Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama joined WFPL News in summer 2011. He adds to the newsroom a diverse perspective having lived and reported in major cities across the U.S. and spending time in Peru reporting on human trafficking. Devin earned the 2011 Studs Terkel Community Media Scholarship Award for his report on homeless youth in Chicago. He reports on education affairs in Kentucky and Indiana.

Kentucky has again posted above-average reading results in the latest release from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card.

This year, education officials are celebrating the inclusion of more special needs students than ever before.

The NAEP test gives a snapshot of 4th and 8th grade student performance in math and reading every two years. Kentucky has previously been criticized for excluding more students with special needs than schools the national average.

“The exclusion rates do have an impact on test scores, the more kids you exclude the higher your scores are going to be because most of the kids who are in that region of either being excluded or not being excluded are lower scoring students," said University of Virginia research professor David Grissmer, a member of the NAEP Validity Panel.

An independent Kentucky panel in charge of reviewing child abuse cases is requesting over $400,000 from the state’s budget to perform its duties.

The Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel was created following criticism of accountability in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which handles child abuse cases.

Retired judge Roger Crittenden is chair of the panel. He says the group is made up of volunteers who review scores of cases, and the funds would be used for staff.

“There’s some staff members that include legal services and other analysts, to provide people that will take the data, take the files that we’re looking at...take what we’ve suggested and then make some sort of analysis.”

The panel’s first annual report is due in December. Crittenden says members have praised the cabinet’s actions in some child abuse cases while criticizing slow response  times in others. He says most files seem to lack organization, making the children’s stories hard to follow.

Kentucky is among seven states that will participate in a two-year pilot program to improve teacher training programs.

The initiative was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and will help states reform the systems that guide what an educator should look like.

Robert Brown, executive director of Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board, says the network of participating states will allow Kentucky to develop new initiatives based on best practices

“You have to look beyond your borders. Even though we know we’re on the right track and we’re doing well, are there practices that will inform our work that will make us even better.”

The council has made recommendations to guide the states over the next two years. Brown says Kentucky has already begun to improve how it prepares teachers but says the program will allow the state to align its expectations to recent education reforms.

Kentucky food prices are at an all time high, according to the Farm Bureau’s quarterly marketplace report.

The state saw an increase of 5.7 percent increase in September from the previous quarter.  The Farm Bureau’s Dan Smaldone says the jump is partly due to last year’s drought that affected grain farmers and had a ripple effect  on other parts of the system.

He says the numbers should not be a cause of great concern, as Kentucky has experienced downward or stagnant trends in recent quarters while the national numbers have continued to rise.

“I think when we look at one snapshot in time it’s hard to say that we have an issue on our hands with food prices. So we have to be cautious not to ring too many alarms with this.”

Smaldone says the last time the Farm Bureau saw a food price  increase over 5 percent was in 2008.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says while Kentucky students improved their overall test results from last school year, the state still needs to do a better job with math.

The education department released its annual data measuring individual school and district success Friday. This is the first year Kentucky has comparable results since the state underwent education reforms and changed its accountability system last year.

Kentucky met its annual goals as a state, but over 40 percent of schools fell short. Holliday says part of the problem is math scores and success at the middle school level.

“While we did make improvement we would have liked to have seen it go a little bit faster and so we’ve gone back in and we’re going to be working really hard with schools and districts over the next school year to support them," said the education commissioner.

Holliday says Kentucky’s 86 percent graduation rate was among the top nationwide, but it should  be paired with the fact that just 55 percent of students who graduate are prepared for college or career.

The Simpson County, Kentucky school district is requiring all students be college or career ready before getting their high school diploma.

The state measures college and career readiness through various tests and credential students can earn, but it’s not a requirement to graduate statewide.

Simpson County Schools Superintendent Jim Flynn says if his students don’t meet the mark, there are safety nets built into the policy.

“They could go out and show their welding skills, do something that benefits the community that proves even though they didn’t hit a benchmark on some kind of standardized test that they can still contribute positively to the community," said Flynn.

Last year only 30 percent of Simpson County students were college and career ready. Flynn says he expects that number to jump to 75 percent when results are released this week.

Kentucky’s high school graduation rate is one of the highest in state history and education officials say more students are finishing college and career ready than ever before.

Gov. Steve Beshear joined Education Commissioner Terry Holliday Tuesday in announcing the preliminary results of new assessment data that will be released later this month. Beshear says the state posted an 86 percent graduation rate this year, improving from the 78 percent rate in 2012. .

Also, more than half of Kentucky students are graduating ready for college and career ready, which means fewer remedial courses for those entering college.

Beshear calls it a turning point in Kentucky education history, which he says at times has been embarrassing.

“But thanks to decades of hard work and policy changes Kentucky has carved out a new reputation. A reputation as a reform minded state that is innovative, bold and relentless," the Governor said.

Results for individual schools and districts are expected to be released late next week.

The Kentucky Department of Education will begin preparing to implement new science standards in the next school year.

