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Pruitt says rewrite of federal, state laws won’t hinder recent work to create new accountability system

By Brad Hughes
Special to KyForward

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt says the year-long work to redesign Kentucky’s school accountability system isn’t threatened by either Senate Bill 1 – still pending in the 2017 legislature – which will dictate some aspects of the system, or by the Trump administration drafting new regulations on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) after Congress voided the existing rules.

Speaking Wednesday night with the eNews Service after a Louisville forum on the proposed accountability system, Pruitt expressed confidence that both parallel activities in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., will enhance the ultimate replacement for the existing Unbridled Learning system.

Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt (left) talks with Jefferson County Board of Education member Benh Gies after a Louisville town hall forum on school accountability Wednesday night. (Photo Provided)

“No, there’s going to be some tweaks we’re going to have to make in terms of language, but actually Senate Bill 1 did a really nice job of letting the process go forward,” Pruitt said of the bill that is back in the Senate for final consideration of amendments added in the House. Final action must come by March 30.

Among the sweeping changes required in SB 1, a new school accountability system must measure improvement results looking at student academic growth over three years as compared to similar schools; measures progress toward English proficiency, quality of school climate and safety, high school graduation rates and postsecondary readiness; gives local districts more say in how low-performing schools would be improved; deletes program reviews for future assessments of progress; and establishes a new process for approval of future academic standards.

Under the new system, which a team of KDE staff and statewide steering committee is working on, schools and districts will receive an overall rating of Outstanding, Excellent, Good, Fair, Concern or Intervention based on performance on five indicators:

* Proficiency – student performance on state tests in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, language mechanics and writing
* Growth (Elementary and Middle School Levels) – whether and how quickly students are improving academically
* Achievement Gap – marked by the disparity in performance between student groups with a goal of reducing the gap by moving all students to higher levels and moving those at the lowest levels more rapidly
* Transition Readiness – exposure to (Elementary School) and exploration of (Middle School) careers and essential skills; Graduation Rate and Academic, Career and Military Readiness (High school), and
* Opportunity and Access – measures that support the whole child and also look at whether students have the opportunity to learn and have equitable access to advanced coursework

Pruitt was in Washington Monday with other state chief school officials for a meeting with new U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The session included discussions about the Trump administration’s plans for crafting new ESSA rules following the recent congressional revocation of the regulations adopted by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

“Secretary DeVos said she felt like her job was to ensure that her department doesn’t get in the way,” Pruitt said. “She has committed that they are going to be clear about the peer review process and, if we’re following the law, we should be allowed to do what we want to do.”

The commissioner said conversations with some of his peers about how their states are going to comply with ESSA left him even more confident of the outcome of a Kentucky Department of Education working group that began drafting a new model accountability system in 2016.

“After hearing what other states are doing, I’m actually emboldened even more, especially around our focus on opportunity and achievement gaps,” Pruitt said. “I think this will put us in a class by ourselves.”

At its February meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education indicated it would consider first reading of the accountability system proposal at its April 12 meeting. The next meeting of the department’s Education Accountability Steering Committee is set for March 31.

Brad Hughes writes for the Kentucky School Boards Association

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