Friday, February 12, 2016

Education standards bill clears key Senate panel

Legislation to revamp how academic standards are set in public elementary, middle and high schools could be taken up by the full state Senate as early as next week.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, made the comment after the legislation, given the designation of Senate Bill 1, was passed out of the Senate Standing Committee on Education by a 9-3 vote on Thursday.

“This has been a long process of working on this bill all throughout the interim, making sure we were talking to all stake holders in regards to Senate Bill 1,” said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who is a sponsor of SB 1 and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

A key component of SB 1 outlines a process to review, and possibly change, what students are taught – and how they’re tested – in key subjects such as English, mathematics and science.

“Our testing does not align with our standards,” Wilson said.

First, SB 1 calls for public input on what the academic standards should be. Then, individual panels for each subject at the elementary, middle and high school levels would review the academic standards. The panels would be made up of six teachers and at least one professor from a state university.

The panels’ recommendations would be forwarded to a 10-person standards and assessments recommendation committee. That committee would include three members appointed by the governor, three senators appointed by the Senate President and three state representatives appointed by the Speaker of the state House of Representatives. The state education commissioner would be a non-voting member.

The final recommendation would be forwarded to the Kentucky Department of Education. Under SB 1, the standards and assessments would be reviewed every six years starting in fiscal year 2017-’18 but could be staggered among subjects.

Sen. Gerald Neal said he liked workforce development and early intervention components of SB 1 but he had concerns over the appointments to the standards and assessments committee.

“The fact of the matter is you know and I know that is a political process,” Neal said. “When appointments come through those processes, whether we like it or not, it becomes a political piece.

“ … If you have individuals that are appointed that carry a certain ideological or philosophical positions as opposed to a pure education perspective, and that happens throughout our systems, I’m not sure that is a good thing. That gives me concern.”

A provision that would eliminate statewide testing on social studies concerned Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg.

“If they are not assessed, it seems like to be they get pushed aside and they are not taught…,” he said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said SB 1 attempts to tackle three issues educators in his district repeatedly identify as hindrances to the education process --  testing, reporting requirements and unfunded mandates.

“These things are killing us,” West said. “These things are not allowing us to teach to our kids.”