Kentucky Denied Flexibility on Science Testing by Federal Officials

By Liana Loewus — August 26, 2014 2 min read
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The Kentucky education commissioner blasted the U.S. Department of Education in a recent blog post for refusing to give his state a one-year waiver on science testing.

Kentucky is one of a dozen states to have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by 26 “lead state partners” and emphasize scientific inquiry, application, and engineering design. Assessments connected to the new standards have not yet been developed.

In June, Commissioner Terry Holliday announced the state would halt testing students in science for at least a year until the new, aligned assessments are available. “To continue using the out-of-date test would not meet state and federal guidelines that call for a test to measure the current standards,” he explained in a commissioner’s report.

The state approached the U.S. Education Department about flexibility from the No Child Left Behind Act to do this, saying the new science tests would be ready by 2016.

But according to officials at the Kentucky education department, the U.S. Education Department said in verbal communications that the flexibility would not be granted.

Holliday wrote on his blog last week:

We have learned from teachers that they need at least two years of implementing standards prior to assessing them. Additionally, Kentucky teachers and national science assessment experts told us that new science assessments will need to be very different than typical multiple choice tests. Students will actually need to do science and exhibit scientific thinking. ... Kentucky wanted to develop a model of science assessment using Kentucky teachers and national experts that would provide innovative ways to measure student achievement in science ... .

What now? USED expects Kentucky to give a science assessment that measures our previous science standards in spring 2015. This expectation not only violates our state law, but, also violates NCLB, [which] requires states to assess science (once in elementary and middle school) based on current state standards.

He went on to say that the waiver process “is stifling innovation and intruding on a state’s ability to implement state requirements.”

The Education Department has not responded to a request for comment on why it said it would not provide flexibility on science assessments. A spokesperson for the Kentucky education department said “no specific reason was given other than they did not want to set a precedent with science.”

The Bluegrass State did receive a one-year extension of federal flexibility related to its teacher and principal evaluation systems.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.