New Academic Standards Roll Out in Kentucky: An Opportunity to Address Instructional Inequity

Kentucky recently adopted new academic standards in reading and mathematics. Academic standards are, very simply, what teachers teach and what students are expected to learn, by subject area and by grade level. As required by state law, Kentucky teachers and postsecondary faculty members were central to the process of developing academic standards. Kentucky’s students, parents, educators, and community stakeholders should be assured that our new academic standards are Kentucky-developed and benchmarked with rigorous academic standards across the U.S. and internationally. But simply adopting rigorous academic standards changes nothing for students.

Having rigorous standards is necessary for ensuring high levels of student learning in classrooms across the state, but without effective, standards-aligned instruction using rich curriculum and resources, even the most rigorous standards cannot impact student learning. That’s why the most important work underway at the Kentucky Department of Education is the roll out of our new reading and mathematics standards. With important lessons learned from Kentucky’s last standards roll out, key to our work is partnership with Kentucky’s eight educational cooperatives to facilitate teacher learning and capacity building. Without teachers’ understanding of the academic standards and the capacity to deliver them effectively to students, student learning will not be impacted.

I am convinced that students’ differential access to effective, standards-aligned instruction is the educational equity issue of our time. Unfortunately, in Kentucky and across the U.S., students from low-income families, students of color, and students with disabilities are less likely to have access to such instruction. While there are many factors that impact student learning beyond the control of schools and educators, we do have the ability and the responsibility of eliminating disparities in instructional quality. The adoption and roll out of new academic standards in Kentucky presents a fresh opportunity to address long-standing instructional inequity.

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