Kentucky teachers review, offer insight on state’s equity, diversity efforts

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – During a March 23 virtual meeting, members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Teachers Advisory Council met with department leadership to examine KDE’s ongoing equity initiatives.

“In order for this country to continue to heal and to grow stronger as the greatest country in the world, we need to ensure that everyone is at the table and we take time to listen to everyone’s story,” said Thomas Woods-Tucker, KDE’s chief equity officer and deputy commissioner in the Office of Teaching and Learning.

Part of this work is acknowledging that diversity, equity, inclusion and social-emotional learning are all imperative within the curriculum, and should go hand in hand with teaching and learning, said Damien Sweeney, program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling in KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning.

“Social-emotional learning should not just be the job of school counselors,” Sweeney added. “It should be the job of all of us.”

While TAC members agreed, some reported receiving pushback from parents when introducing diverse lessons in their classroom.

Bryanna Shelby, an English/language arts teacher at Knight Middle School (Jefferson County), serves on her school’s Racial Equity Team, which has worked to ensure lesson plans are inclusive for all students.

“This year, I’ve been making sure I have a lot of diversity in my lessons and I’ve gotten yelled at by parents for some of the lessons I’ve had,” she said.

Shelby said she remains calm when dealing with these situations but does not remove the lessons from her classroom because the school’s Racial Equity Team already has discussed them.

“I just try to explain my perspective and our school’s perspective on why we’re having those lessons,” she said.

Part of KDE’s equity work involves the implementation of the Kentucky Academic Standards and ensuring equitable access to grade-level learning for all students, as well as holding more of these courageous conversations, Sweeney said.

“There is a lack of understanding among stakeholders of what equity, equality and inclusivity mean in our schools,” he said.

Sweeney provided the following definitions for further clarification:

  • Equity is respecting each student’s culture and providing each student with the resources they need to be successful;
  • Equality is treating every student in the same manner, irrespective of differences; and
  • Inclusivity means all stakeholders have a voice in the educational process.

“A call for equity does not implicitly suggest racism,” Sweeney explained.

Another aspect of KDE’s equity work is a statewide equity and inclusion scan. Districts should look for equitable practices already in place in their schools and ask whether the district itself has an equity and inclusion action plan or includes equity in its strategic plan.

All members of Kentucky’s education community are encouraged to provide feedback to KDE on equity and inclusion efforts in their districts.

While looking at some feedback received on the scan, Sweeney said, “it seems that our schools and districts need more equity and inclusion plans and our districts need this in their strategic plans.”

The department also is working on creating an equity toolkit that will provide districts and schools with resources, which will include equity data assessments, equity scorecards and guidance on how they can facilitate conversations about race.

“We’re excited about all of this work,” Tucker said. “We’re excited about all of these resources that we’ll be rolling out in the next several months.”

Assessment and Accountability Updates

Jennifer Larkins, a program manager in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability (OAA), met with the council to provide updates on state assessments and accountability.

On Feb. 22, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) directed states to administer a statewide assessment for the 2020-2021 school year, a decision that came after many states had requested a waiver of the testing requirement due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of canceling the test, USED advised states to pursue other assessment flexibilities, including administering a shortened version of the statewide assessment and offering flexible testing windows, both of which KDE prepared for in anticipation of the USED decision.

On Feb. 15, a week before the USED decision, KDE released two COVID-19 guidance documents to assist districts in preparing to administer spring testing, “COVID-19 Participation in Spring 2021 Kentucky State Testing” and “Kentucky Summative Assessment Administration Guidance 2020-2021 School Year.” Both have been updated to include the most recent federal guidance.

In addition to these guidance documents, OAA is developing a frequently asked questions document about state assessment that will be released on March 29.

While assessments still will occur, USED offered flexibility for accountability and for identifying schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) based on data from the 2020-2021 school year.

KDE plans to submit a waiver to USED that will grant flexibility in identifying TSI, ATSI and CSI schools. Under the waiver, schools currently identified as either TSI, ATSI or CSI are required to remain under those statuses. KDE will continue to provide technical assistance and support to schools in those categories.

“Hopefully that will alleviate some of the anxiety that you might feel about testing in the spring,” Larkins said.

As for public reporting, USED has maintained that it will require all data normally required on state and local School Report Cards, including the information and data on spring 2021 assessments.

KDE will make a concerted effort to caution those who are examining the data about which student populations tested and which did not so that the data is not misinterpreted.

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