Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Beshear Comes Out Against CATS Overhaul

This from

Gov. Steve Beshear Gov. Steve Beshear today came out strongly against a proposal led by Senate President David Williams to overhaul Kentucky's CATS testing program.

The governor said the proposal has multiple flaws, and called on lawmakers to reject it."Although we've made measurable progress in student achievement over the last decade and a half, public education in Kentucky is not yet where it needs to be,'' Beshear said in a statement released Wednesday. "This bill will not help us get there,'' he asserted.

Williams and other proponents of the overhaul say the existing CATS program is too subjective, takes too much time to administer and gives parents and
educators too little in the way of useful information about how students are progressing relative to their peers across the country. The bill's sponsors asserted - and an initial analysis by the Kentucky Department of Education confirmed - that their proposal to eliminate certain categories from the test and drop the written portions of the CATS tests in favor of a nationally-normed, multiple choice series of assessments would cut testing time in half and save the state at least $6 million annually.

Beshear, however, called CATS the "heart'' of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, which said has helped bring students in the commonwealth to the middle of the pack nationally in terms of achievement.

He said in a statement that he doesn't regard either KERA or CATS as "sacred cows,'' and noted that the testing program has been through "at least a dozen major alterations in the last five years alone.''

The first-term Democratic governor criticized the Williams bill, Senate Bill 1, for not giving the most recent change to the CATS regime, made two years ago, "an opportunity to prove its worth yet.''

Beshear also said SB1 has not yet undergone a rigorous public analysis, but asserted that such a review would reveal multiple flaws. In his view, they include:

* Abandonment of the priniciple inherent in KERA that all students can and should become proficient. By their very nature, he noted, nationally normed tests rank students along an achievement curve.

* Eliminating test questions that require students to explain what they know.

* Jeoparding Kentucky's compliance with federal No Child Left Behind Act. (SB1 proponents have noted, however, that many states with nationally normed multiple choice assessment programs comply with the federal law, which is currently up for reauthorization by Congress.)

* Ignoring the professional judgement of Kentucky educators who developed the CATS testing system.

Beshear's release quoted Kentucky Education Secretary Helen Mountjoy as joining him in opposition to SB1.

"Although we have not moved as fast or as far as we would have liked, the fault does not lie with CATS,'' she stated in the release. "It gives us a valid and reliable assessment of where students are today.''

Meanwhile, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jon Draud was quoted in published reports as expressing an interest in convening a blue ribbon task force to investigate changes in Kentucky's student testing system.

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