As Kentucky’s legislators convene for the 2017 General Assembly, they have clearly communicated their plans to focus on job creation and education — appropriately linking economic and workforce development with equipping our students to compete in a global economy and strengthen the talent pipeline that will position our state for success.
Bold goals coupled with adequate resources and accountability are key to Kentucky’s continued improvement in education. The state’s accountability system should be a major driver of education excellence for all students no matter their background or the barriers they face.
And, while the Kentucky Department of Education is leading the design of a new accountability system, the General Assembly should consider legislation to give greater prominence to three essential elements: ambitious goals for student performance, transparency of student outcomes, and tests that truly measure student success.
Leadership from the General Assembly has spurred Kentucky’s movement from the bottom of national education rankings to the middle and even above on some indicators.
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In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the state should equip “each and every child” with at least seven capacities that would allow them “to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states, in academics or in the job market.”
In 1990, the General Assembly responded with statutory goals for education, including academic proficiency for all students and the resources needed to support them.
In 2009, the General Assembly refined the goals to focus on increased college and career readiness.
Over the past 27 years, Kentucky has raised the academic achievement of all students. But achievement gaps persist, as do areas that need greater attention. Consider the following:
▪ Kentucky fourth graders rank eighth nationally in reading and ninth in science.
▪ Kentucky ranks ninth for high-school graduation, and 68.5 percent of Kentucky’s graduates are considered “college and career ready” (up from 46 percent in 2012).
▪ However, eighth graders rank 39th nationally in mathematics.
▪ Only 33 percent of African-American fourth graders are proficient in reading compared to 60 percent of their white peers.
▪ Only 58 percent of low-income high-school graduates are considered ready for post-secondary education, compared to 79 percent of their higher income peers.
▪ Preschool enrollment (a critical intervention to close achievement gaps) has plummeted to a rank of 40th.
▪ All the while, Kentucky’s K-12 per-pupil funding stands at 39th in the nation.
Now it’s time for the legislature to again establish clear goals that recommit to increasing student success, closing achievement gaps, and ensuring each student graduates with a diploma that indicates he or she has the skills and knowledge necessary for achieving self-sufficiency.
It is time for a bold new agenda that will move us from the middle of the national rankings to the top tier of all states. Three essential elements will help ensure Kentucky delivers a world-class education for each student:
▪ Ambitious and achievable statewide goals for student performance with expectations for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps.
▪ Policies that ensure transparency of education outcomes that are understandable, accessible and timely, including accountability ratings that take into account the performance of each group of students.
▪ Tests that measure the depth of knowledge expected in higher standards, including what students should know and be able to do to compete in the economy of the future.
From 1990 to the present, the Kentucky General Assembly has guided the state’s efforts to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. It is because of this strong leadership and shared commitment that we now find ourselves ready to embrace the next giant leap.
Explicitly stating bold goals for our future is the key education issue facing the 2017 General Assembly.
Brigitte Blom Ramsey is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a statewide citizen-led nonprofit.