Tuesday, November 05, 2013

What Every Child Can Learn from Kentucky

This from Core Education:
Amidst all of the recent turmoil about Common Core, with some states changing the name of the standards, others considering pulling them, and others having already taken steps to pull back from the testing consortia, Kentucky stands out as a model state which has moved beyond any other state in piloting Common Core reform.

We blogged about Kentucky’s first results from Common Core aligned testing here.
More recently, Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine (subscription) has penned a profile of Kentucky, which she suggests will be studied by other states as they seek to institute the Common Core. Following are some excerpts from the article.
kentucky.ashxKentucky barreled headlong into the future three years ago and embraced the new targets before any other state, holding its children and teachers to a higher bar. That state, long renowned for its bourbon and racehorses, will not immediately come to mind as an educational powerhouse. But Kentucky is the undisputed leader in this historic American journey, and the parents, children and teachers who live there have much to tell the rest of us about what to expect next.

In August 2010, Kentucky schools rolled out the Common Core standards in math and English. “It was pretty much a nightmare,” says Peggy Preston, a veteran math teacher in Louisville. 

Overnight, the Pythagorean theorem went from a 10th-grade lesson to an eighth-grade lesson. Instead of just identifying the first-person point of view, middle-school students suddenly had to be able to explain why an author chose to use it and how that decision influenced the text. “We were overwhelmed and frustrated,” says Kate Grindon, an English teacher at Meyzeek Middle School. Many teachers were also afraid the new standards were too high. “There were a lot of people in the room who said, ‘Our kids can’t do this.’”

What happened next depended in large part on the principal and superintendent of a given school. In the places with the strongest leaders, teachers got time to study and discuss the new standards with one another, brainstorming how they could reinvent their lessons for the higher expectations. Kentucky’s education commissioner, Terry Holliday, enlisted teachers to help at every step in the process, explaining the new standards to parents and designing test questions–a model he advises other state chiefs to follow. “Teachers are your best voice in the community,” Holliday says.

The following spring, the students took the first set of tests synched to the new standards. Everyone knew it would be a humbling exercise: if you raise the bar, fewer will reach it–at least for a while. So state officials warned parents, teachers, students and the media to expect lower scores and interpret them as a sign of progress rather than failure. Every teacher had flyers to give out at parent-teacher conferences explaining that the new test was different from the old one. The Jefferson County PTA held briefings to explain the Common Core to some 8,000 people across Louisville.

When the new results came out, only half of Kentucky elementary students were found to be proficient or better in reading–compared with three-quarters of kids the year before under the old standards. But citing the public outreach, Holliday says, “We had zero complaints from parents.”

This school year, their third with the new targets, some Kentucky teachers seem to be thriving with the infusion of clarity, focus and autonomy they attribute to the Common Core standards. Many post specific targets on the classroom wall for all the students to see, rotating each one out every few weeks. De’Vonta Moffitt, a student at Doss High School in Louisville, explains the difference between his freshman and senior year this way: “Before, we read and then worked, read and then worked. It was easy. Basically they gave us tests from the book,” he says. “Now, every three weeks we have to know a different standard. I have to actually take notes. I have to think sometimes, take my time.”

Even standardized tests can be less grueling when tied to more intelligent goals. Each spring, Sydnea Johnson, a student at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, used to get migraines from all the cramming teachers asked her to do before the test–trying to cover more standards less deeply. “Now it’s a lot less stressful,” Johnson says, “because I can take in the information all year long, and it’s just a review before the test.”

This past spring, Kentucky achieved an 86% high school graduation rate–up from 80% in 2010 and above that of most other states. Test scores for the last school year, only the second with the new Common Core test, show a slight uptick of 2 percentage points. The portion of students considered college- or career-ready is up 20 percentage points to 54% since 2010, according to a battery of assessments given to seniors.

It’s only in the past couple of months that Holliday has started to hear local opposition to the Common Core. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, gearing up for a presidential run, has come out against the new standards, citing a “loss of local control of curriculum and instruction.” One Kentucky education leader said he has stopped using the words common core altogether. “We call them Kentucky Core Standards or something,” he said, searching for the proper euphemism. “We are even trying not to use ‘rigorous.’ We are trying to say, ‘college- and career-ready standards.’”

So, if Kentucky is any model, states that are implementing the Common Core can expect difficulties for teachers and students at first, lower test scores at first, but then a period of adjustment and some hints of improvement.  And perhaps the main lesson for other states is to reach out to the community to prepare families for the changes that will certainly take place.

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