KSBA Comments on 704 KAR 3:305 - Minimum requirements for high school graduation

KSBA Comments on 704 KAR 3:305 - Minimum requirements for high school graduation

November 27, 2018

Deanna Durrett, Esq.
General Counsel
Kentucky Department of Education
300 Sower Boulevard, 5th Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601

Re: 704 KAR 3:305 - Minimum requirements for high school graduation

Dear Ms. Durrett:

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) in compliance with the comment period on the pending amendments to the above regulation which ends November 30, 2018.

We will begin by stating our understanding of the nature of the statutory and regulatory law pertaining to high school graduation requirements in Kentucky. Pursuant to KRS 156.160(1)(d), the Kentucky Board of Education “[w]ith the advice of the Local Superintendents Advisory Council” shall promulgate administrative regulations establishing “[t]he minimum requirements for high school graduation in light of the expected outcomes for students and schools set forth in KRS 158.6451.” In turn, pursuant to KRS 158.140, local elected school boards award diplomas earned by their students meeting the state minimum requirements and local board requirements, which are often heightened requirements tied to specialized diplomas awarded by a given school board under its authority. The state requirements are therefore intended to be “minimum” requirements that do and should continue to function as a “floor” rather than a “ceiling.”

Comment 1: Our concerns with the overall proposal

While KSBA will note several concerns, we want to acknowledge that we and our members share the desire of both the leadership of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and members of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), that all our students should achieve at the highest levels possible, and that the diplomas they earn are meaningful in contemporary American society and a global economy.

This is why many local elected school boards have adopted their own locally supported graduation requirements that go above and beyond the current state minimums. Many boards have also created specialized diplomas for students meeting heightened standards, including but not limited to “work ethic certification” or “work ready” diplomas signifying that a student has achieved readiness indicators created at the local level with public and private sector involvement and community buy-in.

However, we have significant concerns that the overall proposal contained in this regulation will further exacerbate school resource inequities already existing across our state; cause the graduation rate to fall and thereby decrease the likelihood of success in life for our students; cause our state’s workforce participation rate to further decrease, thereby harming our critical economic development efforts; and lead to other detrimental effects on public education and the general welfare of Kentuckians.

From the local school board perspective we have concerns that many districts will not be able to offer multiple new course options tailored to student interests due to a lack of funding and available personnel. For example, as we continue to expand dual credit offerings across the state, many districts find it difficult to find qualified teachers for dual credit courses. It will be difficult or impossible for students who don’t have access to enough dual credit offerings to qualify as transition-ready and receive a diploma. The same holds true for Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings, which are difficult to expand given the widely acknowledged teacher shortages facing many communities.

The new, yet-to-be-created exit exam of basic skills is also a concern. With the enactment of Senate Bill 1 (2017), we and many other education stakeholders including the Kentucky PTA and other parent groups applauded the move away from excessive high-stakes testing, which creates stress and anxiety for students, parents and teachers, and costs districts and the state precious time and money, in favor of “letting teachers teach.” Other states that have implemented this type of exam are now moving away from this requirement.

As President Bob King, explained at a recent KBE meeting, even our own Council on Postsecondary Education is implementing policy reforms which move away from standardized, high-stakes testing (namely the ACT™ exam) for college entrance purposes. President King stated that the CPE’s “new [postsecondary] admission policy is focused centrally on [G.P.A.]. What we have found is that the ACT, while it provides us some direction in terms of placement, has not been a very good predictor of student success. The ACT does what it says it does, but we’ve been using it for the wrong reasons. Our institutions, at least in terms of their minimum standards, will be using [G.P.A.] rather than ACT scores.”

We do not believe a new exit exam is advisable as our own postsecondary policymakers have concluded that similar exams are not “a very good predictor of student success.”

Some aspects of the proposal would offer students more flexibility, namely in course options. However, other aspects are very restrictive such as the few pathways to achieve transition-readiness, either through academic-readiness or career-readiness. We support high standards for student achievement, but we also know the realities many of our students face in their personal lives, and the realities of state funding and the constant churning of reforms. Therefore, all goals and standards must be appropriate, reasonable and strategic in context with all other factors affecting not only school and district operations but student lives and community supports.

Comment 2: Deference of this regulation to allow time for more robust public engagement efforts strategically undertaken to assist students, parents, grandparents, other guardians and teachers to offer input is advisable.

The last time the KBE made this degree of changes to the state minimum graduation requirements, we believe, was in the early to mid-1990s. That effort involved the creation of a 51-member task force, with three subcommittees devoted to specific components of the plan such as student engagement, high school restructuring and minimum requirements. Public hearings of these subcommittees were held over several months to gather input and formulate the overall plan. The plan also had a longer, phased-in implementation period than what is contemplated for this proposal.

