Amended SB 1 ed reform bill sent to Senate floor, gives more authority to districts including intervening in low-performing schools; arts grad requirement back in

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Feb. 17, 2017

Standards, local control targeted as sweeping Kentucky education bill moves forward

by Allison Ross

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The state Senate's education committee advanced the chamber's top priority on Thursday, unanimously passing a sweeping schools bill that would overhaul the state's accountability system and give local schools more control over teacher evaluations.

Sen. Mike Wilson, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1, also made several changes, including the elimination of wording that would have let high schoolers meet the arts graduation requirement by taking a foreign language or course in career and technical education, computer technology or programming. Several in the arts community had expressed concern about such an option.

The updated wording also eliminated language that would have created "bands" of similar schools that would be used for comparing academic growth.

Wilson, R-Bowling Green, was praised by senators on the committee as well as some people in attendance for listening to people and making the changes.

"This is a bill that everyone had their fingerprint on," he said. "Senate Bill 1 is not just my bill."

The omnibus bill would make a number of changes that are expected to have significant effects, including setting up a new way for intervening in low-performing schools.

The bill would put a lot more of the power in intervening in those schools back into the hands of local school districts.

In addition, the bill would leave the creation of teacher evaluation systems to the districts, saying such systems should have four different performance levels. The bill also says the results of the teacher evaluations won't be included in the state's accountability system, and that the Kentucky Department of Education won't require school districts to report those results.

Another key part of the bill is the creation of a staggered review process for Kentucky's language arts and writing, math, science and social studies standards and assessments. The bill sets up several committees and advisory panels to review the standards.

Wilson said such a review process for Kentucky's standards will effectively "repeal Common Core" by changing its standards on a staggered basis. He said he's made changes to the bill this year that should alleviate concerns that politicians were too involved in the standards review process.

"We are very encouraged Sen. Wilson has been very collaborative," said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association.

Her association did not support SB1 when it was introduced last year, when it expressed concerns and questioned whether the bill was being pushed through too quickly, while the federal government was working on regulations related to the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

She said this year's bill removes many bureaucratic hurdles teachers faced under legislation stemming from No Child Left Behind and "lets teachers get back to teaching again."

The bill, which is expected to be taken up by the full Senate on Friday, comes as Kentucky works to revamp its assessment and accountability systems in light of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"This bill allows the teams that have been working (on the accountability revamp) to continue working, and to really let the system be owned by Kentucky," state Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said Thursday.

The Senate's standing education committee also passed Senate Bill 159 on Thursday, which would require all public high school students to pass a civics test to graduate. The bill would require the students to answer 100 questions drawn from the same test that's given to immigrants who are seeking to become naturalized citizens.

The committee also advanced Senate Bill 138, which would create regulations for public high schools wanting to offer elective social studies courses on Hebrew scriptures and the Bible.

The bill, which mirrors one filed in the House, said the point of the courses would be to "teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture."

Public schools in Kentucky are already free to study the Bible and other religious texts, provided instruction is strictly academic. The Kentucky Department of Education has told the Courier-Journal that some schools have offered Bible literacy courses as electives in the past.

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