Kentucky Education Reform Act

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The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) was passed in 1990. At the time, KERA had the most broad sweeping changes of any education reform bill in United States history. [1] The reform came about when the Kentucky Supreme Court declared that the state's schools were inefficient and inequitable. [2] KERA was a legislative response to the court ruling through providing a reorganization of how money is spent in the Kentucky education system and not the amount spent. The result was a complete restructuring of how Kentucky's schools work including reallocation of authority, revamped state testing,

KERA's Six Goals

When the reform act was passed, it was decided that the success of KERA would be measured through six goals. These goals are to ensure that students are able to...

  • use basic communication and mathematics skills for purposes and situations they will encounter throughout their lives.
  • develop their abilities to apply core concepts and principles from mathematics, sciences, arts, humanities, social studies, practical living studies, and vocational studies to what they will encounter throughout their lives.
  • develop their abilities to become self-sufficient individuals.
  • develop their abilities to become responsible members of a family, work group, and community, including demonstrating effectiveness in community service.
  • develop their abilities to think and solve problems in school situations and in a variety of situations they will encounter in life.
  • develop their abilities to connect and integrate experiences and new knowledge from all subject matter fields with what they have previously learned and build on past learning eall xperiences to acquire new information through various media services.

Changes Enacted

The changes that KERA brought about fall into three categories: finance, governance, and curriculum.


A primary aim of education reform and KERA was to reduce the economic disparity between schools. Prior the the enactment of KERA, Kentucky schools received significant funding however it lacked a continuity in local support thus leaving some areas sufficiently funded and others under-funded. [3] In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court declared that Kentucky schools were inequitable and inefficient. In regards to finance, the courts did not call for an increase in funding rather it called for equitable distribution of already available funds. For example: When KERA was introduced in 1990 districts began to receive a predetermined amount of money based on a per-student system. In 1990, districts received $2,305 per student.


Site Based Decision Making Council

A significant change brought about by the KERA reform was the decision to establish school based decision making councils in an attempt to encourage more ownership and identification with the schools. These councils are comprised of 3 teachers, 2 parents, and at least one administrative school staff memeber (almost always the principal). Up to six hours of training is required to serve on a local school council. Primary responsibilities of the school based council include:[4]

    • Hiring to fill vacancies in all school staff positions including teachers and principals
    • Choosing textbooks instructional materials, and student support services available at the school
    • Reviewing CATS testing results and determining steps to ensure student improvement
    • Assessing school improvement plans mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.


Performance Assessment Tests

A key component of the reform act was the implementation of state-wide assessment testing in order to provide a more complete picture of a student's performance. Initially the state adopted The Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS) as the assessment however it was quickly replaced in 1998 by the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS). [5] CATS is comprised of the Kentucky Core Content Test, writing portfolios, ACT, and various other assessments. Within CATS, each school has a baseline score which is used to establish their required progress over time. Schools that do not reach their goals for each two-year period are subject to scholastic audits.[6] The goal within CATS is for each school reach a level of proficiency as determined by the Kentucky Board of Education.

Curriculum and School Councils

In an effort to decentralize authority within the school system, KERA delegated much of the curriculum decision making to the School Based Decision Making Councils. Under KERA, these councils determine what is taught, the text used in classrooms, the extracurricular activities that will be offered at the school and to a large extent those who will be teaching.


Under the reform, districts are able to request matching funds for increased use of technology in the form of a plan outlining how the technology will be implemented.


Due to its broad sweeping nature the Kentucky Education Reform Act garnered much attention nationwide. KERA was seen as a progressive and bold attempt to restructure education statewide and soon after was the inspiration for other states to attempt similar changes. The Kentucky Department of Education website claims that Kentucky's students are learning at a higher level than anytime in the state's history. [7] The Department of Education has also seen progress on the state's own CATS testing since they assessment has been in place, stating:

  • "With few exceptions, the percentage of Kentucky Core Content Test (KCCT) novice learners at all school levels has decreased, and the combined percentages of proficient and distinguished students has increased each year since CATS' inception in 1999. Steady improvement is therefore shown in content-area academic indices since 1999, although some content areas show greater improvement than others."

The Department of Education also claims progress in ACT scores. In a press release from August 13, 2008, the state cited the fact that number of students taking ACT courses and exams is rising as progress. The composite ACT scores for 2008 came to 20.9, a .2 increase over 2007's 20.7. You can view the entire press release here...

Critics point out that the progress on the ACT is actually very small. As of the 2008 ACT report only 19% of Kentucky's tested graduates fully meet the ACT's benchmark scores in English, math, reading and science reasoning that signal complete preparation for college.


In recent years, KERA has come under scrutiny for the fact that many legislators seem to have lost faith in the reform they began in 1990. Many efforts have been made since then to amend the reform, resulting in considerable instability in the results. For example, Mathematics Portfolios were used from 1993 to 1996 but were then disbanded after vigorous protests by parents and teachers. In 1998, the original assessment program, called the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS) was disbanded after the legislature lost confidence in the results. More recently, evidence has appeared that grading standards in the KIRIS replacement, known as the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) have been lowered in order to give the appearance of reaching goals. Education analyst Richard Innes published a report entitled Is The Dream Of KERA Over? in which he discusses a problematic situation in 2004 when the Kentucky Legislature passed House Bill 178, thus "creating a watered down secondary General Educational Development (GED) program for Kentucky’s public schools. Innes cites HB 178 as an example of the state education officials losing faith in the Kentucky Education Reform Act. [8]

Site Based Decision Making

One significant criticism of KERA is in regards to the qualifications needed to serve on the School Based Decision Making Councils. Critics feel that 6 hours of training for someone without any previous education experience does not qualify them to make decisions related to allocating school funds, determining curriculum and discerning the credentials of teachers and principals.


Critics question whether teachers can truly be held accountable for what students learn. Critics also point out that by design there is no individual teacher or student accountability in the CATS program. In fact, due to basic CATS' design features, the data at the classroom level probably is too inaccurate to support teacher accountability.


KERA is accused of neglecting many of the basics of education while favoring a more vague goal of preparing students for the "economy of the future". [9] When KERA began, many education fads took hold in the official state program. These included Progressive education theories about math that critics termed "fuzzy math" and a hotly contested reading program generally known as "Whole Language Reading." Parents were told that students no longer needed to know the multiplication tables or how to do long division. Educators also assured us that well organized reading instruction in the fundamentals was unnecessary as students would learn to read naturally. These concepts have since been discredited by scientific research examined by the National Reading Panel in 2000 and the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2008. However, many Kentucky teachers who trained during the early days of KERA still cling to these out of date ideas. Because teacher training in general does a poor job of preparing teachers to read and understand research, these teachers are themselves inadequately prepared to absorb the results of the better research now available.


See Also


  1. University of Kentucky KERA pageaccessed August 12, 2008
  2. KERA on Wikipedia accessed August 12, 2008
  3. An Evaluation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act William H. Hoyt accessed August 13, 2008
  4. Legislative Research Committee School Based Decision Making Bill accessed August 13, 2008
  5. KERA Assessment Tools (CATS & KIRIS) accessed August 13, 2008]
  6. Kentucky Dept. Of Education CATS webpage accessed August 13, 2008
  7. Department of Education "Proof Of Progress" accessed August 13, 2008
  8. Is The Dream Of KERA Over? Richard Innes
  9. Local Economic Conditions and Kentucky's Education Reform Act (KERA) Stephan J. Goetz accessed August 13, 2008