Given the importance of high school graduation to an individual’s life, and its importance to the quality of life of our communities, we urge the KBE to defer this regulation until a sustained statewide public engagement campaign can be undertaken. Meetings in local communities, at times convenient to the general public, will allow for vital input from working parents, grandparents, teachers, district leaders and the small business community, all of which will be impacted by this regulation.

Comment 3: Advice from the Local Superintendents Advisory Council must inform the continued development of this regulation.

To the best of our knowledge, the Local Superintendents Advisory Council (LSAC) has not endorsed, approved or otherwise recommended that this proposal move forward, even following extensive discussion and analysis. Pursuant to the general regulatory authority granted by the legislature to the KBE, which requires that all regulations are to be promulgated only upon the advice of the LSAC, we believe that the lack of approval by these local education leaders demonstrates that the regulation should be deferred for further review and possible amendments.

Comment 4: The proposed transition-readiness (academic-readiness and career-readiness) requirement will have numerous complex and interrelated consequences on individual students, their families and school districts, and we suggest that it be removed from the proposal.

The inclusion of a hard-coded transition-readiness requirement is new to the state minimum graduation requirements. The coursework that leads to high school graduation is intended to meet the learning capacities outlined and enshrined in our state constitutional and statutory law which already speak to an individual’s overall readiness for adult life and participation in society. The definition of “transition-readiness” being proposed as an explicit graduation requirement in this proposal, by way of cross-reference to the separate regulation creating the state accountability system, goes further by outlining only two specific, narrow pathways by which a student may be deemed to be transition-ready.

We believe first and foremost in making sure all of our students are ready for adult life, and that this is rightfully the culmination of a primary and secondary education. However, we believe this issue is appropriately addressed in the separate and independent accountability system regulation, and that it should remain there where it functions as a goal for both districts and students. This framework or definition of “transition-ready” and how to measure it was created with the intent to be a goal to which districts would work to reach as quickly as resources would allow, and not as a requirement on individual students.

Part of our concern with the inclusion of one definition “transition-readiness” and one method of measuring it, is that each student in our Commonwealth should be provided with substantially equitable education opportunities necessary to obtain this measure. At this time, our state is not in a position to ensure that this would be the case. We already have a shortage of teachers qualified to teach AP and dual credit courses. This inequity will only be exacerbated by this proposal, leaving students unable to graduate simply because of a lack of adequate, equitable state support of their schools. This is a fact we all must face, and while much of it is beyond the control of both local board members and KBE members, we must not and cannot take an action that is in our control that would make the matters worse.

Overall state support for the common school system has been strained for many years, especially since the Great Recession began in 2008. In the current budget biennium state funding was reduced or entirely eliminated for numerous programs that directly support student learning. Funding for teacher recruitment was eliminated, as was funding for testing, including funds to help low-income families pay for AP testing. Funding for extended school services (ESS), a vital program that helps struggling students catch up and excel, was cut. As a result, it is simply impossible to implement a new transition-readiness graduation requirement in either an adequate or equitable way throughout the Commonwealth.

Despite the current investment levels, our districts (and postsecondary partners) are nonetheless making significant strides in course offerings and career pathways. With transition-readiness as a goal in the accountability regulation, we will continue to see this advancement. However, the graduation requirement proposal conflates the two issues, transforming a goal into a requirement, in a manner that will lead to detrimental outcomes for individuals and collectively for the state.

Furthermore, some aspects of the pathways would be out of the control of school districts or their students. For example, the ability for students to obtain 1,000 hours of work experience within their community would be out of the control of the district or student, as in many (if not most) communities there would not be jobs available to the degree necessary to meet this standard. We have heard from business leaders that even in our more urbanized and affluent communities, this would be difficult to accomplish. If this pathway were not an option in a community, it would further restrict students’ ability to demonstrate they were transition-ready, possibly leaving them without a diploma despite success in all course work and rending them unable to enter postsecondary studies, career training programs, serve our nation in the armed forces or obtain employment with most public and private sector employers.

For at least the last three decades, all stakeholders have been united in working to overcome barriers to learning, including the stigma that comes from setbacks a student may encounter. In recent years, we have been doing more with less. Adopting such a demanding graduation requirement at this moment, without the resources to make it work, will likely do damage that will take years to correct and for the individuals most affected, the correction will come too late. We must all pause and begin discussing what investments and supports from kindergarten to high school must be made to help a child become a life ready young adult, rather than raising the hurdle at the end of the line.

Comment 5: The evidentiary or pedagogical basis of some of the proposal’s provisions remains unclear, namely the 1,000 hours requirement for work experience to count towards demonstrating transition-readiness.

In a recent meeting of the Superintendents Advisory Council, much discussion was had regarding the origin of the 1,000 hours of work experience provision, which is not explicitly contained in this regulation but is apparently the standard proposed by KDE to help demonstrate transition-readiness. When members of the council asked about the origin, KDE staff explained that program staff in one area began with a proposal for 2,000 hours, and that when program staff from another area suggested that may be too high of a bar, it was reduced to 1,000 hours.

