FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s new education commissioner announced plans Thursday to broaden math and English standards and acknowledged that the system of assessing student achievement remains “a work in progress.”
Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who assumed the job about three months ago, also said he wants a statewide accountability system that stresses the good along with the bad in education.
“I do not want an accountability system that just clubs people over the head,” Pruitt said. “I want one that’s going to celebrate the good things that are going on in schools.”
Pruitt offered some broad goals while giving a performance review of Kentucky’s public education system.
He noted big gains in Kentucky’s high school graduation rate, the number of high scores in Advanced Placement exams and in college and career readiness. Problems persist, he said, including struggles in middle school math and lagging academic performance among students from low-income households.
During his hourlong presentation, Pruitt said the state’s math and English standards would be expanded. He said calculus would be added to math standards and cursive writing would be added to English standards.
“That’s one of the things I’ve heard from teachers, especially elementary teachers, as I travel around the state,” he said of the cursive addition. “I’ve heard it from a lot of parents that there’s concern about kids not learning cursive writing.”
Those are among the changes he envisions to academic standards once the state Department of Education receives more feedback from legislators, parents, educators and others.
Pruitt also weighed in on statewide assessments meant to track student achievement and to hold schools accountable. Those assessments are in need of constant review, he said.
“The rigor and reliability of our state assessments continues to be a work in progress,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said that on average, administering Kentucky’s state-level assessments take less than 1 percent of total instructional time in a school year.
Meanwhile, Pruitt declined to take a stance on pending legislation that would create a new review structure for state academic standards. The bill is a top priority of state Senate Republicans. Under the measure, academic standards and assessments would be reviewed every six years for replacement or revision.
The bill has not yet received a hearing from the Senate Education Committee.
Pruitt also was asked about whether charter schools should be allowed to open in Kentucky — another issue that could come up during the current legislative session. He responded that while working in Georgia, he saw charter schools that worked well and others that didn’t.
“If given the right conditions, they have shown some quality improvement for students,” he said. “They will not be for every district. They won’t be for every kid.”
On school finance, Pruitt noted that Kentucky’s adjusted per-pupil expenditure is $1,260 below the national average. About 16 percent of Kentucky’s students attend schools in districts with per-pupil expenditures at or above the national average, he noted. Nationally, the number is 41.5 percent.
School funding will be a key issue as Kentucky lawmakers craft a new two-year state budget later in this year’s General Assembly session.