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Kentucky: Unbridled Learning Accountability System

Kentucky is regarded as a leader in school accountability and assessment, particularly when it comes to Career Technical Education (CTE). The state’s accountability system  which was authorized by the legislature in 2009 through SB1 and is now known as Unbridled Learning — was designed to ensure students would graduate college and career ready. Through a weighted point system, Unbridled Learning recognizes schools and districts for meeting college and career readiness benchmarks.

SB1 required the State Department of Education to design and implement a statewide school accountability and assessment system, tied to rigorous academic content standards, to go into effect in the 2011-12 school year. Though the bill does not require annual assessments for CTE courses, it directs the Board of Education to conduct regular CTE program reviews and include the results in the accountability system.

Under Unbridled Learning, the state Board of Education is required to publish an annual report card that includes a variety of metrics such as teacher qualifications, learning environment, program quality and student performance for each school and school district in the state. These metrics roll up into three core component areas that determine the overall accountability score: Next-Generation Learners, Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support, and Next-Generation Professionals. Next-Generation Learners, which is a measure of students’ college and career readiness, makes up 70 percent of the overall accountability score.

Kentucky is one of the only states to put CTE and core academic education on equal footing through its school accountability system. Under the accountability formula, one point is assigned for each student that is college- and/or career-ready and an additional half point is given for students that meet both college and career readiness benchmarks. This formula is designed to encourage enrollment and success in both academic and career programs. The report cards also include disaggregated data on postsecondary enrollment, technical training, military enlistment and industry certification as well as including all indicators from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.

Policy in Action
Struggling schools have responded to the Unbridled accountability formula by encouraging students to develop academic skills as well as career technical skills. A recent article in The Hechinger Report profiles a Louisville, Kentucky, high school that expanded its CTE programs to improve its accountability score and get off the lowest-performing list. With schools able to receive bonus points for students that are both college and career ready, teachers at the high school have been working to ensure that students receive a holistic education.

While the system is not perfect — some have argued that Unbridled Learning encourages schools to track students instead of providing a well-rounded education — there is evidence that Kentucky’s accountability system is working. Some early evidence of success include:

  • The percentage of college- and career-ready students rose from 13.1 percent to 32.7 percent between 2011-12 and 2014-15;
  • The percentage of students who are college- or career-ready rose to 66.9 percent in 2014-15 from just 34 percent in 2010; and
  • The number of industry certifications earned has risen from about 5,800 in 2011-12 to over 10,000 in 2014-15.

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March 2009

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