Preparing Children for College and Career
Kentucky is the first state to adopt a groundbreaking set of academic standards—the state commissioner of Education answers questions about what the new test scores will tell us about expectations for students
Late this month the second round of school test scores, which indicate how well students are meeting the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, will be released to the public for all Kentucky public schools.
As a parent, you may have questions about the new standards or concerns about how your children are doing. You may also have questions about what they mean for your child's education. We spoke with Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday and asked him the questions uppermost on the minds of parents.
Q: What are the standards?
A: The standards establish what students are expected to learn in each grade. At the national level, they are called Common Core State Standards. They have been adopted by 46 states, including Kentucky, where we now call them Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Currently, there are new academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics. Standards for other subjects such as science and social studies are under development.
Q: How were the standards developed?
A: The 2009 General Assembly passed legislation (Senate Bill 1) that required more rigorous academic standards for public school students. The focus of this legislation is on getting kids ready for college and a career, whereas the previous standards were basic and minimal.
In Kentucky, the work to develop the standards involved approximately 1,000 teachers, several hundred college professors, as well as administrators, the public, a national validation committee, a national education organization, and professionals from the Kentucky Department of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, and the Kentucky Education Standards Board.
The new standards are aligned with the ACT (the major college admission test used in Kentucky) and with skills that are needed in college and careers. We worked closely with colleges to find out what their expectations are and with employers to do likewise.
We also compared the standards against other top-performing countries. In doing so, we found that we were not going deep enough on some of our math standards, for example, and trying to do too many in one year. With reading we found that our kids did not have access to a lot of technical reading and writing, which most jobs require today. There was not an emphasis on in-depth reading to support a position or a strong emphasis on making an argument and defending a position.
Q: When did the standards go into effect?
A: Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year, Kentucky became the first of 46 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and English.
We are just starting our third year with these standards, and the assessments that parents will receive this fall are just the second ones under the new standard.
Q: What should parents understand about these new standards?
A: These standards were designed to help prepare your children for the next step in their lives after high school graduation.
It is also important to realize that because the standards are new and substantially different from the previous ones, we expected a significant drop in the proficiency scores during the first few years. With the old standard, 70 to 80 percent of students scored in the proficient range. With this new assessment, only 40 to 50 percent of students have achieved proficiency. This is close to what we have seen on the ACT scores that every 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-grader takes.
The decrease is due to the fact that the previous scores were based on more basic standards and that teachers and students alike need time to adjust to the change in textbooks and subject matters. That generally takes three to five years.
This change in standards is important because more than half of our students who went on to college had to take math or language arts remediation courses. Parents have to pay for these courses, but students don't get any credit for them. We also heard so much from employers that kids cannot do the technical reading, math, and computer skills required for today's jobs.
We expect dramatic improvements. We have already seen a drop in the numbers of remediation courses required. We don't have any statistics yet because the reports run about a year late, but colleges are also reporting that their numbers are lower.
The other good news is that with these standards we can predict by the third grade if a student is on track to achieve proficiency at graduation, and if not take the steps to help that student.
Q: Will I receive individual test scores for my child?
A: Parents will receive individual student test scores after the September school scores are released (each district sets their own schedule, so delivery dates will vary across the state). Those students tested last spring while in grades 3-8, as well as some high school students, will receive test scores in the mail.
Q: What should I do if my child is not meeting the standards?
A: Schools are required to provide interventions when students do not meet the grade level expectations (benchmarks). Parents should begin by asking their child's teacher what strategies are needed, if any, with their child. (You can read more about interventions online at www.education.ky.gov, search for "Targeted Interventions.")
Q: How can parents find out more about the standards?
A: Parents can access these standards easily on the Kentucky Department of Education Web page at www.education.ky.gov.
Another good way is to sign up for KDE News at the KDE Web page. That app has all of the up-to-date press releases and the High School Feedback Report. Click on "School Report Cards" to find out how your child's school is doing compared to other schools in their district and in the state. Parents can use that app on their computer or mobile device.
Parents can also ask for a hard copy at their child's school.
Parents should also contact their local Parent Teacher Association. The PTA nationally and in Kentucky has developed easy-to-read pamphlets that explain these new standards. For Kentucky information, go to www.kypta.org. For a national perspective, go online to www.pta.org.
Q: What else can parents do to help their children succeed?
A: At home, the big thing is reading. Read to your children beginning at an early age and discuss the book with your child rather than just reading it. Encourage older children to read themselves and then discuss and analyze the book together.
Discuss current events where appropriate. Watch the news together and discuss what you are seeing. Help kids understand their world and help them learn to analyze. Take them on real-world activities such as museums.
INFORMATION ON TESTS
To read detailed information on specific tests that students are required to take as part of the state's testing system, go to www.education.ky.gov and search for "Common Core Standards Resources."
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: RESOURCES FOR UNDERSTANDING KENTUCKY'S COMMON CORE STANDARDS
Parents can learn more about Kentucky's new Common Core Standards, including detailed information on each specific standard and how to prepare students for college or a career, when you go to core standards.