For years, educators repeated that 2014 date over and over again as the time when Kentucky would really be able to see the rewards of its education reform efforts. Only something happened along the way.
Whether it was political maneuvering, the fact it became clear too many schools would not reach that goal, or more likely a little of both, Kentucky decided to scrap the CATS test -- and essentially say the 2014 "finish line" was merely an oasis, and the state needed a fresh start on holding schools accountable.
The legislature voted to devise a new test and a new accountability system, and it's this system that Holliday now wants to use as a replacement for federal adequate yearly progress requirements.
But how long until these "new" standards are thrown out as well? What happens when the political winds shift again, or if the results don't paint the type of picture education officials are expecting?
Parents, educators, business leaders and anyone else who cares about the quality of education needs to have an accountability system that they can trust to actually have some meaning. That doesn't mean that tests and standards can't be tweaked to reflect changes in core content or student demographics.
But it's time to determine what the standards will be, set goals with firm deadlines, and then continue on that path long enough to determine which schools are succeeding, which are broken, and what needs to be done to fix them. Otherwise, we're just left with a bunch of test scores, but no real accountability.The concern about moving the goal posts is well taken--and a key reason why the Prichard Committee, the Council for Better Education, and the Kentucky Association of School Councils continue to offer Transition Index data that comes as close as possible to sustaining our old accountability system until the new one kicks in.
Still, the future may be better than the past on this issue, because our next system will have two new built-in reasons to stay focused and avoid frequent changes in direction. First, there is lots of public support for the fact that our new literacy and mathematics standards will be consistent with those used more than forty other states, making it hard to explain going back to a one-state approach. Second, by 2015, we expect to share a testing system with many of those other jurisdictions, giving us results we can compare nationwide and lots of cost-savings into the bargain, and that too will be hard to give up.
Both factors will promote a stable system of goals and consequences, allowing the main debate to be about the best ways to ensure that all schools move steadily toward delivering for all students.