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Educational improvement must continue to accelerate

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Moving Forward, by Keith Davis, Superintendent, Bullitt County Public Schools

 It is nice to  lead a school district full of leaders, both in our administrative offices and our classrooms. 

It has been a wonderful thing to watch our performance rankings rise from the depths of having a state performance audit to being deemed a proficient district in six years.

It is awesome for me to see initiatives that we have put in place have a positive effect on our students’ futures, from the College Credit Advanced Placement options at our high schools, the Bullitt Advanced Math Science program, the Career Readiness Center, Response to Intervention programs, Professional Learning Communities process, and several other things.

About 85 percent of our elementary school students are reading on grade level.

Our college and career readiness percentage has almost doubled in the last three years.

We are clearly and unequivocally heading in the right direction.

However good we are though, we are not yet great and being good can most definitely be the enemy of becoming great.

The most recent international PISA study shows that American students are about average in the world.

We can argue all day about the validity of comparisons and make all the excuses we want, and a lot of that argument would be true, but our country did not defeat fascism, reach the moon and win the cold war by making excuses and counter-arguments, we simply did more than many thought possible and won.

We are one school district in one state, but excellence begins at home and improvement requires constant change and evolution.

I am concerned about many things, but I’ll only illustrate a couple in this short column.

One is the performance of our boys.

In almost every academic measure, our boys are outperformed by our girls.

This is no more acceptable that when the reverse was true 30 years ago.

For example, our district graduation rate for boys is 81.3 percent. For girls, it is 89.2 percent.

The college-going rate is similarly lopsided; the ACT scores are also showing the same trend.

In negative things, like suspensions or truancy, it seems the boys have an unfortunate advantage.

Not to be a doomsayer, because I am a former boy and the father of boys, but if these statistics hold true and continue to erode, we can anticipate a lot of problems for our society.

The second is the performance of our highest achievers.

We have done an excellent job of moving our Novice and Apprentice (the two lower scoring levels) level students to Proficiency.

We have a higher percentage of Proficient scorers in every subject and at every level than the state average and fewer Novices, which is great.

But, in most subjects in most levels, our Distinguished (the highest level) percentage is slightly lower than the rest of the state, which is not great.

Not to sound stereotypical or sexist, but just maybe we are helping cause the “boy problem” with how we deliver education because there is no statistical reason related to intelligence that boys should be doing worse.

In the same way, there is no reason why we should have fewer top level students than the state average. 

When we realize that we (as a community, a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, and a parent) own these problems, we can then fix them.

I think the solutions to these two problems are hard and I think they are directly related.

We must continue to increase the level of rigor in our instruction, meaning that we have to teach to a higher level.

Our questions have to lead to thought rather than simple recall.

Our teachers’ assignments have to be engaging and aimed at real problems, not only finding answers in a book or on a worksheet.

We also must find ways to challenge our highest performers and create alternative ways to demonstrate competence.

We are working on ideas that we will propose to our Board of Education that fit within our limited financial resources.

As you hear about these proposals, please consider that though we are far better than we once were‚ we are far from finished in our quest to be the leader in educational excellence.

We exist not for any adult’s convenience, but only to help our children become prepared for the future that is rapidly coming their way.