There’s been a lot of discussion about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are moving Kentucky education forward.
However, while both standards seem somewhat better than the former, highly inadequate Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), I don’t think students across the Bluegrass State are getting everything lawmakers intended when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) in 2009.
For example, the standards packages wrongly ignore higher level high-school courses.
“Back in 2009, when I co-sponsored Senate Bill 1, the legislature’s goal was loftier than what we have with the Common Core,” retired state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, wrote in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed. “Our bill explicitly required the Kentucky Department of Education to meet the education needs of all students, including our more advanced students who need quality high-school courses in subjects like trigonometry, pre-calculus, chemistry and physics.”
Retired Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Springs, another of the bill’s co-sponsors, recently e-mailed me his concern “that too many of our kids were leaving high school totally unprepared to pass entry level post-secondary coursework, not to mention the more rigorous and demanding expectations advanced students entering STEM careers would face. In passing SB 1, we wanted to establish a model curriculum in Kentucky that first and foremost declared schools would expect a high level of achievement of ALL students.”
SB 1’s intention to serve all students is explicit in the language about the new assessments. The legislation states: “The results of the assessment program developed under this subsection shall be used to determine appropriate instructional modifications for all students in order for students to make continuous progress including that needed by advanced learners (underline for emphasis added).”
Lawmakers clearly wanted assessments that included more than just minimal standards.
Understanding this helps flesh out what SB 1 really intends in its discussion of the new “Content Standards.” A key part of the bill reads: “Ensure that the standards are aligned from elementary to high school to postsecondary education so that students can be successful at each education level.”
There’s no mention of providing only minimum standards that serve only minimal needs.
In fact, SB 1 directs people creating the new K-12 education standards to consider the very best from foreign countries.
Few, if any, top-performing countries would ignore trigonometry and pre-calculus or the high school chemistry and physics courses that CCSS and NGSS omit. These courses are essential for students who want to pursue more advanced college work such as careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas – something educators in top-performing countries know but that was ignored by those who created CCSS and NGSS.
Perhaps you wonder, “Why are advanced standards important? We certainly don’t expect all students to master them.”
That’s true, but without standards for advanced high-school courses like trigonometry and chemistry, there’s no way to ensure every student in Kentucky who wants to go on to a STEM career actually has the opportunity to do so.
Without such standards, the state also cannot provide evidence that advanced courses are even being offered, let alone whether the quality is at least minimally acceptable.
The absence of advanced-learner standards creates the potential for highly inequitable situations where students from higher-income communities have real STEM opportunities while those from lower-income homes are left out. That’s unequal education, which is clearly wrong for Kentucky.
Presently, the CCSS are under review for change in Kentucky, which offers the opportunity to fix these obvious oversights by adding standards for upper-level high school courses that many students need and should be allowed to access.
It’s time to keep the promise of SB 1.
Richard G. Innes is the staff education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Contact him at email@example.com.