Innes speaks on Common Core State Standards

The Bluegrass Institute’s Richard Innes speaks tomorrow, April 25, 2013 on Kentucky’s education performance and “Common Core, Why the Uproar” at a Kentuckians Against Common Core Standards meeting in Louisville.

Meeting time: 7 pm to 9:30 pm

Place: Korea Saehan Church of Louisville
10409 Taylorsville Road
Louisville, KY 40299

Note: Registration Recommended. Do that here.

The education reforms we’ve been arguing about? Mostly, they go nowhere.

No, I didn’t write that. It is the title of this Washington Post article from reporter Jay Mathews about the lack of effectiveness in many past reform fads.

Of course, I did write “KERA (1990-2010) What Have We Learned.”

My report outlines specific failures in Kentucky of many of the reforms that Mathews writes about.

Dropping test scores already causing extensive media coverage

And, they haven’t even been released

The pending release of what should be dramatically lower public school test scores across Kentucky has triggered a big media campaign to cushion the shock. WHAS 11 TV weighted here yesterday with their two-segment coverage.

There are some amazing revelations in this video.

Around 33 seconds into the clip WHAS 11 reporter Joe Arnold says Jefferson County Public Schools told him that this is a new test and these are new standards that paint an HONEST picture of how students are performing.

Imagine that. If scores drop dramatically with an honest test, what kind of test did we have before?

Around 4 minutes and 35 seconds into the clip WHAS says Fairdale High teacher Mary Kenzer told them she had to “relax” her grading under the old CATS system so students wouldn’t flunk. Now, Kenzer says she has to grade like she wanted to grade before, making sure students know the material.

Well, if students have to know it now, but got graded more softly under CATS, it seems obvious Kentucky’s kids really didn’t have to know much under CATS.

A student told WHAS 11 around 4 minutes and 49 seconds into the clip that the school system is no longer holding her hand. She has to know the material on her own.

My, how refreshing!

Why did it take over two decades and the intrusion of the federal government to get our schools to start doing this?

Mr. Arnold says in this clip that the first set of new test scores are scheduled to release sometime in October. That is a change from comments I recently heard that the release would be on October 15th. However, Arnold ends the clip with an interesting comment that the new scores might kick up some dust with school board elections, which would occur shortly after the scores come out – IF the Kentucky Department of Education stays with an October release date.

Could it be that the scores may get delayed more? Say, until after the election? Stay tuned.

Kentucky Department of Education predicts large drops in state test scores

The chickens will soon come home to roost for Kentucky’s state assessment program, substantiating years of Bluegrass Institute research and comments.

We’ve consistently shown you evidence over the years that the scores from the Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT) used for CATS accountability were seriously overstating the real performance of the state’s public school students.

Our comments now are confirmed by – of all people – the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

In a preliminary study released on Friday, the KDE predicts substantial drops in proficiency rates in mathematics and reading when the state’s new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) scores are released (scheduled for October).

The reason is that – unlike CATS testing, which was never aligned to any standard we could understand – the K-PREP is aligned to what students need to learn to be successful in college and careers. That means the K-PREP is much more rigorous than the KCCT, which we always thought was established mostly to make Kentuckians feel good about their school system regardless of real student performance.

In any event, we were right. Big score drops are coming.

To get an idea of how large the score drops might be, click the “Read more” link below.

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Video explains new school assessment and accountability program

As I write this, testing with the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) program is under way in the state’s public schools. K-PREP is completely different from the past CATS program and its Kentucky Core Content Tests, and those differences have generated a lot of questions, and not a little confusion, among both education professionals and parents.

In an attempt to clarify what is, and is not, in K-PREP, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and his staff put together a 28-minute video that overviews the new program and deals with some of the more commonly raised questions about how K-PREP is going to operate.

You can view this video by clicking here.

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Education commissioner outlines reasons why Kentucky is dropping readers for its reading tests

Some of you who are not regular readers of this blog probably crossed your eyes over this headline.

“How can you read kids a reading test,” you probably asked yourselves.

