Senate Bill 1 would abandon the high standardsof 1990 law
Make no mistake about it: Senate Bill 1 would be a major retreat from the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
The bill would abandon two of KERA’s greatest strengths: Its insistence on holding schools and teachers accountable for how well their students perform on tests, and its demand that students not only prove that they can recite certain facts but also can apply that knowledge in practical ways.
The bill co-sponsored by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R- Springfield, and others would replace the high standards and demanding tests of KERA with national standardized, multiple choice tests that were the norm in the days before KERA.
Unlike the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System — CATS — those standardized tests tell us little about whether students can apply their knowledge and absolutely nothing about their ability to write. But CATS and portfolio writing would be scrapped by Senate Bill 1.
Senate President David Williams said his bill would eliminate arts and humanities testing, open response questions and scoring of student portfolios as part of the accountability testing. But one of the greatest strengths of KERA is that is demands that students display knowledge in a wide-variety of subject areas.
In contrast, the federal No Child Left Behind Act tests students only in reading and math. No Child Left Behind may have helped schools improve in other states, but not in Kentucky, which was already holding schools more accountable than the federal law does.
Senator Kelly — who opposed KERA when it was first enacted and has repeatedly tried to gut the law — says Senate Bill 1 will save the state money now spent on grading CATS. He’s right. It takes time and knowledgeable people to fairly grade the essay and open-ended questions on CATS and to evaluate the portfolios, while a computer can grade the multiple choice answers on standardized tests in a matter of minutes. The answers are either right or wrong; there is no gray area.
Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley, D-Richmond, complains that under KERA “teachers are encouraged to teach the test, as opposed to teaching the kids.” So what? If the tests fairly measure the skills that we want students to acquire, should not teachers be teaching those skills as opposed to something else?
Senator Williams’ sponsorship of this bill — and the high priority the Republican majority has given it by designating it as Senate Bill 1 — is particularly disappointing. As a senator who had no leadership position in 1990, Williams courageously opposed the Republican leadership by voting for KERA. For that vote, he earned the wrath of his GOP colleagues. It took a few years for him to emerge from political exile and rise to become the most influential Republican in Frankfort. Now he is trying to use that power to gut the bill he boldly supported.
Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Grayson, also has been a strong supporter of KERA. Will he now join his GOP colleagues in attempting to weaken the bill? To his credit, he has at least not signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.
There is another former Republican legislator who should buck the GOP leadership in the Senate by opposing Senate Bill 1: Education Commissioner Jon Draud.
In the final weeks of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s term, Draud, the former superintendent of the tiny Ludlow School District, resigned from his seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives to become the state’s top educator. At the time, Draud’s supporters insisted he was a educator, not a politician. He now can prove that by opposing this GOP attack on KERA. If he fails to do so, Draud will prove he is more loyal to the Republican Party than he is to quality schools in Kentucky.
Sure, we know that KERA is not perfect and neither is CATS. But since its enactment, the law has undergone constant change and so has the way students are
tested. That was to be expected. Kentucky was breaking new ground by enacting a law that moved away from standardized testing. The development of CATS has been an 18-year work in progress. Kentucky public schools have improved in the last 18 years, mainly because KERA has demanded constant improvement.
Public education in this state still is not where it needs to be, but it is no time to abandon the high standards and accountability of KERA.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
This from the Ashland Daily Independent: