Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

April 25, 2011

Teachers grapple with new standards

BOWLING GREEN — The Kentucky education system is in a bit of a turmoil, thanks to a piece of legislation called Senate Bill 1.

SB1 is a 76-page bill that calls for more rigorous learning standards in order to ensure more Kentucky students graduate high school being college or career ready, and it requires collaboration with postsecondary institutions to make sure that goal is accomplished.

On Thursday, the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Kentucky Center for Mathematics, the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development, the Kentucky Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the University of Kentucky College of Education’s Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab presented an informational workshop for educators about SB1 at the Knicely Conference Center on Western Kentucky University’s south campus in Bowling Green. Although geared toward university education professors and administrators, some local teachers and administrators attended the workshop.

Andy Moore, agriculture teacher at Barren County High School, said he went to the workshop to learn more about SB1 and see how the new standards would affect his ag classes.

“I knew just the basics ... I did get a lot of details that helped me understand it better,” Moore said.

Moore was one of many at Thursday’s workshop who started the day knowing “just the basics.” When asked to rate their understanding of Senate Bill 1 on a scale of one to five, only a handful of the workshop attendees rated their knowledge above a three.

Senate Bill 1 was passed in 2009 because only about a third of Kentucky students were considered college ready at the end of high school, and the legislature decided that changes needed to be made across the board, from elementary through postsecondary education, to increase the number of Kentucky high school graduates who are college and career ready.

Senate Bill 1 must be implemented by 2012, with certain goals met by 2014, and its impact on local teachers will be profound. SB1 addresses each facet of education, from assessments in elementary through high school to the postsecondary classes provided to education majors in universities. This bill is the first piece of education reform that addresses both P-12 (preschool through 12th grade) education and postsecondary education in the same legislation.

“Senate Bill 1 basically underscores that we are all in this together,” said workshop presenter Starr Lewis, assistant to the dean for teacher education partnerships at the University of Louisville.

The development of SB1’s higher standards will begin with a new system of assessing students throughout their P-12 education. Prior to Senate Bill 1, Kentucky focused on summative assessments, meaning the assessment of what has been learned at the end of a unit or school year. With SB1, Kentucky educators will form a balanced system of summative, formative and interim assessments, with a focus on formative assessment. The formative assessment approach means students will be assessed on a daily basis through a variety of methods.

The new assessment system will start at the beginning of a child’s education, so even elementary school educators must pay attention to Senate Bill 1 requirements. If we’re preparing our elementary students for middle school, and the middle school is preparing them for high school, then the students are more likely to succeed in high school and be prepared for college, said Tompkinsville Elementary principal Kirk Biggerstaff.

“It’s really from a bottom-up approach to make sure our students are prepared,” said Biggerstaff, who also attended the workshop at WKU.

Biggerstaff has taken a keen interest in Senate Bill 1 and the new standards it sets forth, and he said the Monroe County district has already done a lot of work on SB1.

“I feel like our district has done a good job of getting on top of this,” he said.

It’s important that every time there is change, there is leadership that believes the change is a positive thing, he added.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing,” he said. “Anything that enhances our student learning is a good thing.”

But even with positive leadership, the change will be hard on teachers across the state. Moore said that he truly believes Senate Bill 1 has the potential to positively impact students, but he is realistic in his belief that the radical change will be difficult for many teachers, and there are always problems that come along with new policies.

“I think completely systematic changes as often as we have them is hard on the teachers,” Moore said. “Sometimes there is so much policy and regulation and new updates, I feel like that’s all you do …

“It’s difficult, I can’t say that enough. It’s a complex thing.”

Several teachers at the workshop commented that the onslaught of SB1 changes will likely lead many older teachers to retire earlier than planned, rather than change the way they’ve been teaching for the last two decades.

Moore said that it is easy to get bent out of shape over education reforms if one doesn’t like change, but it’s part of the job.

“It’s just a known fact in education that there’s always going to be change, and every time you get used to the system they’re going to change it,” Moore said, and he pointed out that as with all education reform policies, as SB1 is implemented, “they’re gonna find problems. There will always be problems.” His biggest concern is that by the time the 2014 deadline rolls around for meeting the goals of the bill, problems with the bill will be apparent and changes will already be under way.

This legislation will be the first major education reform Moore has faced, being only a fourth year teacher, but he is optimistic that his ag classes at Barren County won’t have to change much. The classes are very career-preparatory and well rounded, involving a lot of practical math, biology and on-demand writing.

Moore said he doesn’t want to give the impression that the ag department does no wrong, but “I think we have a really good start to what Senate Bill 1 is.”

Biggerstaff is also looking at SB1 with an optimistic mindset. Monroe County had 46-61 percent of its students deemed college/career ready in 2010, giving it one of the highest college/career ready percentages in Kentucky. His district has worked very hard in recent years, Biggerstaff said, and he gives credit to the teachers in the district for being on board with the new SB1 standards and preparing themselves for the changes.

“I think our teachers are ready … I’ll have to give them kudos for that,” Biggerstaff said.

It is very important for all the teachers to be informed about Senate Bill 1 and make sure they are on board in order for the reform to work correctly, Moore said. All teachers should attend a similar workshop to learn more about what the bill will mean to them. It is up to the teachers to make sure that they do everything they can to make Senate Bill 1 a positive thing for the students.

“Any time we can do something that will help students be more successful in the world because they are higher educated and more academic, that’s what we need to do,” Moore said.

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