Well, this is Kentucky, where just about every radical education fad has its day. Back in the early days of KERA, in the interests of getting all kids to take the state’s assessments, some misguided souls decided that readers could indeed be provided to learning disabled students for all our assessments, including the reading tests.

Over time, that bad policy led to a large proportion of our learning disabled students being provided readers for the reading assessments. These kids were only took a spoken word comprehension test – sometimes with lots of additional help like someone to write down their answers – but you couldn’t tell from the test scores. It wasn’t clearly mentioned in older reports from the Kentucky Department of Education, either.

Along the way, this terrible policy fostered a situation where schools didn’t have to make any attempt to teach thousands and thousands of Kentucky students to read and decode printed text. Meanwhile, the public was left in the dark about potentially large numbers of students who were simply not being given the opportunity to learn reading.

After two decades of this bad policy, the Kentucky Board of Education finally moved to call a halt; however, some misguided, or misinformed, individuals still are trying to keep the test score inflating readers on duty.

Read why Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday says the new policy is needed here.

Kentucky’s education commissioner explains the new accountability system

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday provides a brief but interesting overview of Kentucky’s new public school assessment and accountability program in this Ledger-Independent article.

What remains to be seen is how well Kentucky’s new assessment and accountability program follows through on reducing the achievement gaps that have continued to plague the state for decades.

To that end, the US Department of Education issued a letter to Commissioner Holliday concerning the state’s recent receipt of a waiver from No Child Left Behind, which is also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This letter concerns how Kentucky’s schools and Local Education Agencies (LEAs), which Kentucky refers to as school districts, will be monitored and expected to improve. That ‘US Ed’ letter, which came from Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary, says:

“The (US) Department will monitor Kentucky’s use of a combined subgroup to ensure that Kentucky continues to provide transparency with respect to the performance of individual ESEA subgroups and the implementation of Kentucky’s index to ensure that schools and LEAs with continued low subgroup performance are identified for appropriate interventions and supports.”

So, if Kentucky’s new program leaves minority and other special students behind (a major failing in our earlier CATS program), people in Washington say they are going to react.

We will be following the gap issue closely at the Bluegrass Institute, as well. While we see lots of improvement in Kentucky’s new assessment program (including a better, college and career focus in testing), we too are concerned that minority performance may or may not be adequately considered in the final, single school ranking the state’s new program will generate.

In any event, if problems do arise in the achievement gaps area, or if we can’t get access to the data to see if there is a problem, it sounds like the institute will have a lot of company in the corner crying foul.

School assessment and accountability in Kentucky: Hopefully moving forward

This week the US Department of Education announced that Kentucky will receive “full flexibility,” as Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) spokesperson Lisa Gross characterized it, from many requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

Under NCLB, Kentucky’s schools were required to bring all students to a 100 percent proficiency rate in reading and mathematics by 2014. Success along the way was measured against “Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO),” which included separate evaluations of scores for racial subgroups, students in poverty and even students with learning disabilities. Each student subgroup had to meet the annual AMO target. If even one subgroup failed in a school, that school would face sanctions.

That 100 percent proficiency requirement and the separate AMO targets angered many educators. School personnel claimed this was clearly an impossible goal to reach in such a short time frame, and that it was probably impossible for students with learning disabilities. Many schools were identified as “Improvement Schools,” which meant they had failed to make an AMO and thus did not make Adequate Yearly Progress overall.

The NCLB program also essentially created confusion. There were two separate accountability programs in the state. Schools could do well on one while falling into the sanctions category on the other. It happened frequently.

One part of NCLB did have merit, however. With its focus on racial minorities, NCLB finally forced Kentucky to really pay attention to the achievement gaps for the state’s minority students. Neither the original KIRIS assessments created by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 nor the replacement CATS system, which came on board in 1999, provided effective accountability for minority students. Instead, because all scores for all students first were averaged together to develop a single overall average score to be compared to a single standard, it was possible for schools to perform very poorly with minority students and yet escape penalties under both KIRIS and CATS.

It was also possible for schools to perform very poorly in either math or reading, or both, but to offset that with much better performance in other evaluated areas. As a result, it was possible for a school to have a very low proficiency rate in, say, math, but still score well enough to avoid sanctions all the way to the end of the CATS accountability period (which was also set for 2014).

