Tuesday, October 14, 2008

State's goals in education can be met

This from the Kentucky New Era:

By Brent Yonts

Looking for Kentucky at the top of any list that ranks states by educational achievement would have been like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack 20 years ago. Our state was nowhere to be found. Not so today. Education in Kentucky has changed so much in recent years that within the next 11 years our state could possibly be ranked among the top 20 states in school performance. A recent report by one of the state’s leading education advocates, the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, explains that the state now has the foundation to move from the bottom to the top of the national rankings and be in the company of top tier states by 2020!

We are already pretty close to being in that elite group in some areas, having already surpassed or met the performance of these states in science and 4th grade writing. Plus we are only a few points behind Top 20-ranked Iowa in 8th grade math performance, catching up with top-tier Delaware in the number of students earning AP college credit in high school and almost tied with Illinois in the area of preschool enrollment for three and four year olds. The reason for this success has much to do with our work in 10 areas that the report calls the “Ten Steps Forward.” Improved performance by Kentucky students on state and national tests, better classroom performance, an increase in high school graduates and increased college enrollment and graduation rates are among the 10 areas, which are as follows:

* National ranking. We have the nation’s 34th best education system, based on a 2005 index developed by the Kentucky Long Term Policy Research Center. A matching index had us ranked 43rd in 1992.

* Science education. Kentucky students’ have the highest science test scores in the nation. They are also tied with the nation in reading, 4th-grade writing and 8th-grade mathematics.

* State tests. Every student group in Kentucky improved their accountability test performance from 1999 to 2006.

* AP exams. Students across the state making passing scores on Advanced Placement exams rose by 76 percent since 2000, a growth rate surpassed by only 7 other states.

* Preschool. Before 1990, there was no state-funded preschool in the Commonwealth. Today, more than 21,000 children attend free preschool statewide.

* Technology. Our state is a leader in school technology, tying for fourth place among all states in the 2008 ranking of “Technology Counts”, an annual report of the national newspaper Education Week. Our individual technology score was a B+ compared to a C+ national average.

* College enrollment. Over the last decade, college enrollment at our four-year colleges and universities has increased 40 percent. At the community and technical college level, the increase in enrollment has soared 106 percent. Of the individuals included in those enrollments, the number receiving bachelor’s degrees annually increased 28 percent while associate degree holders increased 53 percent over the period.

* High school graduates. The number of adults under age 25 who are high school graduates in Kentucky has risen to 80 percent, up 10 percent since 1980. Up by five percent over the 28 year period are the number of adults under age 35 who hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

* Investment by the state. Over the past 18 years, the state of Kentucky has invested over $2 billion in the replacement and renovation of school buildings to give our children a safe, modern study environment.

* Return on academic investment. In 2005, Kentucky ranked 8th nationally in the return we received on our investment in education from preschool through 12th grade. The ranking was based on reading and math performance versus spending and student challenges.

Other achievements that the Prichard Committee celebrated in its report —although they cannot be tracked statistically—are changes in state law made by the Kentucky General Assembly that affect school governance. By changing the culture of education, we lawmakers believe that we can make our schools a better place. And indeed, that seems to be true.

What is also true is we have much work to do. We still need to raise teachers’ salaries, we have a student “achievement gap” to bridge, the CATS test is still an issue, and we need to prepare more students for careers in the math, science and technology fields. I will speak more about the challenges next week, along with other challenges that the Prichard report has flagged. Have a great week ahead.

BRENT YONTS (D) is a state representative from Greenville.

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