The standards revise science education in general, but have drawn controversy for expanding on evolution and climate change. A General Assembly committee rejected the standards this week but Governor Steve Beshear said he will use his powers to enact them anyway.

Dr. Tom Tretter  at the University of Louisville worked on the standards. He’s also helping teachers implement the new lessons. He says even though they haven’t cleared all the legislative hurdles, the state feels it’s best to begin training teachers.

“Given that we feel like its best case and most prudent to go ahead and move forward under the initial assumption at least that we’re going to be working with these Next Generation Science Standards or something that might look just like them," said Dr. Tretter.

Kentucky is among the states providing less per-student funding for public education than they did before the recession.

The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report Thursday highlighting education spending over the last few years. The report shows Kentucky’s funding per-student is around 10 percent lower than what it was in 2008.

Jason Bailey is the organization’s Kentucky representative, and was also on the governor’s Blue Ribbon Tax Commission. He says it’s up to state lawmakers to find new revenue and they can start by acting on some of the tax reforms recommended by the panel.

“The reality is that the budget that lawmakers will make during the legislative session will be as bad or worse than the current budget unless we come up with more revenue.”

The center reports only 20 states have boosted education funding through new tax laws since the recession.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear says he will override a legislative committee’s decision to reject new science standards for public school students. 

The Kentucky Board of Education already approved the Next Generation Science Standards this year, but they were subject to legislative review. The regulation review committee shot down the new standards 5-1 Wednesday, following public criticism that they included teachings on evolution and climate change.

Committee co-chair Senator Ernie Harris rejected the standards, calling them  inferior to Kentucky’s current standards.

“I probably got 100 comments from people around the state to find these regs deficient, and I think I got may three or four in support of the regs," Sen. Harris said.

By law, the governor can override these types of legislative decisions. Beshear says he’s disappointed in the committee’s decision and will move forward with implementation anyway.

A committee of Kentucky and Indiana officials has approved toll rates for the Ohio River Bridges Project after years of research and debate.

The bi-state tolling body unanimously approved toll rates Wednesday of one to twelve dollars, depending on vehicle size and mode of crossing.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock says despite some strong opposition to tolling, they’re necessary to pay for the new End East and downtown bridges and reworking of Spaghetti Junction.

“This is where we wound up after months and months of intense studies so we’re comfortable that it’s certainly not going to be palatable to everyone but it’s an environment in which we can be successful," said Hancock.

Two regional business owners addressed the tolling body Wednesday. Both requested the states consider a discount for large trucks that will bear the highest costs.

But Hancock says the set rates are comparable to national averages.

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After delaying action on toll rates for the Ohio River Bridges Project last week, the bi-state committee in charge of setting rates will meet Wednesday to finish the job.

It was a surprise to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock last week, when Indiana officials said they weren’t ready to approve tolls.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield said the delay shouldn’t be considered opposition to the suggested tolls rates, ranging from one to twelve dollars. He said it was just a matter of getting paperwork together.

Hancock was concerned though, and said Kentucky needs to set toll rates to find investors for  its portion of the project’s cost.

“As interest rates go up obviously over a 35 year term of a financing deal that amounts to serious money, whether that’s millions I’m quite sure probably is," said Hancock.

Norton Healthcare

Officials with Norton Healthcare have rejected the University of Louisville’s request that they end their recently announced pediatric services partnership with UK Healthcare.

University of Louisville’s health care entity  partners with Norton, which owns Kosair Children’s Hospital. The hospital sits on state-owned land and under state rules it  must be used for the benefit of U of L and the citizens of the Commonwealth.

U of L officials say Norton’s partnership with UK violates that agreement, and last week they sent Norton a letter demanding that they end the agreement with UK within 30 days and instead negotiate a new contract with U of L.

This week Norton sent its own letter saying there are no legal grounds for the demands, adding there’s nothing in the agreement with the state that gives U of L a monopoly on Kosair Children’s Hospital.

U of L is threatening legal action once the 30 days are up and has requested that the Attorney General’s office look into the matter.

This year, Kentucky public schools could post their best results ever in two major categories the state measures for overall student progress.  

State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is calling the early results promising.

The Kentucky Department of Education implemented its new accountability system in 2012. So this will be the first time Kentucky can measure its results against a previous year.

The University of Louisville is giving Norton Healthcare 30 days to back out of an agreement with the University of Kentucky to jointly operate Kosair Children's Hospital.

Norton announced the partnership last week, saying it wanted to strengthen pediatric care in the commonwealth. This surprised U of L officials, who have also been trying to negotiate a similar contract with Norton. U of L says the lease agreement for Kosair says the property "shall be used for the benefit of the University of Louisville."

U of L Vice President of Health Affairs David Dunn says the school has already acted on the assumption it would further partner with Norton and Kosair. He says the school has spent millions of dollars expanding operations at the hospital, and he expected to be reimbursed under an eventual partnership.

“And they’ve [U of L] done it with the understanding that Norton at some point—we thought it was a long time ago—would make good on their promises, and these are verbal promises.”

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