Kentucky gets real about career readiness

Kentucky has gotten real about career readiness, writes Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton. High schools get the same reward for preparing graduates for “middle-skill” jobs as they do for preparing them for college.

In Louisville, Southern High’s machine tool program enables students to earn an industry-recognized machinist operator credential. The job starts at $15 an hour.

Southern High School teacher Matthew Haynes helps sophomore Dasani Johnson set up a lathe. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

Southern High School teacher Matthew Haynes helps sophomore Dasani Johnson set up a lathe. Photo: Emmanuel Felton

“When the Obama administration made some federal funding contingent on the adoption of college- and career-ready standards, most states decided college and career readiness were one and the same,” he writes.

In Kentucky, however, schools are encouraged to create direct-to-career paths with expectations “focused on technical skills and the ability to find and parse informational texts and apply math in occupational situations.”

At Southern High, which prepares students for many careers, Principal Bryce Hibbard hopes to link the auto shop with the student-run credit union, writes Felton.  “Auto shop students will fix donated cars which will then be sold to Southern’s seniors on a $1,000, 1 percent interest loan by students at the credit union.”

“When most states say college- and career-ready, they just mean college-ready,” says Robert Lerman, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population. “If you look at what amount of jobs require Algebra II, for example, it’s maybe 8 to 10 percent, and on the flip side there are all of these employability and occupational skills that students don’t learn and aren’t tested.”

Kentucky students must pass a college admission or placement test to be considered college ready. To be career ready, students must show pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test or ACT’s WorkKeys to demonstrate their math and literacy skills. In addition, they must earn an industry-recognized credential or pass a state occupational skills exam, based on industry standards.

Five years ago, only 13 percent of Southern students were considered ready for life after high school. That’s up to 57 percent, reports Felton. “Of the 270 students who graduated last spring, 117 were college-ready, 45 were ready for careers and 68 left ready for both.”

Kentucky, Georgia top NAEP Dishonor Roll 

Kentucky, Georgia and Maryland top Dropout Nation’s NAEP Dishonor Roll 2015 for excluding high percentages of special education and English Learner students from testing.

The U.S. Department of Education requires districts and states to test 95 percent of students and 85 percent of special ed and EL students. Some states are out of compliance.


Dropout Nation also looks at cities that exclude high percentages of special ed and EL students.

Washington D.C. Public Schools, which won praise for rising NAEP scores, “excluded as many as 44 percent of ELL fourth- and eighth-graders” from the reading exam, reports RiShawn Biddle.

Dallas “excluded 44 percent of fourth-grade kids in special ed, leading in that category, and ranked second behind the notorious Baltimore City school system (36 percent), by excluding 29 percent of eighth-graders who were special ed and had other disabilities,” reports Dropout Nation.

Kentucky leads the way on Core teaching

As an early implementer of Common Core standards in fall 2010, Kentucky is learning how to teach the Core, writes Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Freshmen in Kate Barrows’ English class at Liberty High School, an alternative school in Louisville, were trying to solve a crime. A wealthy man had received a letter demanding money, or else his daughter would be kidnapped. Barrows guided the students through a series of questions to identify the extortionist.

Was the writer male or female? They thought female: The writer asked for the money in a “pretty blue pocketbook.” Could it have been a professional gangster? A gangster would just rob you and wouldn’t bother with threatening notes, the class decided.

The exercise introduces students to the kind of analysis expected when they move on to harder texts, Barrows says.

In Karen Cash’s Algebra 2 class down the hall, students cut grid paper to make boxes, graphed the volume of the shapes they created, and wrote algebraic equations based on the patterns. Liberty’s math department has made it a point to have students work through the mathematical process on their own instead of listening to lectures. Students have a checklist to go through when they can’t solve a problem, before turning to the old default of asking a teacher. Questions on the checklist include: What information does the problem give us? Can we draw a picture?

It’s not easy to change teaching.  It’s even harder to raise test scores, which remain “dismal.”

Common Core demands more than Kentucky’s old standards, writes Butrymowicz. “For example, in math, the order of operations used to be covered late in the year in sixth grade; under the Common Core, fifth graders start with it on day one.”

Some students just aren’t ready, said Jason Cornett, who teaches math at Flat Lick Elementary School. “They’re still having trouble mastering the basics and you’re trying to add stuff on top.”

Fordham’s Common Core Watch is looking at how five states—Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York—are handling accountability in the Common Core era.  Here’s part one and part two.

Fordham; New science standards earn a C

Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and South Carolina earn A- grades in Fordham’s rating of science standards. The Next Generation Science Standards get a so-so C.

The NGSS fall short of excellence in several ways, including: overemphasis on practices over essential content; omission of much essential content; failure to integrate mathematics content that is essential to science learning; and use of “assessment boundaries” that put arbitrary ceilings on the content that will be assessed (and therefore taught) at each grade.

Most states are struggling to implement the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, Fordham observes. Adopting new science standards — even good ones — could be more than states can handle.

We caution against adopting any new standards until and unless the education system can be serious about putting them into operation across a vast enterprise that stretches from curriculum and textbooks to assessment and accountability regimes, from teacher preparation to graduation expectations, and much more. Absent thorough and effective implementation, even the finest of standards are but a hollow promise.

In Kentucky, NextGen Science Standards are controversial, reports Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters.  Kentucky is among the 26 “lead state partners” that helped develop the standards, but issues such as evolution and climate change have “sparked some pushback.”

