Essential changes are coming to Kentucky’s public school assessment and accountability program.
A mandatory need for changes to Kentucky’s assessment program and its Unbridled Learning school accountability program is being precipitated by an announcement from the ACT, Inc., that the organization’s EXPLORE and PLAN tests will be discontinued in 2015. Thus, Kentucky can count on using these tests to meet legislative requirements for the assessment and accountability program for only two more school terms, at best.
Senate Bill 1 from 2009 requires readiness tests in the eighth and tenth grade. Until now, EXPLORE and PLAN were by far the best way to meet the requirement. These two ACT tests are closely aligned with the ACT college entrance test and provided eighth and 10th grade students valuable information on how well they are progressing towards college and career readiness. EXPLORE and PLAN also provides helpful guidance information about careers a student might want to consider.
Now, this excellent program, which started in Kentucky in 2006, is going to have to change.
ACT is going to offer new tests, called Aspire Tests. However, Aspire is an uncertain, though potentially very expensive, product at this time. For one thing, Aspire is supposed to primarily be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, making the alignment to the ACT problematic. And, while exact Aspire costs are undetermined, the Kentucky Commissioner of Education mentioned to the State Board that the costs of Aspire will likely be much higher than the current costs for EXPLORE and PLAN combined.
So, right now, a replacement for EXPLORE and PLAN is not immediately obvious.
The Kentucky Board of Education spent time in its meeting this week looking at different options. However, I see problems with the idea that seemed to get the most initial interest, which is to add more End-of-Course tests in high school to better cover the Kentucky Core Academic Standards while using the existing KPREP Grade 8 tests as both achievement and readiness indicators.
The problem is that while the department of education staff claimed the KPREP is already aligned well to the EXPLORE tests, the results from 2013 testing with KPREP, EXPLORE and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) clearly show that alignment isn’t that good.
This table shows the percentage of eighth grade students in Kentucky in 2013 who met the EXPLORE college readiness benchmark scores and the proficiency rates for those students on the KPREP tests and the NAEP for the same year (exceptions: NAEP didn’t test science in 2013 so that score is from 2011 and KPREP science is tested in grade 7 only).
This table makes it clear: In 2013 KPREP consistently reported higher levels of success for Kentucky’s eight grade students than either the EXPLORE or the NAEP.
In reading and math, the performance difference reported between KPREP and EXPLORE is over 10 percentage points. That would equate to in excess of 4,500 more students that KPREP would say are on track for college and careers when that really isn’t the case.
In science the situation is much more dramatic. KPREP is reporting about three times the success rate in this subject that EXPLORE reports. If KPREP were substituted for EXPLORE in this academic area, many Kentucky students would be badly misled about their actual preparation for a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).
So, at this point – thanks to ACT’s incredibly bad decision to discontinue their high quality EXPLORE and PLAN in favor of some unknown tests linked to what some claim is a notably lower standard, the Common Core – Kentucky’s education system faces a real challenge.
Some of Kentucky’s best education trend lines are in danger and an easy way out simply does not seem available.
It will be interesting to see what happens.
And, I think it is fair to lay this potentially costly problem – both in terms of dollars and in trend lines at risk – at the feet of Common Core, which ACT, Inc. is inexplicably jumping all over.