Continuous Improvement Approach
It seems simple enough. All states need to do to meet the challenge of college and career readiness for all students is to align all the systems that support the goal. After all, systems alignment is a business principle that has been recognized as effective for decades. Schools should be able to do that. Shouldn’t we? In Kentucky, the process of systems alignment has been very difficult and is still ongoing; however, there were several crucial steps on the journey that we will describe in this article. The steps are modeled after a continuous improvement approach of defining customer requirements, analyzing current performance, leadership setting a vision and specific goals to meet customer requirements, implementing an action plan and processes to reach the goals, and publicly reporting progress toward the goals.
The customer requirements were defined by the Kentucky General Assembly with legislation passed in 2009. The legislation required the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to work collaboratively to increase the percentage of high school graduates who are college- and career- ready. The legislation required adoption of academic standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies that were nationally and internationally benchmarked. Additionally, the legislation required new assessments aligned to the standards, an accountability model based on the standards, and professional development and support for educators who were charged with implementing the standards and assessments.
The legislation led the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) to adopt a strategic plan called Unbridled Learning. This plan established clear priorities for Next- Generation Learning, Next-Generation Professionals, Next-Generation Support Systems and Next-Generation Schools and Districts. The plan established SMART goals for each of the priorities.
Perhaps the most challenging part of a continuous improvement system is the translation of the goals into specific actions and processes at each level of the system.
One of the SMART goals for Next-Generation Learning is that Kentucky will improve the college and career readiness rate from 34 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2015. The partnership between KDE and CPE led to clear measures for this goal. All higher education institutions in Kentucky agreed to benchmark scores for the ACT and COMPASS® assessments that would allow high school graduates to enter a credit-bearing course. The KBE added measures for career readiness that include academic measures (ACT, COMPASS®, WorkKeys® and a state-developed math placement exam, KYOTE) and technical measures (occupational testing and national industry certification).
Actions to Meet Goals
Perhaps the most challenging part of a continuous improvement system is the translation of the goals into specific actions and processes at each level of the system. The delivery chain from KDE to school systems to schools to teachers and classrooms to students and parents had to be aligned to the state goals, and the actions at each level had to lead to improved performance. KDE worked closely with the Education Delivery Institute to define annual targets for every school system and school in Kentucky that became the annual targets for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability waiver and specific strategies that would enable every system and school to reach the annual targets.
The next part of the challenge was to have a system that supported schools and school systems in translating state goals, annual targets and strategies into specific actions at the system, school, classroom and student levels. KDE partnered with AdvancED to implement a statewide consolidated school and system improvement process that is data-driven and focused on the improvement of student achievement and organizational effectiveness, which meets the requirements for major state and federal programs and priorities while being aligned to AdvancED accreditation requirements. The initial implementation and deployment of the system to support this process through AdvancED’s ASSIST™ (Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools), began in the fall of 2012.
Support for Educators
The final piece of the continuous improvement system is the support for schools and classroom teachers with key processes aligned to the goals and strategies of the state strategic plan. Connecting and aligning school systems and school actions to the Kentucky Board of Education goals in order to get the work done will be accomplished through the expectation that each school and school system will construct their comprehensive system and school improvement plans using the ASSIST tool. Through using common needs assessments and diagnostics available through ASSIST as well as Kentucky-specific instruments like The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle, a parent engagement analysis rubric, schools will develop profiles, write executive summaries and set goals aligned with Kentucky Board of Education goals. In addition, the activities align with those identified as best practice in the Kentucky Delivery Plans at the state level.
In addition to ASSIST, with support from the Race to the Top award, Kentucky partnered with SchoolNet and Pearson to develop the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS). This system provides educators with 24/7 access to the standards in student-friendly language, instructional resources aligned to the standards, formative assessments, professional development aligned to the standards, and a teacher effectiveness/evaluation system aligned to the standards and student learning outcomes.
The Kentucky goal of increasing the percentage of students who graduate with the skills needed for college and career readiness is important to our students, their families and the economic vitality of the state. We are well on our way to reaching that goal based on the first two years of data. A key lesson learned is that a continuous improvement approach takes many partners working together to reach common goals.