, we need to find a new way to reach those students.

This is the grueling work that takes place behind the scenes and often is unnoticed by the public at large. It may be unnoticed, but it is crucial to the future of Kentucky.

Parents have a part to play as well. Every parent should look not only at their child’s test results, but also at how well their school and district are performing. Education is not a spectator sport. It is your right and your duty to demand the best education for your child and your community.

I always say that as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, I believe I have the second best job in the world. The best job, of course, is being a teacher in front of a classroom full of kids. I believe that this state has some of the country’s best, most dedicated and most professional teachers. It’s my honor to be their commissioner.

But to keep Kentucky moving forward, we need to be thoughtful, we need to be strategic and we need to be informed while charting the course ahead. Greatness is a decision. Educators make a decision every day that they will provide their students the opportunity that will change their lives.

It is time we all make the decision to be great.

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