The Kentucky State Board of Education Wednesday unveiled the first component of its new accountability system that is replacing the old Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS).
The new system is the result of Senate Bill 1, the education reform bill passed by the Kentucky Legislature in 2009.
Unlike CATS which judged public schools only on their test scores, beginning in the fall, the new system will use test scores, but it also will judge schools on how much progress they make and whether they are closing achievement gaps with disadvantaged students.
It also measures the academic progress of individual students by looking at their growth over time to see if they are making progress from year-to-year.
Clark County Superintendent Elaine Farris said some educators were a little hesitant about getting a new system, but she likes what she sees thus far and thinks it will work.
“The new system will give educators an opportunity and a way to monitor individual student performance and progress,” Farris said. “The system also includes accountability for closing gaps and I think that is a very important component because in the current system, districts could be designated as successful but still have double-digit academic gaps.”
Beginning next spring, students in grades 3-8 will be given new tests, which are still being developed, in math, science, social studies, reading and writing. The new tests will be based on the new standards the board adopted last year designed to cover fewer topics, but in much more depth than before.
The new systems also calls for high school students to be given end-of-course assessments after they complete algebra II, English, U.S. history and biology, to see if they have mastered the subjects.
Farris said she thought the tougher standards were good for both students and educators.
“I like the college and career readiness and graduation accountability because that should be our goal for every student,” Farris said. “The end of course assessments at the high school level allows the students to have some skin in the game. The student accountability component is not in the current system. Accountability is good and it helps us to keep focused on each and every child.”
The new system classifies schools as distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or persistently low achieving schools will be held accountable for up to five areas depending on whether they are elementary, middle or high schools:
Achievement: All students will be expected to eventually score “proficient” or “distinguished” on state tests. Schools will score more points for having more students scoring proficient or distinguished in reading, math, social studies science and writing.
Schools can get bonus points for students who score distinguished, the highest score, or lose points for students who score novice, the lowest score.
Learning gap: Schools will be expected to close the learning gap on state test scores for groups that traditionally score lower than average, including minority, low-income and disabled students and students with limited English proficiency.
Academic progress: Schools will be judged on how fast students make progress on state tests, with faster progress resulting in a higher score. The goal is 100 percent of students reaching proficiency, the same as CATS.
College and career readiness: Middle and high schools will be judged on whether students are ready for college, as judged by their performance on the ACT Explore, which prepares eighth-and-ninth-graders for high school courseware and has similar to the ACT, by job certifications and other tests.
Graduation rate: High schools will score higher the more of their students graduate.
Each area will count for a percentage of a school’s total score.
Farris said she felt like the new scoring system was more balanced than its predecessor.
“What I like most is that the accountability is more balanced,” Farris said. “A school has to do all those things to be accountable. One area is not more important than another, it’s much more balanced.”
State officials said they expect test scores could drop initially because with the tougher standards, in some cases, concepts currently being taught in student’s sophomore and junior years may be accelerated to eighth or ninth grade.
“The standards are intended to better prepare students for college and career,” said Lisa Gross, KDE division of communications and community engagement director. “We expect student achievement to drop in the first year because we will be teaching to a new set of standards in reading and math.”
New standards for social studies and science will be added over the next few years, and they will be included in statewide tests.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said the new system was the first of many steps toward having a system that would do a better job of measuring a school’s success.
“We do believe this system will promote a better education for all kids across Kentucky,” said Holliday. “It will also provide all schools with an equal opportunity to show academic growth amongst their students.”
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