The Chinese symbol for crisis can represent both danger and opportunity. The anxiously awaited release of last spring’s testing results from the first-year of Kentucky’s “Unbridled Learning” education overhaul provides a “textbook” reflection of that duality.
Educators are great at using symbols, jargon and acronyms that mean little to the general public. So in the plainest of terms, here’s what districts statewide, including our own, are all looking at today.
Test scores across the board are lower. Period.
And if you stop reading right there, it sounds bleak.
But just like the Chinese symbol, this seeming “crisis” represents the first step in a positive change that is happening in Kentucky education today.
The danger is reading too many negatives into this first round of results, and not realizing fully the tremendous opportunity these new measures represent for students, employers and communities like ours all across the Commonwealth. And it’s about far more than test scores.
When our legislature passed Senate Bill 1 in 2009, not only did they totally revamp Kentucky’s education system, they moved us beyond satisfaction with simple proficiency. Today, “College and Career Readiness for All” permeates every phase of education from preschool through graduation.
In the clearest of terms, the bar has been raised for each and every one of us - educators and students alike - to achieve at entirely new levels. With our sights set higher, we know there will be the inevitable growing pains that are experienced anytime we venture beyond certain levels of comfort. And yet, in doing so, we unlock a whole new realm of potential possibilities and increased opportunity through education.
Do we always want our children to “hit it out of the park”? You bet! But if the fence is moved, don’t we encourage and help them succeed during their period of adjustment? Kentucky’s education fence has, indeed been moved. It will take a while to get where we want to be, but the ultimate payoff will be huge - for all of us.
Parents, maybe you get a new job or a promotion. As you adjust to a new environment with increased expectations and a totally different review process it’s going to be uncomfortable for a while. You’re used to being “distinguished” in your previous position. Your skills are the same, but you may only be “proficient” as you adjust.
And yet you know that by continuing to reach and grow, the rewards ahead will be far greater than the discomfort you feel now - more money, another promotion, the opportunity to better provide for your family. But you wouldn’t have had those opportunities if you hadn’t gone through the growing pains.
Employers, this journey will lead to great things not only for our students, but also for you. The transition to a “college and career readiness” mindset is already transforming the way our district is working with local businesses and industry. Employers can be assured that our graduates will be even better prepared and “career ready” to contribute to their success and to their bottom line. And our students will know that a good-paying, local job can await them upon graduation.
Our community, like countless others across the state, has long held regret that so many of our own leave for college or other opportunities they don’t see here and they never come back. A “college and career readiness” mentality will prepare them now for the many and varied opportunities right here at home. Opportunities which make us a more attractive place for them to consider living and working. Enhancing the strength of our workforce through preparation as early as preschool will certainly, over time, make us even more attractive to prospective industry, as well.
And as we open these young minds to an even more thriving base of home-grown opportunity, we just may see some of those who journey away ultimately return to work, start businesses of their own and raise their families.
Those with a vested interest in our community want more for it - and for themselves. As we pull out all stops to work through the challenges that come with this change; as we encourage both our children and our educators alike, we will enable our young people to exit high school with more options than ever before – whether college or career. And they will be better equipped to succeed – regardless of their destination.
We all say we want what’s best for our kids. Kentucky has given us new guidelines to “put our money where our mouth is” and give them just that. Like anything worth having, it’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s not going to be easy. But it’s the ultimate goal you keep moving toward and progress is made even in small steps. To grow and change, we must stretch the edges of what is safe and predictable.
This is a benchmark year. We are all starting from ground zero, with a new road map, on a new path that will have its share of bumps. But it’s a path that will provide our students with higher expectations and more options in education, in careers and in training than ever before. Coupled with the continuous improvements consistently being made by our district, they will be empowered to make more informed choices and better decisions while in school, leading to better prospects for successful careers and a good living in their futures.
And that will be “Unbridled Learning” at its best.