Commentary: Why We Can't Afford to Stop Pushing Students

Paducah, KY – Dr. Nancy Moore Waldrop is Superintendent of McCracken County Public Schools. In the first of a series of commentaries about what's happening in education, Dr. Waldrop says we "cannot afford to stop pushing" students to learn.

Another school year is upon us. It's an exciting time full of change, full of promise. There is nothing static about education at any level in your local schools big and important things are happening.

Public educators across the state are responding to the requirements of Senate Bill 1 of 2009. It is the largest school reform since KERA of 1990. It hasn't been as cussed or discussed as KERA was, but don't underestimate the importance of this Bill. It is the roadmap for continuing the transformation of education in Kentucky.

Senate Bill 1 will be rolled out over the course of the next three years. It calls for new, more rigorous academic standards. It focuses on college and career readiness. Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. These standards are now common among 50 states and territories.

You can imagine the challenge of changing what we teach in every classroom in the district. I am particularly proud of McCracken Co. teachers who have published a year's worth of work on the new standards. This work clearly defines what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. This is the work Senate Bill 1 has set before us.

New standards called for new testing. Senate Bill 1 requires new ways of measuring our schools' success at teaching and our student's achievement at learning.

School districts have lived under two accountability systems for the past 10 years. The federal law, No Child Left Behind brought many important issues to district accountability. However, that law has well-documented flaws. It is thumbs up or thumbs down. If a district makes 99% of their goals, then the district fails. That's just one example of the flawed measures. There are several.

Kentucky is developing a new, solid, accountability system; one held in high esteem on the national level. It may become the national model.

We will, in Kentucky, be able to track the progress of each student from elementary through graduation; for years we have needed longitudinal profiles.

Individual student growth is an integral part of Senate Bill 1. Does each child show a year of academic growth for a year of instruction? It sounds simple, but this is the first time it has been included in the school's assessment. Growth applies to all children, to gifted and talented as well as those who are challenged in reading or math.

We will be able to compare our children's scores on international benchmarks. We can compare our students' progress from Heath High School to Singapore, Algebra II end-of-course exams from McCracken County to Pike County. We will measure our progress against the global standards of learning.

The current levels of proficiency that McCracken County and other districts have obtained will become the baseline from which we are to grow. Don't be off-put when Kentucky districts are judged to need improvement. The proficiency we have achieved during our years of reform now becomes the starting line. Our current proficiency is the bottom rung of the new ladder that we will begin to climb.

Successful public education requires strong community support, your support. We will get pushback from some who don't want increased rigor.

We will all hear opposition like, "It's too much on our kids," opposition like, "We can't afford it!" What we cannot afford is to stop pushing. Our kids don't have much of a chance without being ready for college or having career training.

We need for you to join with the education community to understand this reform and to stay the course.

Now when you visit our schools you will know more of the behind-the- scenes work taking place not only to support students academically, but also to ensure a life of opportunities.

Dr. Nancy Moore Waldrop is Superintendent of McCracken County Public Schools. This is the first in a series of commentaries about public education in Kentucky.