Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

After almost two years, more than 20 town hall meetings and thousands of public comments, Kentucky finally has a new accountability system and it is one of which we all should be proud. At a special meeting in late August, the Kentucky Board of Education approved the regulation that will govern the Commonwealth’s new accountability system.

We’re not quite done with the system yet, but we’re close. The regulation still must move through multiple steps before it is final. A 30-day public comment period and a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the end of October. The regulation likely will be finalized in early 2018.

Creating this new accountability system was a huge task for the hundreds of people – which included teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, legislators, business owners and community members – who willingly gave up days of their time to serve on the committees that crafted it. And make no mistake, the system is ambitious.

Closing the achievement gap is a key component in Kentucky’s new accountability system. The achievement gap is not something that is new or specific to Kentucky. States across the country have been trying for years to help their lower-performing students – usually students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, minority students, English learners and students who have a disability – achieve at the same pace as their more economically advantaged white classmates.

Kentucky has set a long-term goal of reducing achievement gaps for all of these student groups by 50 percent by 2030. Another way to think about this is we’re focused on increasing proficiency by 50 percent for all groups.

Kentucky’s goal is designed to move students forward faster, because instead of merely closing the performance gap between these groups and their more advantaged classmates, we’re measuring the gap between all of our students and 100 percent proficiency. Measuring just how close our historically disadvantaged groups compare to white students isn’t good enough, when our goal should be for all students to reach proficiency.

While this plan is forward thinking, we all must keep in mind that ambition without the resources to provide the services and materials these children need is a recipe for failure. The critical need for resources will be especially important as we head into another legislative session, during which our elected officials will be setting a new budget for the next two years.

We’re also not relying just on math and reading scores to describe how well a school is doing in educating its students. While math and reading are the bedrock of a strong education, other experiences and skills help create a well-rounded student capable of handling life after high school. That’s why Kentucky’s new accountability system also looks at science and social studies scores, how much academic growth elementary and middle school children make, how ready high school students are to transition into higher education or a job, and whether schools and districts are offering all students the opportunity to take challenging courses. The system also encourages schools and districts to ensure their students have access to art, health, physical education, and challenging career and technical education classes.

The 2017-18 school year is what we call a transition year. While schools and districts will be learning more in the coming months about the new accountability system, we still will be using the same testing system as we have in the past, except for high school. And while the Kentucky Department of Education still will be offering assistance and support to the lowest-performing schools and districts, we won’t be penalizing anybody for not meeting the old accountability standards this year.

You also might notice a different look on the School Report Card website, where parents can find information about their child’s school or district. When you reach the homepage this year, you’ll see one potential vision for how the new School Report Card may look.

We will be transitioning to an easier-to-read and more detailed dashboard for the 2018-19 school year. Starting in 2019-20, schools and districts will receive an overall rating of one to five stars as determined by school performance (very low to very high) on multiple indicators – proficiency, a separate academic indicator for science and social studies, growth (elementary and middle school), achievement gap closure, transition readiness, graduation rate (high school), and opportunity and access. Those performance levels combine to produce the overall star rating. The standard of performance required and the weighting of the indicators will be determined as part of a standards setting process.

While the new dashboard is designed to give people a quick look at a school or district’s performance, more detailed data still will be available on the KDE website. Let us know what you think of the new design by sending your comments to KyEdListens@education.ky.gov. We’ll be taking your input into account before the new dashboard is finalized.

I believe this new accountability system is fair, ambitious and encourages Kentucky’s educators to stay focused on their own students’ personal growth rather than competing with their neighbors for a ranking.

I want to personally thank all of the people whose fingerprints are on the design of our new accountability system, as well as the thousands of you who attended a town hall meeting, commented on our plans or simply stayed informed along the way. Without your time and attention, this new system would not exist.

I also would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the staff at KDE. There were many dedicated staff members who spent an incredible amount of time and care to create this system. A special thank you goes out to Associate Commissioner Rhonda Simms, who spearheaded this effort with an amazing amount of dedication, knowledge and grace.

And for Kentucky’s educators, I ask for your patience and cooperation during this transition year. As a classroom teacher myself, I know how hard it is to adjust to a new curriculum or a new accountability system while I have students sitting in front of me every day. Change is never easy, but it is necessary to help Kentucky continue to craft a world-class educational system. Thank you for all you do!