KDE staff stresses importance of early literacy initiatives during Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting

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Interim Joint Committee on Education Virtual Meeting: November 12, 2020Staff from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) presented to the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education on Nov. 12 about the necessity of early literacy initiatives in the Commonwealth.

Over five years, from 2015 – 2019, approximately 118,000 Kentucky students were not proficient readers when they left 3rd grade, said Rhonda Sims, KDE associate commissioner. According to Sims, research indicates that students who are not reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely to not finish high school.

To counter some of these concerns, State Sen. Stephen West (Paris) and State Rep. James Tipton (Taylorsville) have introduced a companion bill, the Read to Succeed Act. The legislation consists of Senate Bill 214 (2020) and House Bill 488 (2020), respectively.

West said if this legislation receives appropriate funding, it is Kentucky’s best chance to reduce achievement gaps in the state.

“If we put more funding in this area, and maybe rework this area, it can have the highest possible return on investment,” he said.

The Read to Succeed Act includes specific policy changes that can be made now as first steps in a long-term effort to improve learning outcomes for all students, said Sims.

Micki Ray, policy adviser for KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning, provided an overview for the committee of the actions found in the companion bill to improve literacy outcomes for Kentucky’s students.

The legislation focuses on early intervention and instruction, reading improvement plans, family and community engagement, teacher certification and state professional learning support strategies, said Ray.

The Read to Succeed Act would provide statewide professional learning training and support in literacy, early reading instruction and intervention to teachers and library media specialists to improve student reading skills in grades K-3. This also includes the creation of a literacy coaching program, which would provide job-embedded expert support and training for teachers in schools with the most need.

“We know that teachers do need support,” said Ray. “This professional learning would allow them to better serve all of their students, not just the students who are receiving intervention.”

Thomas Woods-Tucker
During the meeting, KDE Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Thomas Woods-Tucker had the opportunity to introduce himself to the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

Woods-Tucker said he commends and embraces Kentucky’s efforts to establish schools as safe havens for students and staff, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or national origin.

“I believe every student and every staff member needs to feel safe and respected and welcomed,” he said.

One of the ways schools can ensure they are creating a safe environment is to make efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and social emotional learning. KDE is here to support and assist all schools in these efforts, Woods-Tucker said.

“All four of those issues really drive curriculum,” he said. “I really believe it’s important that our students see themselves equitably in our curriculum.”

Bill Request 176
State Rep. Tina Bojanowski (Louisville) and State Rep. Kim Banta (Ft. Mitchell) have co-sponsored Bill Request (BR) 176, a joint resolution relating to school accountability.

BR 176 would require the commissioner of education to convene a strategic Assessment and Accountability Committee to examine opportunities to improve the current approach to assessment and accountability.

Both representatives expressed concerns over the state’s current accountability system, saying instruction in the Commonwealth is test-based and that tests do not provide information that informs instruction.

They hope that an Assessment and Accountability Committee will help with reducing the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing, incorporate alternative performance measures and consider a computer adaptive criterion-referenced test.

“We’re not trying to tell districts what to do,” said Bojanowski. “We need to figure out how we can make the accountability system more productive for our students.”

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