Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Viewpoint: HB 508 offers a strong step forward

HB 508 starts with key assessment ideas from SB 1 and strengthens them by:
  • Taking a systematic approach to content standards revisions, more likely to get us the lean, globally competitive focus we need.
  • Insisting on constructed-response items as part of the test, protecting the problem-solving and communication skills we'd lose with a strictly multiple-choice approach.
  • Keeping a major norm-referenced component, but making sturdy criterion-referenced testing the central approach.
  • Adding muscle to the “program review” approach to writing portfolios—though still not using the scores for accountability.
  • Adding the same muscle to the reviews for arts and practical/vocational.
  • Insisting that higher education join in setting standards that really fit college readiness.
  • Insisting that teacher preparation programs equip teachers to teach to those standards.
  • Taking a stronger approach to equipping teachers to adjust instruction to student needs.
  • Opening the door to the end-of-course testing option, though without requiring it yet.
  • Setting a demanding-but-doable timetable for the big changes.
  • Sunsetting CATS when we've built our new assessment right.
It isn't perfect legislation, or course. No bill ever is. For instance, I'm concerned about:
  • How we'll work through assessment design concerns, especially if we don't revive the National Technical Panel to guide us on psychometric issues.
  • How program reviews will get the clarity, energy, and funding to succeed.
  • How teachers will get the continuous information they need for instruction and schools will get the interim data they need for program improvement--because HB 508 and SB 1 both talk about "formative assessment" but don't tackle the deep challenges and costs.
Still, HB 508 is not just a good defense or a way to survive another skirmish. HB 508 is a fresh, strong opportunity to build something important for our kids and our state. Speaking for myself, I hope something very close to this bill becomes Kentucky law.

1 comment:

  1. My concern with any legislation is that it becomes prescriptive before a thorough analysis is performed about the intended purpose(s) of the assessment. While I feel there are many excellent and important elements in the legislation, I feel we should step back and answer two critical questions.
    1) What outcomes are desired for students at various levels of elementary and secondary public education, and
    2) What evidence is Kentucky willing accept to determine if those outcomes are being achieved?
    There is consensus that too much testing is done and that far too much instructional time is devoted to preparing students for the assessment. The fiscal impact to the Commonwealth is minimal when loss of instructional time is considered. Regardless, the leading factor in any decision is the purpose of the assessment.
    I feel it is critical to involve assessment experts from both within the Commonwealth and nationwide to assist in structuring the development of an efficient, cost-effective program that would meet all requirements of NCLB but limit external assessment (largely normative) and rely more heavily on teacher-based observations to compliment the norm referenced component.
    I personally feel Kentucky could develop a “blended” assessment approach in an assessment program that would not compromise the instructional dedication to a core content and offer norm-referenced testing that would produce individual results. My idea is to scale back the CATS assessment to meet the content area and grade level requirement of NCLB but go a different direction with the core content assessment. In my opinion and that of many measurement scholars is that the best way to measure achievement is through direct observation. I feel we could develop a state-wide standardized grading and reporting model that is grade specific and aligned with the core content and national standards in progressive strands (example NCTM standards). Reporting would be more frequent (grading periods) and would either replace or supplement the current report card but be standards-based. KDE might also consider integrating this into the Infinite Campus. Portfolios and other strengths of the current assessment system could be maintained. The cost of such a system would be far less but potentially more healthy from an educational perspective.
    To connect the reporting system to normative assessment, if a school’s reporting deviates significantly from the normative results an audit might be warranted.
    Regardless, while the legislation is a good step forward, I am concerned about a prescriptive nature that would limit what experts in the field might recommend.

    Ben Oldham
    Distinguished Service Professor
    Georgetown College


Updates and data on Kentucky education!