Kentucky education commissioner wants revision of state’s accountability system

Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, at the State of Education Press Conference in Frankfort Thursday January 21, 2016.
Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, at the State of Education Press Conference in Frankfort Thursday January 21, 2016. Kentucky Department of Education

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said Thursday that the state’s accountability system will be streamlined within the next 18 months and that he wanted everyone’s help.

The state’s assessment and accountability system is designed to provide information about the performance of students, schools and districts. Kentucky’s public school students participate in annual testing, and the results of those tests are included in the state’s accountability system for schools and districts.

“I want our assessments to be honest,” Pruitt said. “That means they are going to tell some harsh truths sometimes. I want our teachers to be able to use that data to then talk to the parent about how they are going to help that student get better in those areas.”

On the accountability system as a whole, he said he wanted a system that celebrates the good things that are going on in schools, “but yet holds people accountable, ensuring that they are doing the right things by kids.”

Pruitt, who was hired as the state’s sixth education commissioner in October 2015, presented the 2016 State of K-12 Public Education in Kentucky address at a news conference.

He declined to comment on the proposed Senate Bill 1, a wide-ranging education reform bill recently introduced by Senate Republicans that would change the way that Kentucky’s academic standards, based on the Common Core standards, are revised.

Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core state standards and subsequently incorporated them into the Kentucky academic standards. Senate Republicans have criticized them.

But Pruitt said Thursday that because Kentucky’s standards had been revised by citizens, including educators in the last year, and will continue to be revised by a wide range of people, “I honestly don’t know that I can call them Common Core anymore.”

He said that the state’s academic standards review and revision process is working. He said standards will be moved to a different grade level, rewritten for clarity or broken into multiple standards. A group of educators specializing in each content is reviewing the feedback the Kentucky Department of Education has received from the public, including many educators, and will make proposed changes. Standards in calculus and cursive writing will be added.

Revisions will be publicly reviewed before being heard by the Kentucky Board of Education, and the proposed standards will be discussed at a public hearing, he said.

For this academic year, a new science assessment was supposed to be given in May 2016, but Pruitt said the current assessment will continue to be used. And he said there would not be new social studies standards this year as expected. The revision of the social studies standards have been put on pause this year and the current standards will continue to be used, he said.

Pruitt said one of the state’s biggest challenges is closing the achievement gap. The 2016 Quality Counts State-of-the-States Report Card, produced by the publication Education Week, looked at the gap in performance between students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals — 60 percent of Kentucky’s student population — and those who are not.

While a wide achievement gap between low-income students and others exists in every state in the nation, the poverty gap is lower in Kentucky than in the majority of states, Pruitt said.

Overall, Kentucky got a “C” on the Quality Counts report, but is in the top 10 in the nation on several fronts, he said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears