Three people stand talking in a conference room. The person in the middle excitedly looks to the person on their right.

Kentucky United We Learn Council members Trever Smith, left, and RaShaun West, middle, talk during a break in the council’s meeting on April 25-26 at the Blair Center in Shelbyville. The meeting was the council’s second full group convening. Photo by Audrie Lamb. April 26, 2023

The Kentucky United We Learn Council, designed to support the state’s vision for the future of public education in Kentucky, met for the second time as a full group in Shelbyville on April 25-26.

The council is tasked with recommending strategic practice, policy and investment ideas that advance the United We Learn vision of 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.

Interim chair Audrey Gilbert, a senior at Frankfort High School, presented the statewide Portrait of a Learner as a possible “North Star” to center around. Approved by the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) in October 2022, the portrait articulates a statewide commitment by the KBE to the knowledge and skills all students in the Commonwealth should have and be capable of by the time they graduate.

“Over the past several years, we have been hearing from districts that Portrait of a Learner is their priority,” said Gilbert. “We don’t want to confine people to that, but we want to be here for people that don’t have a Portrait of a Learner and want to go into it. We want to help our communities.”

By the time a student graduates, the KBE said they should be:

  • A Critical Thinker;
  • An Effective Communicator;
  • An Empowered Learner;
  • A Productive Collaborator;
  • An Engaged Citizen; and
  • A Creative Contributor.

The council heard from several districts that already have implemented a community-informed portrait that outlines what skills and dispositions their community members want their students to have when they graduate.

Greenup County’s Portrait of a Learner is focused on making learning meaningful to students as well as benefitting their community, such as partnering with local unions to develop trade skills. Superintendent Traysea Moresea said the county will continue to assess students for learning, but they are adapting the curriculum to help students apply what they have learned in the “real world.”

Because students are required by state law to have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP), a plan that guides each child’s school journey, Moresea said it would be beneficial for each student to have an ILP that fits with the competency-based education and removes unnecessary standardized testing so the focus can be more on application of knowledge.

“There is rarely anything in life where you get one test. You can redo it. I don’t know when we decided this would be the end-all, be-all for children,” Moresea said.

A majority of council members were supportive of the council focusing on Portrait of a Learner.

“What I see with this is about broadening the definition of student success and it’s an equity lens,” said Carmen Coleman, the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative’s chief of transformational learning and leading.

Council members that represent families of nontraditional students, such as alternative students or students with disabilities, reminded other members that any decision made also must represent historically underserved students and families.

“One of the big, huge components I don’t want us to eliminate is community and family engagement. These are our children. So, although we want them to have these competencies as children, they need their parents and community involvement. I don’t want to be isolated from that process,” said RaShaun West, who represents families on the council.

Education Commissioner Jason E Glass stands at the front of a room and speaks into a handheld microphone. A table behind him reads Kentucky Department of Education

Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass joined Kentucky United We Learn Council members on day one to give an overview on how the council was created and how United We Learn came to be. Photo by Joe Ragusa. April 25, 2023

The Kentucky United We Learn Council contains three standing committees: Vibrant Learning Experiences, Accelerating Innovation and Creating A Bold New Future. Each committee continued to outline its work for the next six months until the next time the whole group gathers.

The Vibrant Learning Experiences committee will begin work on a vibrant learning experiences playbook, a public-facing collection of examples from across Kentucky. The goal is to document, map out and uplift current classroom practices.

“We hope to create a recommended criterion for educators to follow that aligns with our vibrant learning definition and can be used for self-evaluation and as a resource for other educators,” said Committee Chair Justin Dunning, a student at Lyon County High School.

The Creating a Bold New Future committee created two working groups: policy focused and community and family engagement focused. The creation of the working groups came from a desire to make sure communities were still centered in the council’s work as they go deeper into the technical nature of policy.

Council member Jessica Jenkins, who represents families and Berea Independent on the council, said the committee is committed to improving the quality of education for all current and future generations of students.

“Our goal is to reach out to the districts and say, how can we take what you are doing, all the things you are struggling with, and turn that into a policy implication for the whole state,” she said.

The Accelerating Innovation committee developed a report about accountability systems from inside and outside of Kentucky, including non-negotiables to be reflected in future recommendations. The committee will now explore possible assessment models and develop a framework for where it makes sense to implement Portrait of a Learner locally.

The council also selected Gilbert as the chair and Sarah Hatton, an educator in Adair County, as the vice-chair. The full group will reconvene in Frankfort in November.