Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

As an educator, the one question I hear more than almost any other is, “Do you get the summers off?” In a word, no.

Although children may not go to school in the summer, that doesn’t mean an educator’s life slows down in June and July. Teachers often spend their summer months attending workshops and furthering their own education in order to be more effective in their classrooms.

While I hope our teachers are taking a little bit of time to refresh and recharge their batteries, the Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky’s teachers aren’t slowing down just because the weather is heating up. Our work to ensure all Kentucky’s students are ready for success continues year round.

Here’s an update on just a few of the projects we’re working on this summer.

Accountability: At the June 7 meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), board members heard the first reading of the state’s proposed new accountability system. The system – which has been in development for more than a year with input from thousands of Kentucky educators and the general public – focuses on a student’s continuous improvement toward his/her personal goal of proficiency or beyond. Each student is evaluated as to whether he/she is catching up to become proficient; keeping up or staying proficient; or moving up from proficient to distinguished.

Schools and districts will be responsible for how well and fast they are closing the achievement gap – the disparity in learning among different groups of students. Schools will not be able to achieve the highest rating if they have a significant achievement gap. The new accountability system also will highlight whether students have the knowledge and skills to successfully transition to higher education or the workforce, as well as whether schools and districts are ensuring all students have the same access to programs, content and quality educators to ensure academic success.

Regulations are being written now to implement the new accountability system. It will receive its final reading at KBE’s August meeting. The final accountability system must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18 to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Standards: KDE staff also are busy with revising the Kentucky Academic Standards for several content areas this summer, including English/language arts, mathematics, health education, physical education and computer science. The standards are one of the most important building blocks of any educational system, since they set the expectation for what all students should know and be able to do in each grade.

KDE is in the process of accepting feedback from educators and community shareholders on proposed revisions to the English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics standards through Sept. 15. You can provide comment on the ELA standards at this website and on the math standards at this website. Public feedback will be taken on health and physical education standards until July 10. You can make comments and suggestions on the current health standards here and the physical education standards here.

Alignment: We’re beginning to work on course code alignment. We will be taking a look at all of our classes – such as Algebra 1 – to make sure that regardless of where that class is being taught, every student is learning the same skills. If we can’t ensure that all Algebra 1 classes, all Chemistry classes and all Biology classes teach the same skills, we can’t say we are offering all of Kentucky’s students the best chance for success in life.

Reading: Reading is one of the fundamental skills in education. If children are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade – the dividing line where students stop learning to read and begin reading to learn new content – it becomes harder and harder for them to stay on track for graduation.

In a recent conversation with the governor, I proposed an idea called the Governor’s Reading Challenge. Because children become stronger readers through practice, every child who reads 100 books per year between kindergarten and 3rd grade would receive a special lapel pin and certificate.

Graduation requirements: We’re also going to start looking at graduation requirements this summer. We need to occasionally revisit the skills we are asking our graduates to possess to see if they still are matching up with the changing needs of higher education and the workforce. While I don’t anticipate a major overhaul, we do need a thoughtful examination of whether we are asking enough of our students to prepare them for the world they will be entering.

New Skills for Youth: In January, the Council of Chief State School Officers and JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced that Kentucky was one of 10 states selected to receive a $2 million New Skills for Youth grant to strengthen and expand career education pathways for students. The idea is to create regional hubs where multiple school districts will partner with a postsecondary institution to offer training that is tailored to meet the needs of employers in each region.

The first cohort is scheduled to meet this summer to begin training on how to engage business and industry partners to begin transforming the delivery of career and technical education. It’s an exciting time for career and technical education in the Commonwealth.

Leadership training: The Kentucky FFA Leadership Training Center in Hardinsburg is in full swing this summer, providing leadership training opportunities for students across the Commonwealth. In June, training began with student members and state officers representing FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), while more than 2,000 FFA members will be trained through July 21.

In these camps, students participate in a variety of activities, ranging from team building activities to officer training classes, designed to equip student leaders with the skills necessary to lead their local chapters. KDE staff from the Office of Career and Technical Education are on hand every year to help in this great educational experience for students.

Career and technical student organization state advisers, who work at KDE, also will be traveling with students and teachers from across the Commonwealth this summer to participate in national conferences and competitions. These advisers do everything from helping our state’s students get registered and coordinating state activities to serving on national planning committees.

So as you can see, there’s little time to rest during the summer due to all of the work taking place at KDE. I am so proud to be leading this department and working with such great staff who have the best interest of all of Kentucky’s children in mind.

In many of these projects, there will be opportunities for you – as parents, educators and community shareholders – to assist us in this work. Please keep an eye out for them during the next few months. Have a great summer and we look forward to engaging with you in all of this work when the new school year begins next month.