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How could new KDE requirements affect Danville, Boyle? Principals say proposed changes wouldn’t hurt graduation rates

Leaders at Danville and Boyle County high schools are optimistic about pending changes to Kentucky’s graduation requirements.

The Kentucky Board of Education voted unanimously Oct. 3 to move forward with new requirements that would place added emphasis on being ready for a career or college upon graduation — what’s now being called “transition readiness.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis argued in favor of the new requirements because many Kentucky students are not proficient in important areas such as reading and math, according to a news release from the Kentucky Department of Education.

“Nonetheless, Kentucky boasts one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country — awarding 93 percent of its 12-grade students a high school diploma,” the release states.

“We have to do something different,” Lewis said in the release. “If we cannot ensure that students … have basic foundational skills in mathematics, the jobs that require those skills in our economy will be closed to them.”

The release cites stats from the Kentucky Center for Statistics, showing that only 6,851 students out of 37,217 graduates from 2010 completed a four-year degree. The Class of 2010 is earning an average annual wage of $33,793.

“Rather than celebrate our high school graduation rate, we should hang our heads in shame that what we’ve given to many students is a certificate of attendance,” Lewis said in the release.

In Boyle County and Danville high schools, the graduation rate has regularly exceeded the rate of students who qualify as ready for a career or college. In the 2016-17 school year, Boyle County High School’s college and career readiness (CCR) rate was 71 percent, while its graduation rate was 96.9 percent, according to school report card data from KDE. At Danville High School, the CCR rate was 64.4 percent, while the graduation rate was 96.7 percent.

The year before that, 2015-16, Danville’s CCR rate was 61.6 percent, with a 92.6-percent graduation rate; Boyle’s CCR rate was 75.6 percent, with a 95.6-percent graduation rate.

Individual learning plans

Boyle County High School Principal Mark Wade said the new requirements would place more emphasis on students’ “individual learning plan” or ILP — a document already in use in the schools that helps guide students toward classes that will benefit them in the career they want to pursue.

Boyle Assistant Superintendent David Young said some changes, such as no longer requiring algebra II in favor of letting students choose from a wider variety of math classes, are being proposed with students’ ILPs in mind.

“They want students to have more flexibility driven by their ILP,” Young said. “It will allow high school students to kind of diversify the types of math offerings they have.”

Wade and Young said they like a lot about the new requirements and don’t foresee a lot of problems meeting them, but it would mean figuring out how to provide more diverse class options to students.

“The burden we will have is we will have to find a few more tailored classes that will fit the needs of students,” Wade said. “The struggle with that is the more classes we create, the more burdensome it is to schedule.”

Young said if middle-school students participate in building their ILPs beginning in seventh grade, then the high school will be able to use the ILPs of incoming freshmen to figure out how to tailor classes to their interests.

“The ILP is important because it’s been around and we’ve been doing it, but taking another step toward harnessing the power of it is something that’s really important to us,” Young said. “That happens through us and through our staff, but it also happens through the kids and their parents. So having everybody realize the importance of that ILP is a big deal.”

Danville Principal Haley Ralston described a similar plan to let incoming students’ interests guide what classes they take.

“We are going to try to really work with kids that transition from the middle school to figure out what pathway they want to choose and it may be a variety of pathways,” she said. “… We really feel like we need to grab hold to the incoming freshmen and find out really what their goals are and what their interests are and get them on the right path and in the right classes.”

Transition readiness

In order to receive a high-school degree under the new requirements, students would have to show “transition readiness” in either academics or a career path.

Students would be considered academically ready by scoring at benchmark on the ACT; passing enough dual-credit or AP classes; or scoring high enough on international baccalaureate courses or Cambridge Advanced examinations.

Students would be considered career ready by earning industry certifications; scoring high enough on Career and Technical Education (CTE) end-of-program assessments; completing enough dual-credit classes; completing an approved apprenticeship; or going through an “alternate process” to “verify exceptional work experience,” according to the release from KDE.

Ralston said the career-readiness side of the requirement is what “worries me the most.”

“Sometimes for smaller schools or independent districts (like Danville) that don’t have CTE centers, those opportunities are more limited than schools that do have those centers,” she said. “So we are looking at ways to add more of those opportunities for students.”

DHS currently offers three career pathways — in marketing, engineering and allied health. The school is planning to add a fourth career pathway, based on input from students, in “fundamentals of education,” Ralston said.

“We were very excited about that because we could prepare some future Danville educators to come back and teach at Danville,” she said.

At BCHS, Principal Wade said it’s possible the high school’s existing co-op program could “morph” into something that helps students meet the career-ready requirement under the “exceptional work experience” option. The school is also interested in helping students meet the apprenticeship option, he said.

“We’ll be working with local businesses to try and apply for those apprenticeships,” he said.

Wade said Boyle has a “very strong, in-house CTE program,” including agricultural, pre-engineering, nursing and family and consumer sciences paths, among others.

But, Assistant Superintendent Young added, “we believe there are probably additional certifications that we can offer that we’re looking into.”

10th-grade tests

The new requirements would also include required “exit exams” in reading and math at the 10th-grade level.

“These assessments can be taken more than once and appeals could be made to a local superintendent if necessary,” according to KDE’s news release.

Ralston said while that’s one of the bigger changes in the proposed requirements, she isn’t too concerned about it.

“We don’t teach to a test,” she said. “We teach to the standards. The state will build these tests around the standards. We won’t change what we teach, because we will continue to teach our standards, as we have been.”

At Boyle, Assistant Superintendent Young said there would also be an option for a student to assemble a “portfolio” of work that demonstrates proficiency, in lieu of passing a test.

The tests are the “biggest hot-button issue” of the proposed requirements, Young acknowledged, but they’re not as much of a concern at Boyle County.

“That’s the one … that’s dividing people more than anything else. But it’s not concerning us at all,” he said. “Our students do really well and we have lots of structures in place to support students if they do struggle … so we don’t anticipate that it’s going to require a major adjustment for us.”

Officials in both school districts said they don’t anticipate the new requirements — if they’re officially implemented — will hurt their graduation rates.

“Our graduation rate has continued to climb and is high,” Ralston said. “I feel like we will continue to have a high graduation rate. If anything, I think it will go up.”

SO YOU KNOW

A 30-day public comment period on the new requirements opens Thursday and runs through Nov. 30.

Written comments on the proposed amendment to KAR 3:305 may be sent to Deanna Durrett, general counsel, Kentucky Department of Education, 300 Sower Boulevard, 5th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601; or emailed to regcomments@education.ky.gov.