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Education commissioner, other top officials attempt to quell growing concerns about support for the arts


By Brad Hughes
Special to KyForward

Top officials of the Kentucky Department of Education attempted to quell growing concerns across the state that a recent decision regarding arts-related career pathways for students signals a lack of support for school programs such as band, chorus, drama and related subjects.

Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and Associate Commissioner Amanda Ellis began the agency’s monthly superintendent webinar with an unannounced topic: mounting questions about how classes in various forms of art will be considered in students and schools meeting college and career readiness targets.

“I want everybody to hear this crystal clear. We are committed – I am 100 percent committed – to our students having a well-rounded education and that needs to include fine arts. One of my children went all the way through school and took four years of band. My daughter will go through four years of orchestra. So I’m a believer that that’s made a huge difference in their lives. “We are going to continue to really be focused and supportive of the fine arts.”
— Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt

In KDE’s Oct. 16 Fast Five on Friday email, Pruitt announced that the “Arts Pathways and Capstone Assessment Plan” pilot program had failed to meet criteria set by the agency for including arts-related courses in the state’s assessment and accountablity system.

During two regional education cooperative meetings this week, several superintendents voiced concerns about the decision. One worried students might have to drop out of band or chorus to take other courses that would keep them on track to earn the important college/career readiness status.

In the Oct. 16 email, Pruitt said, “We do not feel we can justify the release of the capstone assessments as a formal career readiness component because two criteria are not met. A search and review of arts career opportunities in the Commonwealth also was done. What was discovered is that there are going to be very limited opportunities for careers in the arts over the next ten years.”

[A “capstone assessment” has been described as an end-of-course examination or certification, sometimes through internships, which assess a student’s mastery of knowledge and skills toward a career or postsecondary studies.]

Thursday, Pruitt said,“The first pilot just really wasn’t successful. It just didn’t get us where we need to be. This was kind of a reminder that pilots have end dates and with those end dates come evaluation of data to determine what our next steps should be.”

Ellis said, “Our criteria are recognized, endorsed or required by industry, written or verified by national or state industry, and curriculum aligned with state or national standards. Certification must be an end-of-program assessment related to the student’s identified career pathway.”

Both Ellis and Pruitt emphasized several times that no one should assumed the agency’s actions reflect soft support for arts programs in K-12 schools.

“We just approved the arts standards that are being implemented,” Ellis said. “There are arts industry certifications which have national industrial certifications. So it’s not that it’s overlooked by any means.”

She said the department’s career and technical education “clusters” demonstrate a commitment to arts-related pathways such as video production, graphic design, communications, audio/video and advertising – all of which have industry-based certifications.

“We do value the arts. Clearly, it is of value and something we see as being necessary for all students,” Ellis said.

Pruitt stressed he felt agency staff had done solid work, and that discussions on a “different type of methodology” and a new pilot will be undertaken very quickly, adding, “We’ve had quality fine arts programs before this; we should have them after this. But we have a moral obligation to be honest with our students.”

“I want everybody to hear this crystal clear. We are committed – I am 100 percent committed – to our students having a well-rounded education and that needs to include fine arts. One of my children went all the way through school and took four years of band. My daughter will go through four years of orchestra. So I’m a believer that that’s made a huge difference in their lives,” Pruitt said. “We are going to continue to really be focused and supportive of the fine arts.”

The KDE October superintendent’s webinar will be archived on the agency’s website in the near future. Other topics covered during the 45-minute session were the KDE/Kentucky Board of Education budget priorities for the 2016 legislative session and a review of the recently-released K-PREP scores.

Brad Hughes is director of member support for the Kentucky School Boards Association and writes for its eNews service.


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