Students in Kentucky public schools will take the current core content test within the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System this spring, but CATS will start going away over the next three years.That is the gist of Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday he will sign into law.The legislation, which passed both chambers of the 2009 General Assembly on Friday, charges the Kentucky Department of Education with developing new standards and a new test for the 2011-12 school year based largely on lawmakers' mandates.Since Friday, educators and advocates from all sides have been finding parts of the new assessment plan to like and dislike.
"The short term is really a mess," said Robert Sexton, the Prichard Committee's executive director. "We are very concerned about the next three years. ... If we can get through that, the end product will be a better system."School accountability will be drastically cut down while the new standards and tests are being created...
..."There's some good and not-so-good sides to it," Daviess County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said. "I'm really surprised there hasn't been more outcry to this."Shelton, who was in Frankfort on Friday when the last-minute discussions on the bill were taking place, gave the Daviess County Board of Education an update at a Friday night board retreat held at the central office."
Quite frankly, the legislature shouldn't be deciding this," Shelton said. "They should set the standards, and the department of education and local districts should be creating this."Shelton said he would have preferred to leave CATS intact until 2014, the target year for all Kentucky schools to have helped students achieve proficiency in the tested subjects."If I was among the public, I would be saying, 'You promised me proficiency by 2014. ... Now what?' " Shelton said.
Board member Frank Riney asked why there was such a push to change CATS."Is it because a bunch of schools are not going to make accountability by 2014, and now they don't have to face the music?" he asked.Shelton said he believes the lack of public outcry may be because a large number of schools are not in line to achieve accountability.
The superintendent speculated the reasons behind the push were more political."We'll find ways to make it work as we always do," he said. "We'll also find ways to make sure other areas not tested are not forgotten, because as you know, if it's not tested, it's not taught."Shelton, who is the president of the Council for Better Education, said legislators got mixed messages from education groups.
The Kentucky Education Association supported Senate Bill 1.Three other groups -- Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents -- could not reach consensus on where assessment should go, Shelton said."I think legislators said, if the educators can't agree, then we have to do this," he said.
Owensboro Superintendent Larry Vick said the new assessment plan has some good features, including reducing the amount of testing and changing the way writing portfolios are used."I support teaching writing and we will continue to stress writing, but the writing portfolio is not as reflective of students' abilities as it is teachers' coaching, which is perfectly legal under the current system," Vick said.
Vick also is encouraged by components in the plan that will focus on aligning high school and college coursework."There is no reason for a child ever to have to go to college and take a remedial course," he said. "We can coordinate much better with what they need to know to go to college."
Vick also is concerned about the interim years and accountability."Right now we have more questions about the system than answers," he said.
Sandy Hayden, an art teacher at the Owensboro 5-6 Center, said she, too, wants to learn more about the assessment changes. She serves on the state's core content advisory committee for visual art."Personally, my greatest concern is with the possibility/reality of the arts being removed from the test," she said in an e-mail message. " I fear programs will be removed (from study) because they are not 'on the test.' "Hayden said Kentucky's testing system was meant to improve education, but in the end it has been our "own worst enemy." ...
Angela Gunter, a senior writing teacher at Daviess County High School, said she's excited about the changes."I think the on-demand test given to seniors is a much better tool for me as an instructor and measure of student ability than the portfolio," Gunter said in an e-mail message.
"It is comparable to the writing portion of the ACT ... ."Gunter also said she will be happy to be able to refocus some class time she is spending on portfolio preparation toward specific students' needs for college writing.
Bonnie Watson, a writing specialist at the Owensboro 5-6 Center, thinks the assessment changes will be good for education. She, too, prefers the on-demand writing test at the end of the year as a true assessment of students' writing."If teachers are teaching the writing process throughout the year, students should be able to perform on the test at the end of the year," Watson said. "I've seen that to be the case here at the 5-6 Center. We teach the children how to write, and their scores reflect that. ..."
Sunday, March 22, 2009
This from the Mesenger Inquirer: