Thousands of Kentucky Students Taking New Spring Tests

May 7, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky's efforts to overhaul its public education system are being put to their first test, and state officials are trying to control expectations.

"Your proficiency scores may be in the range of 50 percent proficient," Terry Holliday, Kentucky's education commissioner, says in a 30-minute video posted on the Department of Education's website about end-of-year assessments that are replacing tests used for two decades. " ... We shouldn't use that as a scare tactic. What that should be is just that's the average score."

Across the state, hundreds of thousands of Kentucky schoolchildren are taking the tests as part of the annual spring exam ritual, and both the assessments and the results expected this fall are history in the making.

"The key thing is this is just the beginning," Holliday said.

Kentucky is in the midst of a massive remake of its public education system, driven by the 2009 passage of Senate Bill 1.

Earlier this year, the state was granted a waiver from the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law that measured progress on the basis of scores on standardized reading and math tests. The new assessments are part of a five-prong method of determining how well schools are progressing toward a goal of making students ready for higher education or a career.

Many of the state's 174 school districts have already begun two weeks of testing third- through eighth-graders using the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress tests, while others are about to begin. High schoolers have been taking new "End-of-Course Exams" in English II, algebra II, biology and U.S. history.

Unlike K-PREP tests, which are not used to calculate a child's grade, scores from EOCs are used as part of final grades.

Results from the K-PREP tests are expected in September, Holliday said on the video. Parents will receive personalized reports that will show them not only how their school compares with others statewide, but also their child's progress toward the goal of being 100 percent ready for college or a career, even as early as 3rd grade.

"We will label each year whether or not you're progressing, whether or not you're reaching those goals," he said.

The K-PREP tests are based on lessons aligned with the Common Core State Standards, a set of benchmarks designed to ensure a uniform public K-12 education from state-to-state. Coursework using the new standards began to be implemented this school year in the state's 1,233 public schools.

Frank Shelton, spokesman for the rural Knox County public school system in southeastern Kentucky, said teachers had been preparing for the changes for two years.

"We feel that we are on track for good performance by our students," Shelton said in an email.

Shelton said the system is already looking toward making changes in response to early feedback, such as students who said they ran out of time when completing parts of the K-PREP tests.

"K-PREP ... puts a time limit on each testing session," he said. "As a district, we will be looking at doing more timed prompts during the school year to better prepare students for the actual assessment in the spring."

Holliday cautioned that when test results become available in fall, comparisons will be difficult.

"You cannot compare the new scores to the old scores," he said, advising instead that parents who want comparisons look to the individualized reports to see how their child's progress stacks up against others in the state and nation.

Scores from the new tests will comprise one-fifth of the total measurement of a school. The other four elements are the size of the achievement gap among subgroups, student growth, college- and career-readiness benchmarks and graduation rates.

Schools will then be grouped into categories that will determine whether intervention is necessary for improvement.

In addition to the new assessments, students in grades 8, 10 and 11 in Kentucky take tests purchased from ACT, best known for its college-entrance exam. Eighth-graders take the EXPLORE of high-school readiness; 10th graders take the PLAN test to measure college preparation in English, math, reading and science; and all Kentucky 11th-graders take the ACT.