Commissioner calls state of public education here “strong,” seeks expanded public engagement in necessary changes in, additions to assessment, accountability measures

KSBA eNews Service, Frankfort, Jan. 21, 2016

Pruitt: Calculus, cursive writing standards planned, while science, social studies measurements delayed
By Brad Hughes

In what is to become an annual event for him, Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt Thursday issued his inaugural State of K-12 Public Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, saying the status is “strong (because) Kentucky has had dedication to excellence in education for all and a willingness to embrace change when it really needed to.”

Employing aspects common to a governor’s State of the Commonwealth or a presidential State of the Union address, Pruitt acknowledged several invited guests as examples of some of more than a dozen areas where “we can be proud of our progress.” On the job since mid-October, he said he has done a lot of listening, and that the 50-page report is a “nice, neat package…of high points and low points (because) stakeholders have a right to know the facts.”

Among some of his comments during a 75-minute speech and media Q&A, the commissioner said he intends to take “every second” of the 18 months allotted under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act) to revise the current school accountability system; that new standards will be written to measure students’ skills in cursive writing and some high schoolers’ calculus mastery; and that his goal in streamlining the controversial PGES (Professional Growth and Effectiveness System) will be to craft a product that is “fair and equitable” while giving school and district leaders “good data” to assess classroom instruction.


Echoing remarks made earlier in the day to dozens of school board members and superintendents at KSBA’s LEAD (Legislative Education Advocacy Day) breakfast, Pruitt called the state public school system “a guiding light for the rest of the country because we care about our kids, and for 25 years, Kentucky has always chosen what’s right, not what’s easy.

“We have to ensure that every kid has an opportunity that, when they cross that stage (to receive a high school diploma), that they can make any choice that they want to in their lives, regardless of whether that’s to go to a university, to go to a technical college or to go into a career,” he said.

As measurements of progress, Pruitt touted several areas including:

      · High school graduation rate - 88 percent of the Class of 2015 graduated on time, placing Kentucky’s rate in the Top 10 nationally.

      · College and/or career readiness - 66.9 percent of graduates don’t need postsecondary remedial courses while others possess job skill certificates or high scores on a career path exam.

      · New college enrollees - Kentucky college freshmen are earning a higher grade point average, passing more courses and going on to at least a second year than before.

      · ACT scores - more gains than the nation as a whole over the past five years and leading Southern states using the ACT in terms of meeting a set of college preparedness benchmarks.

      · Advanced Placement - 35 percent more high schoolers are taking the more rigorous courses compared with five years ago, and more are earning high grades in those classes.

      · NAEP tests - students are outperforming the nation at most levels in reading, math and science in what is frequently called “the nation’s report card.

“For years, Kentucky ranked near the bottom of states in nearly every elementary and secondary education measurement. That’s no longer the case,” Pruitt said.

…and Challenges

The commissioner also offered a list of areas where improvements must be made, principally closing the achievement gap between all demographic student groups and raising middle school students’ mastery level in math.

While Pruitt declined to comment on Senate Bill 1 – a measure proposing massive changes in Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit school assessment and accountability system – he reiterated several plans to update existing academic standards and added some new wrinkles:

      · The previous Kentucky Core Content Challenge focused on English/ Language Arts and math standards will continue while work on revisions is being done.

      · New science standards will be delayed from statewide use until at least the 2017-18 assessments, while a pilot project on those measures is completed.

      · New social studies standards are in a “pause button” mode, but will still be developed to cover government, civics and economics.

      · New standards will be crafted to gauge students’ cursive writing skills and calculus studies for some college-bound high school students.

      · Program reviews will be amended after a task force that Pruitt appointed completes its work.

      · The PGES process for teachers, principals and superintendents will be “streamlined” to address concerns about the amount of work time required in the current evaluation system, while ensuring that quality educator data isn’t lost.

Impact of new, proposed laws

Regardless of whether the 2016 General Assembly passes any new assessment and/or accountability laws, Pruitt said some change will be necessary under the “opportunity” being afforded to states when Congress recently passed the ESSA.

“For the first time, the feds have said it’s time for states to create their own accountability system. I need everybody to be prepared to step up to the plate and help design this system. It will not be designed here in this tower,” he said. “I want a dynamic system that says this is a good teaching environment.

“We need to always remember that change management means work. It can’t destroy the other work. No education innovation failed in the vision stage, only in the implementation change,” Pruitt said.

On funding to make all of his goals happen, the commissioner noted “the reality of where we are…in a tough budget situation.” He said he has been meeting with legislators to discuss K-12 issues and needs, and believes “they are going to do the best they can to make sure that our schools and our kids are taken care of.”

In the media question-and-answer session, Pruitt responded to questions about charter schools and Common Core standards. The entire address and the brief news conference may be viewed here. The written report may be accessed on the KDE website here.

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Department of Education

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