Task force suggests ways to improve teacher prep, student reading, math outcomes

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – Ahead of the 2021 legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly, a Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence task force has released recommendations aimed at improving educator preparation and professional learning in the Commonwealth.

The Prichard Committee convened the Task Force on Educator Preparation and Professional Learning: Literacy and Numeracy for Primary Grades earlier this year to study and recommend policy changes and supports for Kentucky’s teacher preparation and professional development programs.

Participants included legislators, teachers and principals, students, postsecondary and K-12 education leaders and Prichard Committee members. The report is available for download at prichardcommittee.org.

“When it comes to our schools improving reading and math proficiency, state and national research show that the quality of teaching matters most. This task force report is both timely and targeted, with the ability to measure impact in the years ahead,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Prichard Committee President and CEO. “Enacting the recommendations in this report is a sure way to begin to stem the decline in our national rankings in literacy we’ve witnessed the last few years, and to ensure Kentucky once again leads the nation in education improvement.”

The task force’s final report, Teaching Matters Most: Student Success in the Early Grades, reflects the need for systemic change and support for good teaching practice and professional learning that is practical, evidence-based and successful in improving student outcomes.

“As Kentucky emerges from this pandemic, it will be critical that support for our teachers and the vital work they do becomes even stronger,” said Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville), who served on the task force. “We must be more focused on – and willing to make adequate investments in – quality preparation and professional learning programs. I will be sponsoring legislation and budget requests during this session that will be solid first steps in addressing these needs.”

Rep. Tipton is filing legislation that would allocate funding for the Kentucky Early Entry Initiative, a three-year, $3 million pilot program with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

“Through candidacy, certification, and first years, the program will provide early career teachers with access to experiences that will strengthen teacher effectiveness and retention, with some of the professional learning supports beginning during teacher preparation,” said Tipton.

Policy recommendations from the task force include a focus on equity, family engagement, cultural competency and teacher diversity; improvements in professional learning and preparation at the collegiate level; and increased state funding in targeted areas.

At the K-12 level, the task force recommends that the Kentucky Department of Education implement a statewide professional development program for early literacy and mathematics instruction for all early childhood instructors, elementary school teachers and elementary school principals.

“A strong professional learning program is a necessity for all our teachers across the Commonwealth, although they have been hard for districts to maintain due to budget cuts in recent years,” Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass said. “A professional learning program focused on early literacy and mathematics instruction is vital to ensuring Kentucky’s youngest students receive a high-quality education in these fundamentals from their earliest years. We at the Kentucky Department of Education are committed to making sure our educators have the skills and tools they need to succeed in the classroom.”

The task force also recommends that, at the college level, new teacher candidates in early childhood and elementary education be required to demonstrate foundational capacities in early literacy and mathematics in manners approved as effective evaluations of instructional knowledge and skills by the Education Professional Standards Board.

“The research is clear: success in higher education begins at the earliest levels of learning,” said President Aaron Thompson, head of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. “These recommendations would help ensure that teachers are prepared to serve and support students from every background during this crucial development period. That not only builds greater equity and attainment in our educational system, it also sets the stage for life-long growth, achievement and civic participation among our students. I want to thank the task force for its tremendous efforts, and I look forward to working with the Kentucky legislature to see these reforms through.”

Another recommendation requires that the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) and the Council on Postsecondary Education cooperate to certify that educator preparation programs in early childhood and elementary education include sufficient, evidence-based instructional programming in reading and mathematics related to the administration of assessments, use of assessment data, monitoring student performance, and differentiated instructional strategies. Reading programming should include instruction in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

“The many voices represented in the Prichard Committee task force are seeking gold-standard research-based practices to improve the success of Kentucky’s children. Our children and families are depending on the Prichard Committee and the leaders of the Commonwealth to deliver action and results. This report includes several steps forward towards immediately realizing a coherent educational vision,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dean and Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation at the University of Kentucky and a member of the EPSB.

The report underscores the importance of students having strong reading and math skills by the end of third grade, as studies show 16% of students not reading proficiently at that grade level do not graduate high school on time. The rate rises to 26% for students who live in poverty, 25% for African American and Hispanic students and nearly 33% for African American and Hispanic students who live in poverty.

“The recommendations do more than provide solutions for closing the achievement gaps,” said Jana Beth Francis, a former teacher and current assistant superintendent for Daviess County Schools. “The comprehensive nature of the report helps to create a solution that will last decades and impact the lives of students to come. Just like there is not one solution for improving literacy and numeracy for primary grades, there isn’t just one group of people who would need to take action. Teaching Matters Most: Student Success in the Early Grades is a call to action for all citizens of the Commonwealth that care about education.”

Blom Ramsey said she hopes to see movement on these recommendations during the 2021 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

“We at the Prichard Committee particularly want to thank both House and Senate leadership for their vision in requesting this report and their commitment to improving reading and math outcomes for each and every student,” she said.

Download the report at prichardcommittee.org. 

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