State education chief unveils plan to improve English, math requirements

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 25, 2014 

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said some people tell him the rigor of state high school math standards should be increased. Others have said that kindergarten standards might not be developmentally appropriate.

In an announcement Monday at Woodford County High School in Versailles, Holliday asked teachers, parents, students, higher education officials and business leaders to help change the state's academic requirements in math and English. The standards may be reviewed and comments may be made at Holliday said the changes could be in place by the 2016-17 school year.

"We would like you to consider what standards we may have missed that may need to be added to make our standards even more rigorous," Holliday said. "We are asking you to edit the standards in case you think there's a tweak needed."

For example, he said, one standard calls for kindergarten children to count from 1 to 100 by ones and by 10s. Holliday asked whether that was too rigorous or developmentally appropriate.

Holliday said the Common Core standards had become a polarizing, political issue. He said the focus in Kentucky should not be on whether people are for or against the standards, but what students know and should be able to do.

"Don't tell us it's a communist conspiracy to take over education by the federal government," Holliday said. "Tell us what's wrong with the standard and how to fix it, and what you would add or subtract."

Suggestions may be made on moving the standard to another grade level, creating a new standard or rewriting it.

The Kentucky Board of Education adopted the current standards, which set the minimums in each subject that students should know and be able to do at each grade level, in 2010, and those standards have been taught in Kentucky classrooms since 2011-12.

Tweaking the standards could make them stronger so all "students will graduate with the knowledge and skills they need for college and career," Holliday said.

The so-called Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge will remain open until April 30.

"Once the challenge ends, the feedback provided will be posted online," the website said. "Comments provided about specific standards will be evaluated by a team of Kentucky educators, from all levels specializing in the specific content areas. The team will then make recommendations on any changes to the Kentucky Board of Education for its consideration, most likely in fall of 2015."

Holliday emphasized that the effort was not a referendum on the standards and that only recommendations on how to change particular standards would be considered in the review process, which typically occurs every four to six years.

Brad Clark, who teaches fourth and fifth grades in Woodford County, encouraged teachers to weigh in. He said in a statement that the standards were not perfect, "but as an educator, I appreciate the opportunity to provide input on how we can make the standards better to meet our students' learning needs."

In other action, Holliday said in a web blog Friday that the U.S. Department of Education violated state and federal law in rejecting Kentucky's request to delay testing on the Next-Generation science standards.

U.S. Department of Education officials rejected Kentucky's request to delay measuring the science standards in spring 2015 tests, he said.

The federal department expects Kentucky to give a science assessment that measures previous science standards in spring 2015, Holliday said. "This expectation not only violates our state law, but also violates" the federal law that requires states to assess science based on current state standards, he said.

Holliday said teachers began to implement science standards this year and say they need at least two years of implementing standards before assessing them.

He added that Kentucky teachers and national science assessment experts were saying that new science assessments would need to be very different than typical multiple-choice tests. Students actually will need to do science and exhibit scientific thinking.

"We needed the waiver in order to provide time for our teachers to actually implement standards and develop new assessment items for field testing in spring of 2015," Holliday said. "We committed to having an assessment of student achievement in science by 2016."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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