State increasing accountability for literacy


WKU students, as well as college students across Kentucky, can expect to be held more accountable with their class reading assignments, thanks to a state-wide initiative to improve literacy.

This focus on literacy, as well as other subjects such as math, comes as a result of Senate Bill 1, which the state legislature put into effect in 2009.

In the bill, universities are supposed to cut the number of students needing remedial classes by half by 2014, and raise graduation rates by 3 percent per year until 2014.

Sue Cain, senior policy advisor for the Council on Post Secondary Education, said those goals show a need for universities to step up their focus on retention.

Cain said of the two focal points — literacy and math — the CPE developed, literacy is by far the biggest hurdle.

“More important than understanding standards is understanding the impact these standards have on students coming in to post-secondary education campuses,” Cain said. “We’re seeing more and more struggle.”

Pam Petty, associate professor in the WKU School of Teacher Education, has been traveling across the state with CPE to make faculty aware of the bill —particularly professors teaching remedial and 100-level courses.

Petty said although math is the other focal point, literacy needs to be addressed first. 

Petty said the best way to do this is by holding seminars, department by department.

 WKU teachers who taught at least one 100-level course were required to attend a two-hour seminar or go through a six-hour online training in place of a seminar, Petty said.    

 She said faculty need to do more to hold their students accountable with reading assignments.

“It’s very obvious with most students we have across the state that if they’re assigned a reading, but it’s not tested on in some way in that class, the students won’t read the material,” she said.

Petty said the biggest complaint she’s heard about the bill is from professors who believe helping students improve reading skills isn’t their problem, but should be taken care of before they leave high school.

“A lot of professors on campuses are not educators by profession,” she said. “They’re physicists, or writers, or geologists. They think, ‘The high schools should’ve done that, not me.’”

She emphasized that the seminars encourage staff to maintain their curriculum, not lower their reading standards.

“The more students read and are tested over the readings, the better they’ll get at it,” she said.

Robert Dietle, the history department head, said the training sessions had been very useful, and reaffirmed important teaching strategies.

“These sessions are not revelations not thought of before in higher education,” he said. “Most of the information was very familiar.”