March 12, 2014

Students at the Core of Legislation

By Naomi Kellogg, Hiatt Allen & Andrew Brennen

Leaders in the state Senate have filed a new bill, and it could have an effect on every one of us Kentucky public school students.

Senate Bill 224 represents an attempt to dismantle the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS), related to math and English and language arts content, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It will be heard in committee this Thursday, while we, the greatest stakeholders, are still in school.

The idea behind the Common Core State Standards, implemented as KCAS in Kentucky, is to better prepare us for adult life in the global community and to ensure that students in every district in the country benefit from consistency in substance and rigor at every grade level.

What is that supposed to look like for those of us at the classroom level? Ideally, KCAS means less rote memorization in math with a greater emphasis on showing the work and applying formulas. In English, we should notice an emphasis on reading and writing critiques and forming arguments that are based on evidence, not unsubstantiated opinions. Under KCAS, we are also likely to see our teachers facilitating group discussions and problem-solving rather than giving us information through a more traditional lecture.

At least a few successful high school students who understand what this initiative is trying to do see the logic behind it:

“I see a distinct advantage in introducing students to what they will learn in the next grade,” Nolan Rudloff, a junior at Greenwood High School in Bowling Green said. “This gives students that want to get ahead a main idea of what they need to study and the kinds of resources that they need to look over to prepare.”

Ben Swanson, a Henry Clay senior in Lexington, appreciates the focus on expecting rigor from everyone, including lower academic achievers. “Throughout my K-12 education, the most valuable courses I’ve taken have emphasized critical thinking and problem solving. These are the skills I know are necessary for success — whether in higher education or the job market — and they apply to all kinds of students.”

When considering SB 224 and this week’s likely debates, students and the broader public would do well to keep some basic facts in mind:

  • Though the standards were developed by educators working with two national organizations, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, they leave all decisions about the curriculum and teaching practices for meeting the standards to local districts and schools.

  • Neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Education has mandated the adoption of the standards. They have incentivized states to adopt them, however, in initiatives like Race to the Top.

  • No additional testing is required by the standards. In Kentucky, the previous testing system known as the Kentucky Core Content Test and the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System is being replaced by the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress tests, or K-PREP.

  • The standards do not dictate teaching methods. They are left broad on purpose to allow teachers to teach the way they feel is best.

As Kentucky public school students, we should pay special attention to the actions in our state legislature this week. And regardless of where you are on the common standards issue, it’s likely you will need the very critical-thinking skills they purport to promote to do just that.

The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.

It was founded in 2012 at the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an independent, nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky—early childhood through postsecondary. Since 2021, KSVT has been an independent organization.

This op-ed originally ran in the Courier Journal.

Hiatt Allen

Hiatt Allen

Hiatt is the Operations Partner and a co-founder of KSVT. He is a former member and was previously the Associate Student Director. Hiatt graduated from Tates Creek High School in 2014 and American University in 2017. He is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen

Andrew is a Senior Advisor and co-founder of KSVT. He is a former member and was previously the Student Director. Andrew graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2014 and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2019. He is a graduate student at Harvard University.

Naomi Kellogg

Naomi Kellogg

Naomi is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT, co-founder, and former member. She graduated from the Gatton Academy in 2014, Indiana University Bloomington in 2018, and the University of Copenhagen in 2021.