Photo of the Kentucky Board of Education meeting on Dec. 7, 2022.

The Kentucky Board of Education met Dec. 7 and heard from the Kentucky Department of Education about initiatives aimed at increasing student reading proficiency and helping teachers with more professional learning opportunities.

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) during its Dec. 6-7 meeting heard an update on Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) initiatives aimed at increasing student reading proficiency and helping teachers with more professional learning opportunities.

The Kentucky Reading Academies program is designed to help bring Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) to educators across the Commonwealth. The purpose of the two-year program is to increase reading outcomes for elementary students by providing high-quality, professional learning about how students learn to read to K-5 teachers and administrators.

KDE has allotted $10 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to support LETRS. Senate Bill (SB) 9, the Read to Succeed Act, provides an additional $22 million to support sustainability.

Phase 1 of the Kentucky Reading Academies rolled out this year and participants interested in Phase 2 can sign a LETRS Interest Form.

KDE Chief Academic Officer Micki Ray said several other early literacy initiatives are on the horizon as well.

“We have to look for further professional learning opportunities … to support grades 6-12 teachers (and) we need to ensure that there are more K-5 teachers who know this opportunity is available,” said Ray. “We need to find ways to illuminate those bright spots so that others will understand the underlying ‘why’ and will be more encouraged or motivated to join us in these efforts.”

SB 9, passed by lawmakers earlier this year in order to improve reading proficiency in Kentucky, requires local boards of education to adopt and implement valid and reliable universal screeners and diagnostic assessments for kindergarten through grade 3 by Jan. 1 for schools to use to identify students who need accelerated interventions in reading.

Ray said KDE is pursuing high-quality local curriculum pilot programs for math and science as well.

“We know that the need is great and we have no shortage of motivation and desire to do good work, but we also want to do it well,” she said. “So we’re looking for quality, not just breadth of opportunity and coverage that just becomes the next thing.”

The mathematics pilot program began in September and the science pilot is in the planning phase with an expected launch in 2023.

Other mathematics initiatives include a roadmap workshop that provides supports for student instruction and engagement, along with grants to purchase high-quality instructional resources. The science program includes a three-dimensional assessment workshop and partnerships with multiple groups to enhance the student experience.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Members of KDE’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Team updated the board on their work to help students receive equitable access and opportunities.

The work started in July 2020, when KBE adopted a resolution affirming its commitment to racial equity. Following the hires of Deputy Commissioner Thomas Woods-Tucker, who also is KDE’s first chief equity officer, and Director Damien Sweeney, DEIB became a fully staffed team in 2022 that launched an equity playbook in July.

The DEIB team also launched an equity dashboard that schools and districts can use for live data on the under- or over-representation of various demographic groups on several indicators, such as special education, chronic absenteeism, suspensions, gifted and talented, advanced coursework/dual credit and career and technical education. The dashboard is designed to offer a “big picture” look to help schools and districts identify areas needing further attention.

New Construction Procedures

KBE members heard an update on the review of statutes, regulations and processes for school district facility planning and construction.

House Bill 678 (2022) waived the requirement for districts to receive prior approval from KDE to commence the funding, design, renovation or construction of school facility projects.

HB 678, passed by the legislature in 2022, accelerated construction projects by allowing a district to start new construction or renovation without the prior approval of KDE. The bill, a two-year measure that will expire unless the General Assembly takes further action in 2024, also allows a district to spend restricted funds on extracurricular facilities.

“(Districts) are still required to follow all the statutes and regulations that are in place,” KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney said. “It’s just we’re not that extra set of eyes looking at things in advance for them.”

HB 678 also created a new, expedited process for the approval of district facility plans. KDE has 30 days to approve district facility plans, and since April 10, the department has received 11 completed plans and 26 requests for acquisition or disposal of property. It takes an average of 13.9 days for approval of district facility plans and 9.1 days for property acquisition or disposal.

“We think this flexibility has helped facilities accelerate their construction suite a bit,” KDE Division of District Support Services Director Chay Ritter said.

Currently, 150 districts out of the Commonwealth’s 171 districts have adopted HB 678. Ritter noted that some of the districts who have not opted in have not had any recent construction projects.

KDE will continue the review of the processes and procedures to identify inefficiencies. HB 678 requires KDE to finish the review by June 30, 2023, and present it to legislative committees by Sept. 1, 2023.

Kentucky United We Learn Council

Also at the meeting, the board discussed the purpose behind the Kentucky United We Learn Council, which finished its first meeting last week. Seventy people, ranging from educators to students to community members, held a series of discussions and exercises to begin generating ideas that eventually will turn into policy and investment recommendations.

KBE Chair Lu S. Young said it could even lead to new assessment and accountability standards by 2026.

“We have an opportunity to make this happen in Kentucky and lead the nation again when it comes to assessment and accountability that drives good things for every learner in the Commonwealth,” she said.

Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said the key to this initiative is creating a set of standards that reflects what the community wants, even if it may be an uphill battle getting those changes implemented at the state and federal level.

“If we don’t try anything, it’s not going to be different,” he said.

Several board members threw their support behind the initiative, but they also emphasized the need to lobby for the council’s recommendations so the work is not wasted.

“We can’t ask them to be committed to it if we’re not committed to it,” KBE board member Randy Poe said.

In other business, the board:

  • Heard a report from Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman;
  • Approved changes to 704 KAR 8:060, the Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies, to match what state lawmakers approved in Senate Bill 1 (2022).
  • Approved proposed amendments to 704 KAR 3:303, which moved academic standards for science to 704 KAR 8:120 and labeled them as “Kentucky Academic Standards (KAS) for Science.
  • Approved proposed amendments to 707 KAR 1:002 to broaden the definitions of hearing impaired or visually impaired learners who qualify for special education to align with federal regulations.
  • Heard a report from KBE student ex-officio member Joud Dahleh about her attendance at the National Association of State Boards of Education conference, which included participating in the “Making High Schools Relevant” panel;
  • Discussed results of a recent KBE self-evaluation with NASBE President and CEO Paolo DeMaria;
  • Approved the winner of the 2022 Kevin C. Brown Strategic Priority Award, which will be announced during the KBE meeting on Feb. 7-8;
  • Heard an update from KDE General Counsel Todd Allen about recent changes to the legislature following the November election and ahead of the 2023 legislative session;
  • Heard an update from Glass about area technology centers, the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf;
  • Recognized Bill Buchanan, an early learning adviser in KDE’s Office of Special Education and Early Learning, as the winner of this year’s Kevin M. Noland and Mary Ann Miller Award for Outstanding Public Service to Kentucky Schools; and
  • Recognized the latest recipients of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award: Kevin Dailey, Jessica Goodman and Charlotte Buskill.