Ky. Senate Gives OK To Measure That Would Replace KIRIS Test

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After months of political wrangling, lawmakers in Kentucky have agreed essentially to replace KIRIS, the state's embattled K-12 testing program.

Legislation passed in the Senate March 25--a compromise between a Senate bill that would replace the state assessments with national standardized tests and a House bill that proposed minor doctoring of the current system--would administer KIRIS, the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System, for the last time in schools this spring. Then, starting next year, schools would begin phasing in the new Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS.

The CATS tests would feature standardized, nationally normed, multiple-choice questions, allowing parents and educators to compare academic achievement of Kentucky students with that of students in other states. The new tests would also track the progress of the same group of students from year to year and scale back the written portion of the current exam, thus shortening the amount of time schools spend administering the tests.

The compromise testing bill has received the endorsement of leaders in the House--where the bill is expected to be taken up this week--as well as the governor and major education groups. The legislation appears poised to become law.

"This bill, which I will support, allows us to address the concerns of many Kentuckians about the current testing system," Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat, said in a statement after the Senate vote. The legislation, he continued, will "establish a new and more accurate assessment of how our children are doing in school while continuing to hold our schools accountable for results ... making the adjustments we all recognize are needed."

In an interview last week, Karen Jones, the president of the state PTA, said the bill "would allow parents to understand the tests and be a part of the system."

"It will prove to them that [the Kentucky Education Reform Act] is doing what it intended to do," she said, referring to the 1990 law that revamped Kentucky's school system.

New Ratings

KIRIS is composed of several different kinds of tests that emphasize reading, writing, and analytical thinking. The tests were created in 1991 as part of the court-ordered overhaul of the state's schools.

In addition to moving from KIRIS to CATS, the bill approved last week would require the state to develop a new school rating system for test scores and change the rewards and sanctions associated with the tests.

Under the CATS plan, reward money for schools with improving test scores would be doled out to the schools, rather than to teachers, as is the current practice. In addition, schools with declining test scores would be required to come up with improvement plans in order to receive state financial help. Such schools would also be assigned a team of local parents and "highly skilled" educators by the state. The educators would have to work with a panel of parents and administrators.

The bill also would permit the parents of students attending schools with declining test scores to request a transfer to another school. The measure, passed 24-14 by the Senate, would create three new panels--one composed of lawmakers, another of educators and parents, and a third of national testing experts--that would work with the education department as it hammers out the details of the new tests and rating system.

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