Graphic reading: Teachers Advisory Council

Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Commissioner’s Teachers Advisory Council (TAC) discussed guidance about the implications of using artificial intelligence (AI) as a learning partner during their meeting on June 6.

The purpose of the council is to improve the educational landscape of the Commonwealth by providing Kentucky’s commissioner of education with direct input from classrooms.

Marty Park, chief digital officer in the KDE Office of Education Technology, spoke to the members about using smart technologies and how to implement these resources within their classrooms.

He said AI is a vast field encompassing various technologies that allow computers to mimic human intelligence. Generative AI (GenAI) tools, he said, have the potential to be potent tools for education, but it is essential to be aware of their limitations.

“AI will not replace great teachers, but I do believe that the great teachers who learn to integrate AI may replace teachers who are not willing to,” explained Park.

Park encourages educators to engage in and empower safe, secure and responsible use of AI to improve their schools’ efficiency and the learning space for teachers and students. He said AI can potentially enhance the learning experience and transform the way educators teach.

However, with this new and innovative technology comes a set of responsibilities and principles to ensure its proper and ethical implementation, Park said.

“The key thing here is for us to ensure that we stay in the loop with the work and being safe, secure and responsible with the implementations,” he added.

Kentucky is the fifth state to release an Artificial Intelligence Guidance Brief. This is a living document that Park said the Office of Education Technology will continue to update as they learn more about this emerging technology. Inside the guidance brief, there are numerous sections that he encourages educators to use as a resource, such as the purpose, definition of AI and incorporating principles.

“Being safe, secure and responsible should be top of mind when using AI to ensure the information and data you are sharing is appropriate for public access,” said Park. “Even though AI can make the process of creating something quick and easy, it is important to not let the program operate autonomously.”

Kevin Dailey, the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, spoke about the need for a better understanding of how educators can use AI effectively within their lessons and accelerate their teaching.

“I think our teachers are told about these products and these available resources, but they’re not taught how to use them effectively and in ways to use them to where they can increase academic performance,” said Dailey.

Kennita Ballard, an educator from Jefferson County, said AI can be used as a strong tool for education if it is combined properly in collaboration with teacher’s clarity when it comes to rubrics and proficiency skills.

“When we are working and collaborating with our students, we need to have really clear expectations and our expectations are inclusive of those 21st-century skills such as AI, because it is a product of the 21st century. But we need to understand it cannot duplicate the human element,” said Ballard. “It cannot duplicate that human element – our citizenship, our empathy and the compassion that we want our students to be able to engage with.”

Park said there are familiar platforms and partnerships like Microsoft, Google and Adobe which have some AI programs to explore growth opportunities. Even though these tools can be useful within the classroom, he added, we must continue to evaluate the products they generate and how we use them.

“What our students must learn and understand is they must demonstrate safe, secure and responsible actions when using this accelerated technology and as educators, making sure we are effectively teaching the use of AI in the right way. This technology is not a fad and is not going away.” Park said.

Read to Succeed
Christie Biggerstaff, the director of early literacy in the KDE Office of Teaching and Learning, gave an update on the department’s initiatives and efforts to improve literacy across the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 9 (2022), also known as the Read to Succeed Act, specified KDE’s role in assisting local school districts with reading instruction, support and interventions; as well as requiring KDE to collaborate with designated agencies on reading programming, materials and activities.

Biggerstaff said the Kentucky Reading Academies registration is open through Aug. 30  for the third cohort of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), which brings professional learning opportunities to educators across the Commonwealth.

“Through LETRS, teachers gain essential knowledge to master the fundamentals of literacy instruction required to transform student learning and create a more vibrant experience for every young reader,” said Biggerstaff.

She said the program is a free professional learning opportunity open to all K-5 public school educators. Educators and administrators can enroll in two different courses offered through the Kentucky Reading Academies: LETRS for Educators and LETRS for Administrators.

“It’s helping them understand why their students are struggling and providing better support and resources to their teachers,” she said.

Biggerstaff said the department received positive responses from some of the 4,000 educators and administrators who participated in the first and second cohorts. The feedback included both past and present educators, administrators and specialists on how the LETRS program changed their approach and how they could better support one another.

“Teachers reported an interest in expanding their knowledge and skills around literacy and being able to better help their students,” said Biggerstaff.

She also spoke to the members about the2024 Kentucky Reads to Succeed Summer Conference, which will be held June 20 at the Central Bank Center in Lexington. The conference registration is now closed , but they are currently accepting people to be placed on a waitlist. It is free to Kentucky K-12 public educators and will offer focused learning paths to meet the needs of teachers and administrators.

Continuing efforts across the state, KDE leadership and state education leaders gathered together in Bourbon County to unveil a new reading research center on June 3. This new center will add to the state’s efforts to focus on evidence-based practices and improving statewide reading proficiency levels. The University of Louisville will serve as the site for the next five years.

The next meeting of the Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council is scheduled for Sept. 12.