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Kentucky blazes new education path

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Early this month, we took another major step forward with the release of the latest round of school accountability scores.

Our goal is to truly see where our students stand against their counterparts across the country and around the world.  Rather than testing whether they have a good understanding of the material, we want to know if they are on the way to being ready for college and a career – the benchmark that counts most.

As state officials predicted, this change in testing caused a deep dip in scores.  In 2010-11, for example, three-fourths of elementary school students were considered proficient or better in reading, but in the latest scores, that figure dropped by a third.

In high school, meanwhile, a little less than half of Kentucky’s 43,000 graduating seniors last year were considered college- or career-ready, though that was an improvement over the previous school year.

Our average graduation rate has also ticked up slightly, but nearly one of four high school freshmen still doesn’t graduate with his or her class.  That’s one reason why we in the Kentucky House have been pushing to increase our drop out age, something more than 30 other states have already done.

The Office of Education Accountability (OEA).  This legislative branch agency took an in-depth look at teacher shortages across the state and how they are being overcome.

Overall, it found that Kentucky follows the national average almost exactly when it comes to teacher attrition.  About 15 percent leave their school annually, though nearly half of those are just moving to another school, either in their district or elsewhere in the state.  Of the remainder, two percent retire, one percent become school administrators and five percent choose to leave the profession altogether, at least temporarily.

OEA found two seemingly opposite trends are taking place in Kentucky’s schools.  While newer teachers are more likely to leave the classroom – about a third of teachers who began their careers in 2008 are no longer teaching – the percentage nearing retirement is down as well.  A decade ago, nearly a fourth of all teachers had 20 or more years of experience, but now the total is less than a fifth.

Another positive trend is that emergency certificates have declined sharply since 2000 while the number of alternative teaching certificates has risen about as fast.  Although many teachers go through the traditional route of majoring in education in college, Kentucky has eight other methods in which teachers can become certified.

That includes obtaining a degree with a major in the relevant subject they want to teach, which is the most popular of the eight, while others range from being a veteran, having exceptional work experience or being a college professor.   Between 2008 and 2012, about a fifth of all new teachers got their job through one of these alternative routes.

As for those who major in education, OEA found that some subjects are proving to be more popular than others.  Consider that there are nearly twice as many college students completing their degree in middle school math education than high school math education, and there appears to be a shortage of teachers when it comes to science classes in high school.

A highlight for this profession is that Kentucky is among the nation’s leaders when counting the number of teachers certified by the prestigious National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  More than 2,100 have passed this rigorous test, which puts us 11th among the states.  About two-thirds of our schools have at least one of these teachers, but the General Assembly’s goal is for every school to have one by 2020.

State Representative Rick Rand