Test scores will look different next year

by Katheran Wasson Published:

Educators still have lots of questions about Kentucky’s new testing system, which will be administered for the first time this spring.

But one of those may be a little clearer now, after the state sent schools their “simulated” results for the upcoming exam.

Projected scores range from 51 to 70 at schools in Franklin County and Frankfort Independent on a scale of 0 to 100. That puts most local schools in the bottom half statewide.

That concerns Chrissy Jones, assistant superintendent for Franklin County Public Schools. Parents, teachers and the public are used to seeing scores that hovered in the range of 80 to 100 in recent years – scores calculated on a much larger scale of 0 to 140.

“It’s going to be a big change for us because the numbers are going to look totally different,” she told The State Journal earlier this week.

“Forget anything you saw in the past because those numbers are no longer things that we can look at – we’ve got to start fresh next year.”

The real results won’t be available until next August or September, but school leaders are already preparing for the change.

Jones will meet with principals in a couple of weeks to discuss the simulated test scores, which are based on last year’s results.

She hopes the numbers will give them an idea of what to expect and what they need to work on.

“Right now, I think for our principals and teachers, it’s the big unknown,” she said of the new testing system, launched by 2009 state legislation known as Senate Bill 1.

State Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, who filed the legislation to overhaul the state’s testing system, said the shift would reduce testing time and place more emphasis on individual student scores, instead of school and district results.

“For those of us who were around in the early ’90s when KERA (the Kentucky Education Reform Act) came out, it’s kind of that same feeling except now we know what assessment feels like,” Jones said.

That may be why many teachers and principals are anxious about the transition to the new testing system, she said. They don’t know yet what the exams will look like, Jones says, though they may receive a sample test in March.

“I feel like we’re in the same boat we were in during the ’90s, but a lot of our teachers were students then and they didn’t experience it as educators,” Jones said.

Testing for kids in elementary and middle school will take place over five days during the last two weeks of school. What used to be separate exams will be combined in the same test booklet, Jones said.

The performance of at-risk students will play a greater role in the new system because all will be counted together in one large pool, Jones said.

The state previously divided students into subgroups based on race, income level and disabilities, but schools weren’t accountable for a group’s performance if it was small.

“Now every student counts,” Jones said.

“I think, honestly, it’s good (the change) because you’ve got to look at every kid, and it really, really levels the playing field throughout the state.”

High school students will take end-of-course exams in four subjects this spring: U.S. history, algebra II, biology and English II.

Those tests will count for 20 percent of their grade in the course, and the state will use the results to judge how well high schools are doing.

Teachers have gone through training, and they are prepping students through practice exams, Jones said. Tests given throughout the school year also mirror the end-of-course format, she said.

“I think they will try harder (than in past years) just because of the ownership,” she said, referencing the challenges in motivating teenagers to do well on state exams.

In the coming months, Jones says principals and district officials will work to get the word out about the changes. Parents are starting to ask questions about when their kids will be tested and what the tests will include, she said.

“We need to really get that communication out,” she said.

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