Kentucky: Career Readiness Accountability

Kentucky is regarded as a leader in school accountability and assessment, particularly when it comes to Career Technical Education (CTE). The commonwealth’s accountability system — which was authorized by the legislature in 2009 through SB1 and has since been updated under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — was designed to ensure students would graduate college and career ready. Through a weighted point system, the accountability system recognizes schools and districts for meeting college and career readiness benchmarks.

SB1 went into effect in the 2011-12 school year. Under that system, which the Kentucky Department of Education nicknamed the “Unbridled Learning Accountability System,” schools and districts were held accountable for student performance within three dimensions: Next-Generation Learners, Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support, and Next-Generation Professionals.

Next-Generation Learners, which made up 70 percent of the overall accountability score, measured college and career readiness by counting the number of graduates who:

  • Met benchmark scores on the ASVAB or ACT Workeys exams.
  • Met benchmark scores on the Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment.
  • Received an industry-recognized credential.

In 2017, Kentucky revised its school accountability system to align with ESSA. In April 2017, the legislature adopted SB1 (coincidentally the same bill title as the previous accountability legislation) to codify new accountability metrics. Under SB1, Kentucky’s accountability system was expanded to include more robust measures of career readiness. The legislation calls for a “Postsecondary Readiness” indicator that values graduates who:

  • Meet college readiness benchmark scores.
  • Achieve college credit.
  • Participate in apprenticeships.
  • Earn industry-recognized credentials.

The legislation also directs the Workforce Innovation Board and the Department of Education to review and vet industry-recognized credentials and publish a list of credentials to be valued in the system.

Kentucky’s ESSA state plan includes more detail about how this indicator will be measured. Under the plan, high school students must earn a diploma and satisfy requirements in one of three pathways — academic readiness, career readiness and military readiness — in order to be valued in the accountability system.

The commonwealth also identified a measure of “Opportunity and Access” in its ESSA plan to assess the richness of curriculum offered, equitable access, the quality of the school and whole child supports. At the middle school level, rich curriculum measures access to CTE and other rigorous coursework. At the high school level, the indicator measures students completing a career pathways in a CTE program of study and students demonstrating essential skills by earning a bronze or higher on a work ethic certification.


Policy in Action

Kentucky’s ESSA plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Education in May 2018. Before then, Kentucky’s experiment with the Unbridled Learning Accountability System contributed to growth in measures of career readiness and helped expand program offerings available in schools across the commonwealth. In June 2016, the Hechinger Report profiled 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.

Additionally, early evidence of success under Unbridled Learning 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