Putting Education Reform To The Test

The Commonwealth of Common Core: What Florida Can Learn From Kentucky

Kentucky is the nation's trailblazer for Common Core math, literacy and English standards.

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Kentucky is the nation's trailblazer for Common Core math, literacy and English standards.

One of the big complaints critics have of Florida’s new math, English and literacy standards — known as Common Core — is that the standards haven’t been field tested to make sure they work.

While not a field test, Kentucky has been using the standards since 2011. Lawmakers had told state education officials to come up with new standards. Rather than adopt a stopgap, Kentucky schools jumped into Common Core with both feet.

But Kentucky hasn’t seen the backlash against Common Core that other states have. Here’s our colleagues StateImpact Indiana on why:

Let’s be clear — for Kentucky, the Common Core is a clear step up from the academic standards it replaced. The state’s old standards got a D from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

“The standards for high school resemble those for middle school,” according to the report. “At times the standards seem to represent a perpetual remedial course.”

Indiana, on the other hand, had top-rated standards.

“I think it really shifts the debate from ‘Is this a slam dunk? Yes,’ to ‘Should we adopt with additions or with recommendations or with caveats?’” Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee told StateImpact at Indiana’s first Common Core hearing.

But in Kentucky, no one is arguing for a return to the old standards. So when you ask teachers about Common Core pushback, they assume you’re talking about other educators.

“I saw a lot of math teachers who were initially resistant to Common Core at the high school level start to change their mind when they realize there are some changes being made at the lower grades, changes they’d wanted to happen for a long time,” says Ryan Davis, a math teacher at Central.

Kentucky school officials said it will take several more years to fully adjust to the new standards and accompanying tests. Kentucky experienced the predicted drop in passing rates when they switched to a new Common Core-tied exam. Florida expects a similar drop.

The Hechinger Report found a similar experience in Louisville, where schools have yet to see test scores improve following the initial decline. Kentucky school officials said the rest of the country should expect a slow and challenging transition:

At Liberty, a school for students at risk of dropping out where 87 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch—a measure of poverty—the faculty has attended multiple district-run trainings on the new standards and overhauled lesson plans. Like educational leaders around the country, they’re putting their faith in Common Core to make significant improvements in student achievement. But after more than two years of effort at Liberty, they have yet to see a substantial increase in test scores—the yardstick that the success of the new standards will ultimately be measured on.

Across the state, test scores are still dismal and state officials have expressed concern that the pace of improvement is not fast enough. Districts have also seen varying success in changing how teachers teach, something that was supposed to dramatically change under the new standards. In 2010 Kentucky was the first of 45 states to adopt the new standards, making the state a test case that others are watching closely as they roll out Common Core and try to manage a growing backlash against the standards. So far, the state’s experience suggests it will be a slow and potentially frustrating road ahead.

Florida is one of 45 states which has fully adopted the Common Core standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade.


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