Another problem with Kentucky’s assessments is neither KIRIS nor CATS seemed to measure what is now considered to be of primary importance for students. The goal that wasn’t adequately measured: getting students ready for college and careers.

As time went on, especially for CATS, it became abundantly clear that Kentucky’s statewide school assessment program was not reliably measuring student performance that mattered. CATS scores continued to rise while remedial course requirements in Kentucky’s public postsecondary education system remained very high. By 2009, the Kentucky Legislature had enough and directed, through Senate Bill 1, that the KDE completely revamp our state assessment to make it relevant to students and the public with a true focus on college and career readiness.

Flash forward to the present, and the creation of Senate Bill 1 nicely set the stage for the Kentucky Department of Education to craft a good NCLB waiver request. The new assessment program coming on line over the next few years will have a definitely college and careers focus, and it will eventually include many important elements such as evaluation of education gaps, ACT college entrance test scores, measures of student progress over time and evaluation of programs that are not easy to test such as each school’s programs for Arts and Humanities.

There will also be increased accountability for high school graduation rates.

There may be at least one potential problem with the new system. The new assessment and accountability system will still aggregate scores from many sub-areas into one final score to be compared to a single, annual performance standard. Without separate AMO tests for critical areas such as minority gaps, this can lead to the same very serious problem we had with KIRIS and CATS: schools balancing very poor performance in key areas or with certain student subgroups with better performance in others to ultimately escape badly needed attention.

I am told that the federal government is well aware of this problem, and the final, approved waiver request supposedly adds in some AMO ‘tripwire’ areas for gaps and graduation rates to overcome the weakness in KIRIS and CATS. I have not had time to go over the entire waiver approval package, so I don’t know if this is actually included, or not.

One thing is certain. While the improvement in the education of our kids is still an on-going question, there is no doubt that many people in Kentucky both inside and outside the school system – including us at the Bluegrass Institute – are a lot smarter about school assessment than we were a decade ago. If the new program does have weaknesses, we will be a lot more likely to spot those problems, a lot quicker, than ever before. And, we will be watching out for those problems.

In the end, we certainly hope that our new assessment and accountability program will turn out to be exactly what almost everyone really wants – a high quality evaluation tool that will highlight exemplary schools to learn from and those schools where a lot more learning still needs to start.

What’s YOUR Beef with CATS?

With our new blog up and running with a properly functioning comments feature, I have a question for our readers.

What do you think are the biggest problems with the state’s public school assessment program, commonly known as CATS?

I know what I think is wrong, but I want to hear what you are worried about. If you list each concern separately with a short explanation, I may be able to cut and paste your responses right into future Bluegrass Institute publications. If I can use your name with that, please let me know, otherwise the comments will be anonymous.

So, it’s your turn. Please tell us what you think. The kids of Kentucky are counting on you.

CATS Task Force Primer – Writing Tests

The “we-must-test-writing” fanatics in Kentucky have a new credibility problem.

Two years ago the SAT college entrance test added a mandatory writing sample to the traditional multiple-choice tests in verbal and math skills. The first study of how well that might have improved the SAT’s prediction of college success is now available. It looks like the very time-consuming SAT writing element adds virtually nothing, as the New York Times reports.

Of course, the Times has been having credibility problems of late, so we went to the College Board’s Web site to see if the newspaper got it right (The Board creates the SAT). This time, the Times is on target. The College Board itself admits, “The results show that the changes made to the SAT did not substantially change how predictive the SAT is of first-year college performance.”

So, here is a question for those folks who are about to sit down and debate possible changes to our CATS school assessments. We know writing is important. But, if the people at the College Board did not come up with a writing test that adds value to the multiple-choice parts of the SAT, why do we in Kentucky think that the excessive time and cost required to test written answers is an essential part of our assessment program? The issue isn’t the need for writing; it is the question of whether we can effectively assess and score written answers in CATS a way that adds accuracy and value to the overall assessment scores. The College Board just found out they are not getting much from evaluating writing, and I remain unconvinced that Kentucky gets much value from the huge amount of time and money spent on written answers in CATS, either.