This area of the proposal would benefit from extended, robust, public engagement from all stakeholders including business owners, to come to a consensus on the nature and amount of work experience that would indicate a student was ready for a career. It is our belief that a work group has been formed to analyze this component, and we urge this work to continue, as well as expand to include more stakeholders as part of the public engagement efforts we hope the KBE and KDE will undertake. Even if transition-readiness remains only a provision within accountability and does not become a graduation requirement, as we suggest, this metric merits further analysis.

Comment 6: Receipt of college-level credit for dual credit and AP coursework while in high school is too high a bar to be among the few pathways allowed to meet the transition-readiness standard in order to graduate.

In addition to the concerns already noted relating to the transition-readiness component, we believe that dual credit and AP courses are valuable offerings that should be available to students. Our members across the state are constantly working to offer more dual credit and AP options to their students, as financial resources and qualified teachers are found. With these components in the accountability system, districts will continue to do so.

However, in our efforts to make diplomas more meaningful, we cannot forget the purpose of dual credit and AP courses, which is to offer high school students the opportunity to earn higher level credit, post-secondary credit, while still at the secondary level. The AP website states that “AP gives students the chance to tackle college-level work while they’re still in high school and earn college credit…” This is another example of why conflating the accountability goals with individual graduation requirements is not advisable. We should not require a student to earn post-high school credit in order to graduate high school, just as we do not require someone to pass the state bar exam in order to enter law school.

In this regard, it bears repeating that by statute this regulation is intended to create the state minimum graduation requirements for the successful completion of high school-level studies. Local communities and local school boards are afforded ample opportunity to create more demanding diplomas.

Comment 7: The proposed exam of basic skills should be removed from the proposal, as it would be a new high stakes test that would exacerbate the damaging stress and anxiety that is contributing to detrimental emotional and educational outcomes.

As stated above, during the two years of conversation and debate that produced the final version of Senate Bill 1 (2017), there was substantial discussion around the amount of testing in our schools. Numerous statements were made by legislators, parents and teachers that the most beneficial result of Senate Bill 1’s passage was to focus less on testing and more on teaching, with the bill sponsor referring to the legislation as the “let teachers teach” bill.

As we continue to implement that bill, and the new assessment and accountability system it created, we hope we can continue to focus our efforts on supporting classroom teaching and learning rather than on creating and implementing a new high stakes test.

Among our concerns is that one of the line-items eliminated in this budget was devoted to testing. Tests cost money to create or to procure. Every penny is precious in this biennium and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. We urge the KBE to remove this provision from the proposal, with all efforts that would otherwise have been expended on the creation and implementation of this exam invested in student supports, including but not limited to extended school services, enhanced remediation and early childhood learning.

Comment 8: The regulatory impact analysis and tiering statement should be amended to state that this proposal would present new, increased financial costs to every local school district in the state.

In section (4) of the impact statement, it states that “local schools and districts and schools may need to revise their course offerings and available educational opportunities to ensure students have access to content.” That is accurate, and in fact, it is more likely that every district and school will need to revise offerings at a minimum. Later, in section (5), it also correctly states that on an initial and continuing basis “[s]taffing patterns at the local district may need to be adjusted in light of new requirements and student needs. Local district and school staff time will be impacted through the appeals portfolio review process. Local district budgets will be impacted by the need for resources to support interventions for students who need them.” Increased assessment expenses are also correctly noted.

However, in section (4)(b), it incorrectly states that “[t]here is no additional cost the districts to implement this regulation.” This is inconsistent with the remainder of the analysis as stated above. We request that this item be amended to accurately state that this regulation will present additional costs to districts, and that no additional state funding is being provided to districts for this purpose.

Lastly, in sections (6) and (7) of the impact analysis, it states that “state funds” are the “source of the funding to be used for the implementation and enforcement of this administrative regulation.” This is only partially correct, as at the district and school level it will require state and local funds to implement this regulation. The statement also states that “no increase in … funding will be needed to implement this regulation.” We submit that an increase in state funding is not only needed in every classroom of this state to bring investment in our students to an adequate and equitable level, it is also needed at KDE to allow department staff to better assist all schools, especially CSI and TSI schools.

Therefore, as this regulation will present increased expenses to both districts and KDE, we suggest that the analysis explain that these additional costs cannot be absorbed by the KDE or districts without reducing services to students, and therefore increased funding is necessary. In order to determine how much additional state funding is necessary, we suggest that this regulation be deferred to allow KDE staff to conduct an analysis to be included in the regulatory impact analysis when the regulation is brought forward again.

Thank you for your consideration of the foregoing comments.

Sincerely,
Kerri Schelling, CAE
Executive Director
Kentucky School Boards Association

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