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In Conversation With ...
In Conversation With ... Dr. Kelly Foster and Linda Rains
on Novice Reduction for Gap Closure
Kentucky School Advocate
In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. This issue’s conversation is with Dr. Kelly Foster (top photo), associate commissioner in the Office of Next-Generation Schools and Districts for the Kentucky Department of Education and Linda Rains, coordinator of the Novice Reduction Program. Both are working closely with KDE’s Novice Reduction for Gap Closure program, which was rolled out this fall. Rains will give a presentation on the novice reduction program at the KSBA annual conference Feb. 26-28.
Q: When did work on Novice Reduction for Gap Closure begin?
Foster – Last December, Dr. Terry Holliday charged me and associate commissioner Amanda Ellis with looking at the achievement gap. We created a cross-agency team of about 45 folks to develop the Novice Reduction Program. From December 2014 through about March 2015, we aligned the six key core work processes that we felt would give the biggest bang for the buck and would push on closing the achievement gap.
Q. There were other elements you put in place as well as the work processes?
Foster – Yes. After we had the key core work processes and strategies, we designed a Web page on the Kentucky Department of Education website (
). Then we developed 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans for each of the strategies. We timed it so that when the schools received their data, the Web page would be live and they could look at the data and use the diagnostics on the Web page to determine what areas needed attention. And, there would be 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans to help them implement a strategy under the key core work processes.
Q: What is the role that Linda Rains and the novice reduction coaches play in the program?
Foster – Linda came on board in June as novice reduction coordinator; she works out of my office in Frankfort. Linda works on a daily basis with our five regionally based novice reduction coaches. They reach out to and work with schools and districts on novice reduction, and their work started around August. Schools that have questions about the program can contact Linda at
Q. Will the field coaches continue their work in the coming year?
Foster – They are on one-year memorandums of agreement with their home school district. We hope those contracts will be renewed for year two, and it would be nice as we grow this program to add some coaches to meet the needs and to help scale up the program across the state.
Q: Describe the response, so far, to the novice reduction program.
Rains – The schools started getting their data in early August, so that set the urgency for novice reduction. We met with many of them, and there were so many that we couldn’t get them all on the calendar. With the help of Dr. Foster, we set up regional workshops, beginning in October. By the time they end in early December, we will have touched more than 1,800 school leaders through these workshops.
Q: What happens during these workshops?
Foster – The plan all along has been to work with school leadership teams and district leadership teams to ensure they understand their data and their needs and then figure out which key core work process they need to focus on. The novice reduction program is tailored, so you use your data to figure out what works well for you, what isn’t working well and then the resources are right there to help you determine your next step. I think that is one of the reasons we are getting such enormous interest.
Q. So each school approaches the process according to its needs?
Rains – Exactly. A part of the day with us in the workshop is to find where you are in the key core work process. What are some of your leverages? What is a good leverage with momentum? It is important to know what you are good at as well as what you need work on. We spend a good portion of the day with the needs assessment tool to really dig in and find out what their as-is state is.
Q. Originally, a pilot program was planned, but this program seems to be fully underway.
Foster – We had thought about working with a handful of pilot schools this fall with a rollout in January, but we were hearing from so many schools and districts that we went ahead with the regional workshops. I don’t know how the program is going to look any different January 1 because in reality we have been up and functioning since September 1.
Q. But you do have some pilot districts?
Foster – We have 12 pilot districts, and they do get some extra support from the novice reduction coaches. In order to provide continuous improvement feedback, we will look at the pilot schools’ numbers this time next year when the school report card comes out and use those districts for some data analysis.
Q: What are the most common questions or concerns the coaches are hearing?
Rains – Novice reduction is a moral and ethical imperative but I think a big concern is how it will affect their accountability scores. And every district is so diverse about what their gap group consists of and what strategy will work for them. They understand there is no pat answer for novice reduction.
Q. Why are the 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans valuable?
Foster – This is a best practice that we know works because it is something we use in our priority schools. We know that when you are trying to implement something new it doesn’t happen overnight; you have to do it in steps. So 30, 60, 90 focuses on a targeted area – not only what you are going to do, but when you are going to do it and who is responsible for that action. Leadership can check weekly to make sure the activities of the plan are being completed in a timely fashion by the person in charge of that action.
Q. You have said that one way the program will reduce the numbers of novice students is through awareness and adapting instruction to account for issues like cultural differences. Could you give an example?
Rains – It is about being fully aware of what happens in the home and how we are responsive to that in the classroom and how can we still enhance a student’s learning. For example, students of great poverty might not be able to do a project at home that requires scissors, glue, pencil and paper because they might not have those supplies at home. So a teacher would have to consider what might be an alternative to that.
Q. You said the program will also help students be more involved in setting goals for themselves?
Rains – Students will know their data and their needs. The teachers can support that work and give them information such as, “This is where you are,” “This is where we would like to take you,” and “What is your goal for this?” Students can be more responsible for their own success.
Q. Is this program modeled after one created in another state or states?
Foster – No, this is our own. We started by identifying about 15 key core work processes and we combined them into the six. We really wanted a clear and intentional focus: “What are the key core work processes that really push on closing the achievement gap through novice reduction?” Then we brought in the program experts here at KDE to talk about and identify the research-based strategies that will push on those key core work processes.
Q: What would you expect to see this time next year?
Foster – When the school report cards are released in October 2016, I hope that when we look at those 12 pilot districts, which are receiving the most assistance, the novice students will be reduced in the 2015-16 school year from 2014-15. I would hope that when we look at statewide data we would also see a decrease in novice.
Q. Why do you believe this approach is going to work?
Foster – To close the achievement gap, you have to look at the students who are performing at the lowest level, and those would be the students performing at the novice level. So we have to go back and look at quality Tier 1 instruction, making sure that is targeted and it is aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. We feel we have done that through the key core work processes and the strategies that push on those.
Rains – Even schools that are performing at good levels and that have novice numbers that aren’t particularly high are looking and digging for answers as to how they can improve on these key core work processes. They are being very intentional about what they are choosing for their improvement.
Q. Are there benefits, then, for students across the board?
Foster – This initiative focuses on closing the achievement gap through novice reduction but in reality it is also about quality Tier I instruction, making sure every teacher is incorporating research-based best practices into daily instruction and being intentional with curriculum, instruction and assessment, and how they design and deliver their instruction; using formative and summative assessment to make instructional decisions; analyzing the data to determine what kind of interventions are needed; looking at integrated learning systems; trying to make sure there are support processes for gifted and talented, free and reduced, ESL, student with special needs to make sure all the resources are aligned to each subgroup; and making sure the classroom culture and climate is friendly, inviting and addresses students’ multicultural needs and that it is a safe environment.
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