August 3, 2012
In April 2009, Kentucky legislators passed Senate Bill 1, ushering in a new era of education reform in Kentucky and calling for the development of summative, statewide accountability assessments and new, world-class standards. Soon after, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Plans for implementing the new standards began immediately, and reality quickly set in—college and career readiness for all Kentucky students could not be realized by new standards and assessments alone. Rather, the Commonwealth needed to address root causes that impact student achievement and take advantage of the opportunity to make systemic changes to their standards, assessments, accountability, teacher pre-service training and professional development programs.
In order to successfully develop a balanced approach to assessments, focus on higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills, and engage in rigorous and congruent instructional experiences aligned to the Common Core State Standards, Kentucky needed a clear goal and strategy for implementing these changes. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) settled on their vision for the future: Every school district in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has a knowledgeable and cohesive leadership team that guides the professional learning and practice of all administrators, teachers and staff so that every student experiences highly effective teaching, learning and assessment practices in every classroom, every day.
With over 44,000 teachers across Kentucky, working with each practitioner on the new standards individually would have been nearly impossible for the KDE. So the decision was made to expand upon the concept of the existing regional education cooperatives and develop dedicated Leadership Networks. As the KDE describes the networks: The concept involves a group of educational ‘leaders’ who have something in common (i.e., they teach or lead the same content area, they serve in similar positions in their schools/districts, they share a common ‘problem of practice’ they are trying to address etc.) coming together on a regular basis to learn, to share ideas and strategies, to act as a ‘critical friends’ system of support and to share resources and tools.
“The network has been a great model of a professional learning community; one that focuses on positive collaboration, student learning and the importance of getting results. I have taken this model back to my school in hopes of forming an effective PLC with my entire staff.”
– Mel Benitez, math coach, Engelhard Elementary
These networks include teachers of English language arts and math, school leaders and district administration leaders across eight regions. They are designed to build the capacity of each district in the Commonwealth as they implement Kentucky’s new Core Academic Standards and develop assessment literacy among all educators. Leaders in each of the networks work toward the goal of understanding how to translate Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards into clear learning targets in order to design high-quality formative and summative assessments and plan congruent learning experiences.
“This work is systemic and ongoing,” says Karen Kidwell, director of the Division of Program Standards at the Kentucky Department of Education. “This is not the ‘train the trainer’ model at all. It’s about developing leaders—teacher leaders, school leaders, district leaders—to grow their knowledge, skills and capacity so they can make decisions about how best to scale these practices locally.”
And they have. Many network leaders have been surprised by the level of support they have received. Mel Benitez, a math coach at Engelhard Elementary in Jefferson says of his experience, “The network has been a great model of a professional learning community; one that focuses on positive collaboration, student learning and the importance of getting results. I have taken this model back to my school in hopes of forming an effective PLC with my entire staff.”
Following the first year of planning, network leaders and practitioners now enter the 2011-2012 school year tasked with implementing the new standards and bringing them into the classroom. This work will consist of designing and implementing the new assessments and utilizing resulting data effectively, planning rigorous and aligned learning experiences for instruction, supporting other educators as they try out new processes and strategies in their own classrooms and populating an online repository for instructional resources for all Kentucky teachers and leaders to access. The final year of the three-year timeline will focus on field-testing and refining designed tasks and modules and increasing Teacher Leader support in their schools and districts toward ensuring effective implementation. As this innovative work continues, Kentucky stands to be one step closer to achieving their vision of success.