Fordham gives Kentucky’s current science standards a D, saying they’re “vague” and short on content.

Too soon for Common Core tests?

Move ahead with Common Core testing, editorialized the New York Times on Sunday.  Tough new math and English tests “are an essential part of rigorous education reforms” designed to teach reasoning skills.

In Kentucky, the first state to adopt Common Core-aligned tests, the proportion of students rated “proficient” or better in math and reading dropped by about a third, notes the Times, which warns New Yorkers to prepare for a shock.

California won’t be ready for Common Core testing, which is scheduled to start in the 2014-15 school year, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. The state “hasn’t figured out how to go about training teachers, and won’t begin to adopt new textbooks — a slow and politically rancorous process — for at least two years.”

What’s more, common core is expensive, requiring extensive new training for teachers, new textbooks and computers on which the new tests must be taken. It’s unclear where the state will find the money.

At the rate the state is going, teachers will end up being trained before the English curriculum is even in place, and instruction would start before the new textbooks are in anyone’s hands. Yet if the school reform movement has its way, teachers will be evaluated in part based on how well their students do on the very different standardized tests that go with the new curriculum. Reflecting the concern that teachers throughout the state have been expressing, one California teacher recently tweeted that within a couple of years, “we start testing on standards we’re not teaching with curriculum we don’t have on computers that don’t exist.”

Teachers believe they’re being “set up for failure,” the editorial warns. Common Core will be “yet another education flash in the pan” unless it’s “carefully implemented with meaningful tests that are aligned with what the students are supposed to learn.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to cut off federal money to implement Common Core State Standards, but his proposal probably isn’t going anywhere.

Kentucky scores drop on core-aligned tests

Kentucky was the first state to adopt Common Core Standards and the first to align its state test to the new standards. Not surprisingly, scores are way down on the new core-aligned tests, reports Ed Week.

The share of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given.

“What you’re seeing in Kentucky is a predictor of what you’re going to see in the other states, as the assessments roll out next year and the year after,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Scores typically drop when any new test is introduced. Kentucky’s K-PREP is more rigorous than its predecessor.

Most Common Core Standards states are expected to use tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Learning ‘on demand,’ in bite-sized pieces

Kentuckians can complete self-paced, online modules in as little as three weeks, earning community college credits that can be “stacked” to earn vocational certificates or associate degrees. Learn on Demand is designed for working adults, but on-campus students are signing up too.

Also on Community College Spotlight: The real trouble with online education is that critics won’t give it a chance.

Ready or not: Tracking grads’ outcomes

College and career readiness is all the rage, but only 13 percent of high school educators track their graduates’ academic performance in college, notes Education Sector in announcing Data That Matters: Giving High Schools Useful Feedback on Grads’ Outcomes by Anne Hyslop.

Now over 40 states can collect information about college readiness. Yet fewer—only eight—are using that information in ways that can materially improve college preparation.

High schools brag about how many students go on to college. But how many have to take remedial classes? How many give up in the first year?

Kentucky high schools made changes after discovering how many graduates were struggling in college, reports Education Week.

Kyle Fannin thought he was doing a good job as a teacher of U.S. history and AP American government at Woodford County High School in Versailles, Ky. “By all outward appearances, we were a great school,” said Mr. Fannin, as students scored well on tests and AP exams. But the data told a different story.

Some Woodford students who had received state scholarships based on merit had lost their funding because they weren’t maintaining a 3.0 GPA in college. Other data showed more of the students taking remedial math and English in college than the school had expected. When Mr. Fannin would talk to returning students, they would tell him that finals “killed” them. In high school, final exams counted for only 10 percent of their grades.

Armed with that information, the school made changes. More reading was assigned, including primary sources, and longer periods of sustained reading were included in classes. Finals counted for a bigger part of their grades.

Eastern Kentucky University is working with high school teachers to reduce the number of students needing remedial classes.


More states plan to defy NCLB

Idaho, Montana and South Dakota plan to ignore No Child Left Behind’s proficiency targets, unless Congress acts to modify the law, reports Ed Week.  The three states have told Education Secretary Arne Duncan they’ll “stop the clock as the 2014 deadline approaches for bringing all students to proficiency in math and language arts” to limit the number of schools that face penalties for failure to make progress.

Kentucky has asked permission to use its own accountability system.

The Education Department has offered waivers only to states that agree to federally approved reforms. Roll-your-own waiver is not an option, said Justin Hamilton, the department spokesperson, on Tuesday.


Singapore math in Kentucky

Singapore math is working in Fayette County, Kentucky, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Nine schools are using textbooks based on the curriculum used in high-scoring Singapore.

So-called “Singapore math” features problems that often are more complex than American textbooks contain. It demands deep mastery of a few math concepts, rather than an overview of many different ideas.

Jessica Alt, a fifth-grade teacher, says some students who were two years below grade level in the fall scored at or above grade level half way through the year.

Singapore math “is expected to fit nicely with new, narrower and deeper math standards that Kentucky education leaders will be adopting soon.”

“Before, we would touch on a math concept, get the kids comfortable with it and then move on to something else,” (teacher Polly Anna) Cox said. “We went so fast that sometimes it could be frustrating. But with Math in Focus, we might spend a couple of months on just one concept. The students really understand it before we move on.”

Teachers are getting nearly 100 hours of training in how to use Singapore math.