Middle Schools : Kentucky : A Head Start on the Future

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Middle Schools : Kentucky : A Head Start on the FutureSCHOOL OFFICIALS IN KENTUCKY HAVEbegun preparing students for the 21st century by bringing one oftheir own systems out of the last millennium.

Kentucky's Individual Learning Plan (ILP) is an online version of the state's Individual Graduation Plan, the education planner students used to complete with paper and pen at the end of the eighth grade. The new program, launched in 2006, not only computerizes the process but also starts it two years earlier, in the sixth grade. Through the ILP, run by Toronto-based Career Cruising, a developer of online career guidance resources, students lay out and begin to move toward their future goals, receiving guidance from both educators and parents. Students can review, modify, and add to the plan as they pass through middle and high school, and it enables them to see a closer connection between their coursework and the world that awaits them. The ILP also helps schools and districts plan educational programs and opportunities to meet the needs and interests of their students.

Lorry Beth Wilson, the ILP administrator for Ballard County Schools, says the system fits with how students like to handle content. "The students enjoy putting information in the program," she says. "It's what they are used to doing in the digital age. The paper copy does not fit into their learning and working style."

Students have many features at their disposal in the ILP, such as Career Matchmaking; Resume Builder; Goals and Plans; Activities and Experiences; Awards and Recognitions; and Education Planner. They also receive the benefits of GoHigher KY, a website where students can explore how to plan for and pay for college, as well as browse different schools. Together, these components create an easily accessible digital portfolio of the student's educational accomplishments and ambitions. Ultimately, the system makes students better prepared for dealing with the pressures of applying to college.

The Kentucky Board of Education has taken a major step to make sure that schools are implementing the program. In 2006, the board amended the state's high school graduation requirements to include the ILP, beginning with the graduating class of 2012. Dozens of middle and high schools in the state were introduced to the new electronic format when it launched two years ago, and many more this year.

By having students begin developing their ILPs when they have just entered middle school rather than when they're on the verge of leaving it, the state hopes to get them and their parents talking sooner about what they want from their education. Linda Pittenger, former director of the Kentucky Department of Education's Division of Secondary and Virtual Learning, emphasizes that the ILP is not designed to give students concrete ideas about what they should do with their lives.

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"This is not about looking at every sixth-grader and saying, 'Okay, what are you going to be when you grow up?'" she says. "This is about [getting] students and their parents to begin talking about the purpose of education, what their goals are going to be, that high school is important, and that it is important to get ready for high school.

"The most important thing is to make sure no child is cut off from the opportunity to go to college. That happens to too many kids."

David Couch is the K-12 CIO for the Kentucky Department ofEducation.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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