Sunday, January 18, 2009

Four big ideas for Kentucky testing

I believe that the CATS assessment is better for children than an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test, but I do not think it is the best it can be. Four concepts seem to me to hold special promise for creating a stronger test and promoting higher student achievement.

First, we should aim for balanced assessment. Short, clear, powerful standards can guide great classroom work. With those standards, teachers and students can organize their activities around regular evidence of forward movement. Mathematics standards should be our first priority, because that is where our progress has been weakest thus far. Beyond that, all Core Content subjects should be set up for a similar classroom method. The best revisions to Kentucky testing will flow from standards that also work for classroom excellence.

Second, international benchmarking can help us check that our standards and our student results are high enough for global competition. Again, math is the place to start, but other key subjects should follow quickly.

Third, end-of-course testing may be the right way to get high school improvement back on track. I do not want exit exams that keep a student from graduating, but I do see benefits in having the end-of-course scores be a fraction of student grades. Designed well, those tests could also provide sturdy data on readiness for college and for work. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling recommends this approach.

Finally, we can set program standards and monitor implementation in some areas where pencil and paper tests just do not work. In the arts, the Department of Education is already moving forward with efforts to create a far more performance-oriented approach. We may want to adapt a similar model for some skills that employers have repeatedly asked schools to address, including oral communication and teamwork skills.

In recent months, I’ve been in many conversations about ideas like these, including the work of the Task Force on Assessment and Accountability. I’m concerned that we make changes at a responsible pace, one that involves educators, allows good design and permits teachers to implement classroom adjustments well, and one that does not jeopardize our federal funding.

Still, these four ideas give us options for accelerating student progress, and I think we should move quickly to understand their potential.

(That’s the quick overview. Blogging will let us share more details and links to other sources about these ideas soon, and we hope you’ll read, ask questions, raise concerns, and offer your own ideas, starting with the comments section immediately below.)


  1. One more big idea: mandatory funding for online assessment format which allows students with various disabilities to have access to assessment as independent learners.

    We are not preparing these students for post secondary success if we continue in K-12 to support them by reading to them and writing for them when they can do it by themselves with assistive technology. There is no one at the post-secondary level to follow students around and read to them or write for them, a harsh reality for students who have not been prepared to exist as independent learners despite having the academic creditials to attend college. The following announcement is evidence of this, in KY when online assessment existed,128 out of 174 school districts weren't even registered to provide that independence for their students. Now it's gone for everyone.

    This just out:
    On January 15, districts registered to use CATS Online for Special Populations were notified that the Kentucky Department of Education has cancelled this test delivery method for the 2009 administration of the Kentucky Core Content Test. The cancellation will NOT impact spring testing in 128 unregistered districts.

    This cancellation is due to the current budget situation. Given the current financial situation for the Commonwealth, the Office of Assessment and Accountability has evaluated where in the current assessment contracts spending can be reduced with the fewest students and schools being impacted. Like budget cuts made at the district and school level, the cancellation of CATS Online is not good news. It is a difficult, yet necessary fiscal change. Unless the financial situation improves, the cancellation of CATS Online will continue into future years.

  2. I agree with Bob Sexton's 4 big ideas for improving KY's assessment and accountability system. I would add this suggestion to the idea of a more balanced system. Not only do we need to narrow and focus our standards, but we also need a more balanced system in regard to formative and summative assessments. We have placed too much emphasis on the summative evaulation tools and accountability without building the formative tools to ensure assessment's role in guiding instruction and providing both the learner and teacher feedback to improve the learning process. We need quality classroom assessment tools, common assessments and benchmark assessments to measure student progress as they learn and before we administer a summative assessment for accounatbility purposes. This is happening in some KY school districts to some degree, but not with any consistency.

  3. Roger's point is good. For many reading this blog, though, a definition or explanation of "formative" and "summative" assessment might be helpful.

  4. roger.marcum@marion.kyschools.usJanuary 30, 2009 at 4:11 PM

    The term formative assessment is referring to teacher made classroom assessment or common assessments developed by teams of teachers who teach the same core content. Formative assessment also includes interim, benchmark assessments which many school districts purchase from testing companies to measure student mastery of the content 3 or 4 time a school year. Formative assessment's purpose is to guide the instructional process with feedback for both the teacher and learner. Formative should have no accountability consequences. Summative assessment is normally an end of the year annual assessment. A summative is used for accountability purposes and has some value for feedback to guide the learning process for the next school year. To summarize, I will use a basketball analogy, think of formative as basketball practice...a time to learn and approve with no high stakes consequences. Think of summative as game night....the score will be kept, results become public and consequences are expected. Hope this helps.


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