One of THE most important initiatives we’re undertaking at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is novice reduction. As I’ve traveled the state talking about the importance of reducing the number of students performing at the lowest level, I’ve realized that it is sometimes hard to understand what we in education mean by novice.
In 3rd grade, students begin taking annual K-PREP tests that help evaluate how much they have learned over a school year in certain subjects. These tests give us at KDE and families an idea of the strengths and areas for growth for each student, school and district.
Based upon their scores in each subject area, students are ranked in one of four categories – Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice or Novice.
- At the highest performance level, a student performing at the Distinguished level demonstrates comprehensive understanding of the Kentucky Academic Standards in that content area at their grade level.
- Students scoring at the Proficient level demonstrate a broad understanding of the Kentucky Academic Standards in that content area at their grade level.
- Apprentice level students demonstrate a basic understanding of the Kentucky Academic Standards in that content area at their grade level.
- And at the very lowest performance level, Novice students demonstrate minimal understanding of the standards in the content area at grade level.
To put it more plainly, a student scoring at the Novice performance level is in a state of academic emergency. He or she is in deep academic trouble. Far from having a comprehensive or broad understanding of grade level material, the Novice student has not demonstrated even a basic understanding of grade level content.
Unfortunately, we have an alarming number of students in the academic emergency room. In 2018 on the 8th grade K-PREP reading and math assessments, 17% of all Kentucky students performed at the Novice level. Nearly a quarter (23%) of economically disadvantaged students performed at Novice in reading and math. More than a third of African American students performed at Novice levels in reading (37%) and math (36%). And in some Kentucky school districts, more than 40% of African American students performed at the Novice level in reading and math.
There are many reasons why a student may have trouble academically, some of which are well-beyond the control of schools. Other school level factors, however, can and do have a significant impact on students’ academic performance. It is those school level factors – where educators and leaders can and do have significant influence on students’ performance – that we must improve.
First and foremost, we must ensure that each and every Kentucky student has access to effective, grade-level appropriate instruction that is aligned to the state’s current academic standards. We have updated a number of our standards in the past two years – including reading and writing, mathematics, health, physical education and computer science – with the input of educators and community members from across the state. KDE will be holding learning labs across Kentucky throughout the summer to help teachers become familiar with the new standards so they can implement them in their classroom.
The greatest educational equity issue of our time is that economically disadvantaged students, students of color and students with disabilities are less likely to have access to effective, standards-aligned instruction at grade level, less likely to have access to high quality curriculum and instructional materials, and less likely to have a teacher who holds him or her to high academic expectations. These learning labs are just a start to making sure that every teacher, regardless of where they teach, has a thorough understanding of the new standards.
The investment of time and money necessary to make a significant reduction in the number of Novice students in Kentucky is well spent. Students who earn their high school diploma yet lack even a basic understanding of Kentucky’s Academic Standards are set up to fail. It is unlikely that these students will be able to adequately provide for their future or their families. We cannot, in good conscience, allow this to keep happening to our students.