Monday, June 20, 2011

Governor’s testing request is premature

Would drop NCLB for school assessment program that still doesn’t even exist

In a bid to escape the accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is asking the US Department of Education to allow Kentucky to use its own state system of accountability, instead.

One big problem here is that a Kentucky state assessment system currently does not exist. A new system is in development (presently being called the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress, or K-PREP), but no-one yet knows how well it will actually work.

In fact, the new assessment’s scoring scheme, tentatively approved by the Kentucky Board of Education at its June 2011 meeting, repeats precisely the same mistake the state made with the now defunct KIRIS and CATS assessments. The new assessment program would average all the individual scores for academic tests and other areas together under one, final score. That one final score would then be used to determine the school’s accountability rating.

This inadequate scoring approach allows really bad, completely unacceptable performance in some areas to be offset by better scores from other areas. Under this approach, a school can wind up with terrible math scores, maybe just for African-American kids or poor kids, and still escape all accountability (to see examples of how that worked with CATS, check this out).

This serious assessment flaw that can leave some kids behind isn’t what the Congress wanted when it passed NCLB, and it still isn’t what many of us want, either (of course, those who want to duck accountability probably think the idea is great).

I admit to being hopeful that, once all the kinks are worked out, the new Kentucky assessments will turn out to be a very good program.

But, that remains to be seen.

NCLB certainly isn’t perfect, but it has helped to finally bring some real accountability to schools that have badly needed it for years. KIRIS and CATS never did that. Stopping the NCLB process cold and proposing to replace it with something that right now doesn’t even exist strikes me as premature.

I’m surprised the governor doesn’t see that.

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