LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After watching Kentucky fourth grade test scores fall for several years, The Prichard Commitee began researching ways to improve and released a report Tuesday with recommendations (KY-R) Rep. James Tipton plans to file when the legislative session begins in January.
The Prichard Commitee reported Kentucky public school fourth graders test scores for the NAPE national assessment declined notably in the past few years with 35% scoring proficient or above on the exam in 2020 ranking Kentucky 26th out of 50 states. In 2018, Kentucky was 17th and in 2015 the Commonwealth was 8th.
"We've [Kentucky's] declined when it comes to reading proficiency for our fourth graders. So that should be a big flag to the state that we're not getting something right," The Prichard Commitee President and CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey said.
Rep. Tipton agreed.
"Behind every wall of those stats, behind every one of those statistics is a child," Rep. Tipton said. "And that's what we can lose sight of that the decisions we make impact people, they impact our citizens. And I truly believe--and we're looking at as an example Mississippi. The State of Mississippi initiated some legislation back in 2013 and they've had the highest rate of gain in reading score since they did that."
The Prichard Committee's research suggested to solve the declining reading and math scores, it starts with the teacher.
"The high-quality teacher can get an additional year of learning out of a student, relative to other teachers. So focus on teacher preparation is so critical," said Ramsey. "Another point is that teachers have two to three times the impact on students of any other school factor...So, this report basically says we need to provide teachers much more support through teacher preparation but also in those early years of teaching, they need time to work with master teachers to make sure that they have, they have another teacher someone with deep expertise to bounce ideas off of and help craft how they're responding to students needs."
The proposal suggests a $3 million pilot that would support a fund to help teachers become nationally certified.
Blom Ramsey explained, "One of the proposals in the report is that the state legislature provide funding over the next three years to support teachers in their first few years in teaching with master teachers, and to rely on national nationally certified teachers based on the national board standards to support one another, be able to research whether or not those teachers are in fact improving outcomes for students in kindergarten through third grade, with a focus on third grade reading and math proficiency."
Rep. Tipton emphasized why he plans to write this proposal into legislation in 2021.
"I believe that it's not only important, it's essential because...we have a responsibility to our children to provide them the opportunity to have a quality education that's gonna allow them the chance to succeed in life. And I just fear that we've left too many of our children behind over the last few years and decades. And we can't change that. But we can move forward for the next generations to come."
In the meantime, Blom Ramsey said their research shows there are multiple items school districts across Kentucky should begin to work on. First, establishing a time for teachers to prepare lessons together and learn from the experts in each subject matter in each district or across the state. Second, she said the state should better utilize the nine Co Ops offered in Kentucky. Third, more specifically, she explained the early year teachers should focus on phonetics when teaching the technical components of reading along with vocabulary and comprehension.
As educators said throughout 2020, the coronavirus pandemic added further awareness to the gaps in public education and Blom Ramsey said it further highlighted the need for teachers to be supported.
"Our teachers are-have responded rapidly to the needs of students and families often at the expense of probably what they needed to be doing to prepare themselves for remote learning," she said "And so, now with still months ahead to go through the pandemic. We need to ensure that teachers have supported the support of one another."
To read The Prichard Commitee's full report, click here.