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Noting Successes and Challenges Key to Measuring True Progress

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The Prichard Committee has just released its third report on Kentucky's progress toward achieving the "Top 20 by 2020," a goal the Committee proposed in 2008 as a way of encouraging our commonwealth to accelerate its improvement in education compared to other states.

There is good news to share this time. On 10 of 20 indicators, Kentucky is either in the Top 20 already or improving at a pace that can get us there by 2020. We're especially pleased to report Kentucky's 4th place ranking in fourth-grade science (based on comparing NAEP scale scores, as we do for all our subject-based rankings). We're also showing strength in reading, eighth-grade science and associate degrees, while moving strongly in the right direction in fourth-grade mathematics, high school completion and college going.

Some trends are weaker, showing movement in the right direction but not quick enough to reach the Top 20 by our 2020 target year. That is the case in eighth-grade math, students earning Advanced Placement credits, bachelor degree completion and the fraction of those bachelor's degrees that are earned in science, technology, engineering and math.

Finally some results just are not what we want to see: Kentucky is stuck or losing ground compared to other states on preschool enrollment, K-12 funding and higher education funding.

Check out the complete report, with trend graphs from 2008 forward and Prichard recommendations for reaching the Top 20 goals over the coming years.

For Kentucky, the Top 20 report demonstrates our past gains and the need to do more in the coming years.

For public engagement more broadly, the Top 20 effort tackles a challenge faced by all lasting reforms: how to combine good and bad news in a frank, constructive way.

Early in a reform effort, bluntness about the bad news is easy. The Prichard Committee began its work in the 1980s by confronting Kentucky's weaknesses and calling for major changes to standards, accountability, governance and funding.

Later, after key political victories in 1990, the work changed, and Kentucky began the long process of moving change from the law books into classroom implementation and student impact. Suddenly, it was important both to share successes and recognize flaws.

For any community, once reform begins in earnest, the results will be a mix of ups and downs. If you only point to positive data, that's dishonest. If you only point to negatives, that will also be inaccurate. Citizen-leaders must balance the message, demonstrating that the work so far has made a difference while pointing out the additional work that still urgently needs public attention and commitment.

The Top 20 by 2020 project is one way to chart that middle course. For teachers who've wrestled with the learning challenges and citizens who've spoken up for big policy investments, these Prichard reports spotlight important successes.

At the same time, the Top 20 reports promote productive discontent with results so far. Facing a technological future, a global economy and a myriad of other challenges, Kentucky must equip each and every child with deeper skills and richer understanding than we've ever offered before--and so must every other state in the union.

The Top 20 project is one way to engage the public around the complex, exciting reality of having real progress in place and needing to make much more progress in the years ahead.

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