Few lament the quietus of CATS
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and when politics is intertwined with education reform, you never know who you might wake up beside.Take CATS, the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. On one side you’ll find the independent Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and the editorial pages of Kentucky’s two largest newspapers.
On the other side you’ll find the liberal Kentucky Education Association, conservative public policy advocacy groups, every Democrat in the Kentucky Legislature, along with every Republican. Oh, and The Paducah Sun.
Both houses of the general assembly unanimously — unanimously! — backed Sen. Ken Winters’ bill to ditch CATS in Kentucky’s public schools. According to the Associated Press, both chambers erupted into applause after the vote.
The test could be more accurately called CUTS, for Commonwealth Unreliable Testing Sham. The ineffective test does less to measure student progress than give an illusion of progress whether genuine or not. It should have been deep-sixed long ago.
The legislation calls for replacing CATS, which includes open-response questions and writing portfolios, with a national norm-referenced test, still administered at the end of the school year. Scoring open-response and essay questions is necessarily subjective, making it impossible to accurately measure progress or compare Kentucky students’ scores with scores from other states. Replacing CATS is long overdue.
But the (Louisville) Courier-Journal called norm-referenced tests “outmoded, ineffective” in a blistering editorial Friday railing against “conservative, educationally revanchist Republicans,” aided by “lazy” Democrats and a backward Kentucky Education Association opposed to “new ideas.” The editorial lumped the state’s public teachers together, saying they are “grateful for being allowed to escape real accountability.”
Ouch. Sounds like the editorial writers in Louisville are not playing well with others.
The editorial even lamented “the tragic evisceration of (CATS) writing portfolio provisions.” Tragic? Hardly. Tragic describes a fatal car wreck or tornado, not a policy change.
Those writing portfolios, by the way, will be retained as a teaching tool in grades 5-12, as they should be, just not as part of the assessment.
The Lexington Herald-Leader echoed its rival paper Sunday, adding Gov. Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, both Democrats, to the list of bad actors, accusing them of caving to “the worst impulses of both the teachers union and conservative enemies of public schools.”
That’s called painting with a broad brush.
The self-evident escapes CATS’ defenders on the two editorial boards: For any testing instrument to be useful in tracking progress and comparing performance, it must use objective and measurable criteria. If anything is “outmoded,” it is the trendy educational philosophy behind subjective testing methods, designed to elevate self-esteem above actual achievement.Ironically, those states that consistently exceed the national averages in norm-referenced tests don’t complain that the tests are ineffective.
We admit we don’t always, or even often, agree with the Kentucky Education Association. But they’re right this time. CATS was a time-consuming exercise in futility, yielding little information useful for tailoring education plans to address individual student deficiencies.
The KEA supports the planned CATS replacement. The legislation calls for a test to allow both the schools and parents to better track student performance. A side benefit is that it will help identify teachers whose classes consistently exceed expectations and those that regularly fall short. Administrators can prescribe remediation for under-performing teachers — peer coaching, additional coursework — just as teachers do for under-performing students.
Only a few will mourn the demise of CATS. The rest of us dinosaurs — teachers, legislators and proponents of public school accountability, whether liberal or conservative — are happy to say “good riddance” to CATS.