By Madelynn Coldiron
Just hours after Kentucky’s new No Child Left Behind data, including college and career readiness information, were announced Sept. 27, the Casey County school district hosted one of KSBA’s Fall Regional Meetings.
The topic for this year’s series of regional meetings – planned months in advance – was college and career readiness.
“It’s quite a coincidence, but a good one because it’s good to be able to share all this with the board members while it’s hot off the presses, so to speak,” said Casey County Superintendent Linda Hatter.
Photo: Wayne County school board members Donna Blevins, Melissa Upchurch and Larry Muse discuss what community stakeholders they would invite to a session on college and career readiness.
Board member Marilyn Coffey said the Casey County board had been discussing college and career readiness at some of its meetings and made some changes at the district’s high school, including revamping its freshman academy, “to give kids more options, more pathways to graduation.”
The data this year indicate that, on average, 38 percent of public high school students statewide are ready for college or careers. Some individual districts’ readiness was in the single digits.
There is a direct correlation between college remediation and the college graduation rate, pointed out KSBA Executive Director Bill Scott, in his presentation to school board members from the Mid Cumberland Region. When students are not prepared for higher education, he said, “that presents a tremendous obstacle.”
Because of this, the state now has “an aligned system of college readiness starting in the eighth-grade,” he said.
If students fall short of ACT benchmarks in their junior year, schools are required to provide intervention to bring them up to speed. The same holds true for eighth-graders who take the EXPLORE test and later, sophomores who take the PLAN assessment.
These assessments can serve a dual purpose, Scott added. They also can identify “the promise that students have” if they do hit the benchmarks but need encouragement to go on to postsecondary education.
A different series of assessments can measure readiness for the work force, including the ACT Work Keys test, industry certificates and the Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment.
The state education department and Council on Postsecondary Education have formulated nine strategies for improving college and career readiness. Scott encouraged board members to zero in on one of them at each school board meeting. “Get an idea of how that strategy is going to be used in your district” and then review the results, he said.
The strategy that likely will be used most often by districts is called transitional interventions; these are interventions that are required for students who don’t meet ACT benchmarks in college readiness, EXPLORE or PLAN. The tactics that will be used to bring students up to the benchmarks are to be included in their individual learning plan.
The approaches are flexible, Scott said, depending on the student’s needs. They can be in the form of full courses, partial courses, short-term work or self-paced work designed to help students pass a test in the academic area in which they are falling short. The work can be done during the school day or after school.
Board members attending this year’s regional meetings were able to begin some strategizing around college and career readiness. In a Mid-Cumberland Region breakout designed to focus on transitional interventions, Wayne County board members formulated questions on the topic, including what local businesses look for in an employee and what the school district can do to make students more career- and employment-ready.
“I think we’ve touched on this before, but not in depth,” said board member Melissa Upchurch.
Persistence to graduation is the technical name for another one of the nine strategies reviewed more closely in the regional meetings. This strategy relies on a state education department software program that uses district data to provide a list of students at high risk for not graduating from high school.
Schools probably already have identified those students, Scott said, “but the program might also spit out some kids who weren’t on your radar.”
An online resource will be another part of this program, outlining best practices for keeping kids in school.
Regional Meetings also zeroed in on a third strategy, academic and career advising. The state education department is expected to roll out Operation Preparation, in which districts recruit adult mentors, with guidance from the agency in screening and training the volunteers. These mentors would shore up schools’ hard-pressed guidance counselors.
During a second breakout session for board members, Green County Superintendent Jim Frank said he is concerned about the liability involved in a large-scale volunteer program. “There’s bound to be good people out there, but you have to be careful,” he said.
Board member Marcy Goff suggested that retired teachers “might be a good resource to tap into.”
There’s a lot to take in for the state’s college and career readiness drive, Frank said.
“There are a lot of strategies being thrown at you,” he said.
Green County board member Marshel Davis added, “Somebody’s got to pay – who’s going to pay for all this?” he asked.