Unbridled Learning beats NCLB program

Terry Holliday Published:

Kentucky’s selection as one of 11 states to receive flexibility under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act reinforces the Commonwealth’s position as a leader in innovative P-12 education efforts.
NCLB was implemented more than 10 years ago, and it had the right vision. It forced us to raise achievement and expectations for all children. However, it also allowed states to lower standards in order to meet the proficiency requirements, labeled schools making progress as “failing” and in the process, has let down many of the children it was originally designed to help.
NCLB’s all-or-nothing approach did not provide an accurate or reliable picture of what is happening in our schools. But, with the flexibility Kentucky received, we can replace this approach with one that is more rigorous and balanced.
Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning: College/Career Ready for All assessment and accountability system was developed with significant input from educators and partners and emphasizes college/career readiness – a key measure of 2009’s Senate Bill 1. This forward-thinking legislation, which passed unanimously, gave our state a leg up in the waiver process.
The Unbridled Learning accountability system, approved by the Kentucky Board of Education, is designed to be a broader, more reasonable and balanced system of accountability than NCLB. It uses the rigorous Kentucky Core Academic Standards as its foundation and focuses not only on student achievement toward proficiency in basic skills, but also on student academic growth. It fosters the closing of achievement gaps; requires improvements in college/career-readiness rates; and encourages higher graduation rates.
The Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests for students, which are part of the Unbridled Learning system, will show how well schools are moving all students toward proficiency – not only in reading and mathematics, but in subjects like social studies, science and writing. Program Reviews in arts and humanities and practical living/career studies will provide information about the strength of and access to those programs. End-of-course exams at high school will give students a stake in their schools’ performance.
The new accountability model doesn’t ignore the issue of persistently low-achieving schools, but will give us a more in-depth look at how those schools are performing and where they need to improve. It will provide the support and assistance required for better teaching and learning. And by recognizing school and district progress, it inspires true success.
The flexibility under NCLB means that there no longer will be two measures of accountability for Kentucky’s public schools, as had been the case. The Unbridled Learning system will meet the needs of both state and federal requirements, leading to less confusion for parents and citizens.
Each year, an overall score on a scale of 0 to 100 will be provided for each school and district, allowing parents, educators and communities to easily see how well their local schools are doing. Behind that overall score will be in-depth data that provide specific details about performance, preparation and work to reach annual goals.
Simply put, Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning accountability system provides what it takes to bring about meaningful change that will benefit all Kentucky students.
We are asking for parents, communities, business leaders and elected officials to continue to support their schools and educators as they implement this more-rigorous system. This work benefits every resident of the Commonwealth, because the ultimate goal of college and career readiness for our students will translate into better employment opportunities for them and an improved economy for Kentucky.
Kentucky’s proud and recognized tradition of education reform is based on our ability to come together, cooperate and collaborate for the good of our students, our schools and our state. If we are to have the education system our children deserve, it’s more important now than ever before that we keep that tradition alive.
I invite readers to visit the Unbridled Learning section on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website at www.education.ky.gov to get more details on the new accountability model, academic standards and more.
Terry Holliday is Kentucky’s commissioner of education.

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