Report Raises Questions About Ky.'s Testing System

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Kentucky officials have made remarkable progress in overhauling the state's student-assessment program, but much work needs to be done to refine the tests and explain their purpose to teachers, according to the first independent evaluation of the test.

The study by the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University, released last week, was commissioned by the state school board and overseen by the Kentucky Institute for Education Research, an independent nonprofit group. The state legislature also requested a separate evaluation, which is being supervised by the state's Office for Education Accountability. It is due out this spring.

Last week's report commends the state for its progress. But it adds that "more time and effort are needed to resolve a number of difficult technical, utility, and communication issues associated with the development of the totally new assessment and accountability system."

Too Subjective?

The studies were commissioned after parents and critics of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act called for changes during last year's legislative session. At the heart of their complaints was the assessment system, which requires open-ended answers meant to tap student creativity, stress writing skills, and promote the teaching of teamwork. Foes of the reforms charge that the tests are unproven and too subjective, making them unreliable gauges of school or district improvement.

Scores for students in grades 4, 8, and 11 are used as the main barometer of the effectiveness of local teachers and were the primary basis for divvying the state's $26 million reward fund earlier this month. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1995.)

The Western Michigan University review agrees that the system may not be "sufficiently reliable" for administering the state's rewards and sanctions. It also recommends that the state consider monitoring the improvement of a given group of students instead of taking a snapshot of each year's 4th, 8th, and 11th graders.

The study also suggests the addition of other performance categories aside from writing, increased training for teachers, and investigation of complaints that the new focus on the test has led teachers to narrow what they teach.

The researchers conclude that the problems they identified are to be expected in such a novel program.

"Neither education and testing agencies nor the measurement profession has solved the many technical and operational problems with large-scale use of performance-based assessments," the report says.

Vol. 14, Issue 22

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