Top Kentucky Educator Praises Tests, Purchase Unclear

Jul 3, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  -- Kentucky's top education official said Tuesday although he's praising new assessments that college testing giant ACT Inc., has developed for primary and secondary schools, it doesn't mean the state already decided to spend millions to buy them.

A national news release from ACT, one of the nation's most influential education testing organizations, promoted their upcoming tests and quoted Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who is in charge of implementing a massive reform of Kentucky education that relies on standardized testing to measure progress.

Holliday said Tuesday his quote in the promotional release didn't mean the state had already planned to purchase the new assessments.

The state spends $1.3 million a year on tests developed by Iowa-based ACT, best known for its standardized college entrance exam but also a developer of tests used in middle school to track student progress.

"We feel like we already have most of the components of that system in place, as a matter of fact," Holliday told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Kentucky ... served as a model as they were developing this suite."

He said Kentucky was willing to field test the new assessment system - free to the state - and would consider purchasing the system if it was "appropriate." At that point, he said, the state would then have to follow normal procedures for procuring a contract.

ACT sent out the news release Monday describing its development of a new group of tests - also known as a "suite" in education jargon - and its partnership on the project with Pearson, another influential education company that publishes textbooks and develops standardized tests and curriculum materials for states.

"The combined strength of ACT's leadership in college and career readiness and educational assessment and Pearson's technology expertise makes this new system a game changer for states as they work to prepare more students for college and careers," Holliday was quoted as saying in the release.

He was the only state-level educator quoted in the two-page release.

"We're just excited that folks are beginning to talk about college- and career-readiness," Holliday said.

ACT said its new, all-digital tests will begin in early elementary school and take students through high school, highlighted by the hallmark college entrance exam.

That's nothing new for Kentucky, Holliday said, since students already begin testing in third grade to make sure they are on-track, Holliday said.

"If kids aren't reading at grade level at third grade, their college and career readiness is greatly diminished," he said.

Kentucky currently contracts with both ACT and Pearson, spending tens of millions of dollars between the two, Gross said.

The state's contract with ACT goes through fiscal year 2014 and pays for tests taken by students in eighth, ninth, and 10th grades, as well as the ACT college entrance exam in 11th grade. Some districts also use an ACT-developed test called WorkKeys to measure job skills, Holliday said.

Pearson's contract with the state totals $58 million through 2018 to develop and administer the new K-PREP end-of-year assessments for third through eighth graders, Gross said.