Kentucky is getting national attention – for its politics and its education system. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper these days – including some that circulate nationally – without reading a reference to education in Kentucky. For all of its struggles, the state continues to make progress.
The progress is important to employers, particularly in areas such as preparing students for success in college or careers. But, as always, much work remains to be done if Kentucky is to offer a world-class education to every student in every school.
Here is a closer look at developments in Kentucky’s schools and their implications for our workforce.
54.1% ready for college and career
Better preparing students for life after high school – whether they go on to college, another type of postsecondary education or enter the workplace – has long been a goal of the education system. But emphasis on this future-building element accelerated with the passage of legislation in 2009 that mandated new, tougher academic standards.
The state uses specific measures to determine college and career readiness. These include the ACT, college placement tests, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, ACT WorkKeys and others.
Since Kentucky began measuring college and career readiness, the rate has increased from 34 percent in 2010 to 54.1 percent in 2013. As Education Commissioner Terry Holliday put it: “That’s around 8,000 students who now have a much better shot at getting a good job, paying taxes and becoming self-sufficient.”
The state also reports that more students are graduating from high school.
Graduation rate is 86.1%
Kentucky changed the way it calculates the graduation rate in 2013, moving to a method the federal government has mandated that starts with the number of students in a high school freshman class, accounts for students who move in and out of the system and then looks at how many students get a diploma four years later.
Based on that calculation, Kentucky’s 2013 graduation rate was 86.1 percent. Because of the change in the calculation method, a direct comparison to the performance of previous years is not possible.
Students’ achievement test scores edging up
College and career readiness is one component of the state’s overall accountability system that measures how well schools are doing. Another key piece – and one that is watched closely by educators and parents – is student performance on tests of reading, math, science, social studies and writing.
Kentucky was first to adopt the tougher standards
Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt tougher math and language arts standards – known as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards – and 2013 marked the second time students were tested on them. As expected, scores were up from 2012, but significant challenges persist – also as expected.
According to state reports, the percentage of higher-performing students increased in nearly every subject at every grade level in 2013. Significantly, students in groups that have historically achieved at lower levels also performed better.
Progress, yes, “though slower than we would like,” Commissioner Holliday told the news media. Of particular concern: slight declines in reading, social studies and math scores by elementary school students and lower high school math scores.
Kentucky’s early adoption of the tougher standards and its ongoing commitment to their use in the classroom has attracted national attention. Known nationally as the Common Core State Standards, and here as the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, the learning guidelines were developed by a consortium of 48 states to better prepare students to succeed in a globally competitive environment.
After Kentucky adopted the new approach, teachers statewide began the hard work of making them meaningful for student achievement. Much has been asked of the teachers, and they have been delivering.
Chamber provides business support
The business community, led by Kentucky Chamber members, has supported the educators’ efforts with an information campaign to build employer and public understanding of the new standards and what they will mean for improving workforce preparation. Advocacy groups, including usual political foes such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Education Association (the national teachers union) are publicly campaigning in support of the Common Core Standards.
The result in Kentucky – so far – has been less pushback against the more challenging learning guidelines than has emerged in a few other states. Some misunderstanding persists – such as the incorrect notions that the standards are an attempt by the federal government (i.e. President Obama) to control local schools or that the standards are actually a national curriculum.
As such, it is critical that employers and other proponents of high-performing schools encourage our legislators and other policy leaders to stay the course with the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. The Kentucky Chamber plans to continue doing just that.