Students walking in a hallway past a sign that reads: "United We Learn"

The Kentucky Department of Education will use a $3 million grant to develop the United We Learn vision for the future of public education in Kentucky. The grant will help move the state’s assessment and accountability system toward a competency-based education model. Photo by Toni Konz Tatman.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has been awarded $3 million over the next four years to support the continued development of United We Learn, the bold new vision for the future of public education in Kentucky that was created with stakeholders from across the Commonwealth. 

The funding, made available through the 2022 Competitive Grants for State Assessments (CGSA) program from the U.S. Department of Education, will help advance innovations to move the state’s assessment and accountability system toward a competency-based education (CBE) model.

“Over the past year and a half, we have heard that Kentuckians are ready for change in their education system, especially when it comes to assessment,” said Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass. “We heard loud and clear the frustration of students, parents and educators about the current assessment and accountability system. They all want their students to be seen as more than just a test score, and this grant will help drive the innovation that stands behind the United We Learn vision.” 

In early 2021, Glass held a series of virtual listening sessions with education stakeholders from across the Commonwealth to gather information on what they want the future of education to look like in Kentucky. Participants overwhelmingly expressed a need to advance the state’s approach to assessments.

Following the listening tour, the Kentucky Coalition for Advancing Education (KCAE) was formed to process data gathered during the tour and create the United We Learn: Hearing Kentucky’s Voices on the Future of Education report. The report describes stakeholders’ desired future state of education in Kentucky around three big ideas: creating a more vibrant experience for every student, encouraging innovation in our schools – especially when it comes to assessment – and creating a bold new future for Kentucky’s schools through collaboration with our communities.

The KCAE concluded that while local leaders and communities are establishing competency-based expectations that address the whole child, state and local expectations focus on using large scale assessments. KDE plans to use the CGSA grant to create greater coherence between local and state accountability systems.

“This grant will help enable us to implement the vision that Kentuckians set forth for us,” Glass said.

A competency-based education model focuses on the knowledge and skills students can apply, rather than how much time they spend in a class. Students in this kind of learning environment  have access to the content that matches their needs and can advance as soon as they master the material.

The intent is to support every student in building the skills necessary to become confident and competent learners, both in and out of the classroom, Glass said.

“With more authentic, relevant, and engaging assessments, educators and school leaders have more tools to personalize instruction to meet students’ diverse needs; make critical, data-informed decisions that can positively affect student opportunities and outcomes; and communicate progress to parents and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “… Ultimately, student assessment data should be focused on driving resources to students who need the most support, not on labeling schools and teachers, especially while we are recovering from a pandemic.”

Glass said KDE’s next steps are to establish the Kentucky United We Learn Council – which will be an intentionally diverse and representative group of students, families, educators, business and community leaders – to create cohesive local and state systems and build an innovative statewide CBE model. KDE will continue to include input from many different stakeholder groups like the Kentucky Student Voice Team, the Prichard Committee and the University of Kentucky Center for Next Generation Leadership.