Now, not next year, is time to speak out on assessment/accountability system

By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services

Almost from the moment Kentucky implemented the Unbridled Learning assessment and accountability system in 2011, local leaders have voiced concerns. And state leaders have called for patience.

After each of the first two years’ worth of test results came out, superintendents have questioned a variety of issues in the state’s measurement of academic progress. A particular point of anxiety has been how student growth is measured and accounted for in the elementary grades. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and other Kentucky Department of Education officials have insisted that a minimum of three years of data are needed before changes should be made.

This month, educators, parents, the public and the news media will be digging into the results of Year 3 of Unbridled Learning. This year’s data has added significance on one point – it’s the trigger year for a full-blown review of how the system is working to gauge K-12 learning – student by student, school by school and district by district.

KDE’s stated timetable for making any changes to Unbridled Learning points to action by the Kentucky Board of Education in February or March of next year. But the review process is well underway and local leaders who want to impact the matter need to get it in gear now, not several months down the road.

Formal listening underway
In a mid-June Fast Five on Friday email, Holliday unveiled the KDE Office of Assessment and Accountability’s plan for gathering feedback on Unbridled Learning. It began with summer sessions with groups representing superintendents, school board members, principals and teachers and the district assessment coordinator network. According to the commissioner’s Fast Five note, the collection of ideas will culminate at the Sept. 11 summit of all of the state’s superintendents.

The public had its chance – briefly – during a three-week online survey last month. Announcing the survey in a news release, Holliday said his agency was “making good on our word to look at the accountability model after the first three years.”
A report with details of the comments by the public and educators is to be presented at the Oct. 7 meeting of the state board.

The rest of the timetable calls for a draft regulation on any changes in the assessment and accountability system by the KDE’s December meeting. That will be followed by a public review and comment period. Holliday recently told a regional educational cooperative audience that he expects the final KBE action on such a regulation to come in February or March. And that’s smack in the middle of the 2015 General Assembly, wherein the commissioner has stated he expects a legislative battle on a critical aspect of Unbridled Learning – measuring student learning using the common core standards.

Speak out now

Operating in the real world of government work, KDE staff had started long before the listening period to craft improvements in the system. There were clear signs of that commitment, albeit unstated, in public conversations between agency officials and superintendents over the past two years.

Another reality of developing government regulations is that effecting change is bolstered by getting in the game early. Each new draft of a reg has more built-in ownership by the crafters of the language. That makes input at this month’s superintendents’ summit and any advisory group meeting for the rest of the year a much better opportunity for having an impact than waiting to act after the draft regulation is made public in December.

To be sure, there will be discussions, negotiations, proposals and counterproposals almost up to the point of final implementation. But for local leaders who really want to see specific amendments to Unbridled Learning, now is the time to be a player.

The Last Word

Few things should matter more in assessing the work of school board members and superintendents than the academic progress in their districts. It’s a key part of the new superintendent evaluation model, and it will be a consideration when voters go to the polls on Nov. 4.

That makes your voice and your opinion worth considering if you make the effort to share them.

And that’s a message worth getting out.

Thanks to Brad Hughes for permission to share this piece, originally published in the Get Your Message Out column of the Kentucky School AdvocateSeptember 2014.

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