Perhaps even more promising, we can use these new tests to diagnose students' needs while they're still young, allowing teachers and parents to work with each student to raise his or her achievement levels. Under the current system, the entire school is the focus, which doesn't always lead to individual students' needs being addressed. We believe school need to be measured, but by gauging students' achievements, we can discover how the school as a whole is doing as well.
Writing portfolios, a longtime grievance of classroom teachers, would also be altered. While they are a valuable teaching tool as we help our children become better writers, we've found that too much class time is spent on improving portfolios and not on the underlying curriculum. We've also found serious flaws in how they are scored from school to school. By keeping them as classroom aids but removing them from our accountability matrix, we can refocus our energies on teaching the content students will need later in life.
Senate Bill 32, meanwhile, is aimed at students who leave school or don't push themselves because they find traditional classwork boring or irrelevant. They're not dumb kids; they just don't want to sit in a classroom focusing on abstract subjects like algebra, English literature, or chemistry. Many of them are more interested in the "real world" - getting a job, earning money, and helping their families. By keying in on ways to help these students match those worldly goals with staying in school, we can lower our appalling dropout rate and make them more productive citizens.
SB 32 would help local school districts expand their career and technical offerings through grant funding. Among available options would be full-fledged career academies that tailor their "academic" curriculum to specific careers. For example, a health sciences academy could build its math courses around medical uses for math, while an agribusiness-oriented academy would focus on math skills as they apply in a farm setting. Kentucky's business community has committed itself to working with our school system so we can make sure students are prepared for the job market that awaits them.
We hope that, through this approach, many students will find school engaging again, and perhaps even move on to community and technical colleges after high school. Our state colleges and universities have set a goal of doubling the number of degrees they award by 2020, and we have to lure more students into post-secondary studies in order to achieve that. By making classes relevant to students' interests - and thereby preparing them for good jobs and productive lives - we can improve life for all Kentuckians.
We also took a step to make state spending more efficient by reviewing our criminal code. It's been more than 30 years since the legislature comprehensively examined the laws we use to put people behind bars. In that time, we've seen a rise in drug use and identity theft, new laws to combat sexual predators, and complications in family and domestic law. Partly as a result, our prison population and its costs have ballooned eightfold. Senate Joint Resolution 80 would authorize a subcommittee of the legislature to study the entire criminal code, including what's illegal and what alternatives to prison may help solve the problem with less cost. The panel would report back by the end of the year so that we can make needed reforms.