Stephen Pruitt

One year ago I began a listening tour of 11 town hall meetings throughout Kentucky. During those meetings, I asked those who attended what they valued in the Commonwealth’s public schools. This would serve as the basis for building our new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

What we often heard was the new system should focus on the welfare of all students and promote good decision making for their benefit. We were told that the system should reflect the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) guiding principles of equity, achievement and integrity. And we also heard that the data should be reported in a dashboard format to better illustrate how your child’s school or district was progressing and where there was still work to be done.

We heard and we listened.

Because education is too important to do in a vacuum, more than 300 people have served on committees during the past nine months that looked at every aspect of what is important in a new accountability model. Teachers, administrators, parents, legislators and representatives of higher-education, community groups and advocacy groups spent countless hours working to make sure the needs of all children in Kentucky were represented. It was a tremendously difficult and complicated job and I can’t sing their praises loud enough for the kind of dedication each one of them brought to the table.

These committees’ proposed accountability system – which was introduced to the Kentucky Board of Education last month – for the most part, hits the mark of what Kentuckians asked of us. At the heart of the new system is the intention to make sure each child is progressing and every child has the same opportunities to excel in the classroom.

Proficiency on state assessments will still remain a key indicator of how a school is performing per federal law. Schools will report the percentage of students measuring proficient or above in English/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and writing on state tests. Schools also will be reporting the progress of students on English Language Proficiency assessments and the percentage of students who meet state-determined benchmarks or higher on college readiness tests.

At the elementary and middle school level, growth will be based on each individual student’s progress toward proficiency measured against their own personal target for improvement. This idea helps even the playing field for schools and students. Gifted students who may start off the school year meeting proficiency measures for their grade must continue to be challenged in order for them to meet their growth targets. Conversely, schools and districts will be given credit for the hard work they put into advancing students who start out behind their classmates, instead of getting penalized if those students still don’t meet proficiency standards at the end of the year.

Closing the gap – meaning the gap between how various student groups perform and between groups and proficiency goals – also is a key component in Kentucky’s proposed accountability system. The goal for the system is that while schools are expected to improve the academic performance of all students, those who fall into one of the lower-performing groups will need to make gains faster.

While our long-term goal is for 100 percent of students to achieve proficiency, we know that challenges in the Commonwealth – such as widespread poverty and the current allocation for education – mean that closing the gap will take time. The committee’s aim is for historically lower-performing student groups to close the achievement gap by 50 percent by 2030.

Schools will receive a performance level currently described as Very Strong, Strong, Moderate, Low or Critically Low to more easily identify how a particular school is doing in getting all students to higher levels of achievement. To emphasize how important gap closure is in the proposed accountability system, schools making strong progress will receive an additional Gap Closure Designation, while schools that have either a large gap or a student group that is underperforming and not making progress cannot earn the highest overall rating and will receive a Gap Issue Designation attached to their overall rating.

And because equity is so important to all of us at the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Board of Education, our students and our parents – as evidenced by many of the comments at last year’s Town Hall meetings – opportunity and access measures will be included in the accountability system for the first time. In education, equity equates to fairness, the idea that all children should have access to the high-quality programs and teachers that will help them become a vital and contributing member of Kentucky’s workforce.

Proposed items to include in the new opportunity and access indicator include measures such as the percentage of students – and it should be 100 percent – that have access to classes on the visual and performing arts, health and physical education, social studies, practical living and career studies, as well as global competency and/or world languages. It also will take into account whether schools have a librarian/media specialist during the school day, whether there are guidance counselors and the percentage of teacher turnover and the percentage of first-year teachers. And at the high school level, the accountability system will include whether all students have access to rigorous Advance Placement and dual credit classes, as well as specialized career pathways.

Please remember that development of the new accountability system is still in progress and not final. We want your input into what you think works and what doesn’t. I’ll be hosting 10 Town Hall meetings across the state again this year, beginning in mid-March and continuing throughout April, to get your input. The proposed system also will be posted on the KDE website for public comment. Here is the list of when and where the Town Halls will be held and how your voice can be heard.

Tell us what you think Kentucky. We’re listening again!