Parents don’t mind growing pains for higher standards

Ultimately, their students will benefit, they say

By Katheran Wasson Published:

Franklin County parents say they are glad Kentucky’s new testing system is more challenging, even if that means a few painful years as schools adjust to it.

A handful of parents attended forums Tuesday at Elkhorn Middle School and Western Hills High School to learn more about Kentucky’s new system of accountability for public schools.

The first public release of test scores could happen by the end of October after a three-year overhaul of the system.

State officials say the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress test – K-Prep for short – is tougher and focuses more on college and career readiness than the former CATS test, which was in place for about a decade.

Schools and school districts will now get a single score on a scale of 0-100 that encompasses annual test results, college and career readiness measures and graduation rates.

They will have improvement goals each year and must show that they are addressing the needs of minority, low-income and special education students, and those learning English.

Several parents spoke about the changes with The State Journal after Tuesday’s forum at EMS.

Rebecca Bright, a parent representative on the council at Franklin County High School, said the higher standards would cause “some shock and growing pains” at first.

On the surface, school and district scores will appear to drop dramatically. Local schools have earned scores in the range of 80 to 100 in recent years, calculated on a scale of 0 to 140.

But Franklin County Public Schools Superintendent Chrissy Jones said the scores would likely land in the mid-50s on the new scale of 0 to 100.

State education officials also predict that the percentage of students meeting proficiency on the reading and math tests could drop by double digits compared to 2011. Parents used to seeing high scores on their child’s test results could be surprised to see them drop.

But Bright, who works in technology for the Kentucky Department of Education and is the mother of a second-grader and high school junior, said she welcomes the shift.

“I think it’s going to be really good to make sure that we’re challenging the higher achieving students, as well as challenging those who may be struggling,” she said.

“I see it as a very positive thing … in the long run, I think it will put Kentucky students on a much better footing nationally and even globally when it comes time to graduate and maybe go to college and compete.”

Her husband, Bill Bright, a parent representative on the Peaks Mill Elementary council, agreed. He said he hopes his young son will be pushed a little harder in school than he may have been in the past.

“I just hope parents are patient with it because there will be some growing pains, the numbers may look different this time, but that’s not necessarily bad,” he said.

Joann Wells, mother of a fourth-grader at PME and another parent representative on the council, said she is encouraged by the increased focus on already-successful students. Under the new system, schools are responsible for the progress of all students – not just those who fall behind.

“It’s really encouraging for me to see that, because one of the things I’ve struggled with in the school system has been the higher achieving kids not getting sometimes the attention that they need,” she said.

“It sometimes gets frustrating because we want our kids, the higher achieving kids, to be challenged as much as they can be too. I don’t want my child to stay at this level – I want her to keep progressing.”

New this year, the state will rank schools and districts statewide based on their overall results. The rankings will be reported as a percentile score, and schools will earn a label of “distinguished,” “proficient” or “needs improvement.”

Wells said she’s interested to see the rankings, and she envisions some parents switching schools or districts because of them.

“I know a lot of parents in the last several years, with their kids starting kindergarten, looked at the scores of the schools,” she said.

“I’ve known some families who have actually moved out of Franklin County to other counties once their children are school-aged.”

But she hopes schools can use the rankings to improve. She suggested that school councils could visit high-ranking schools to get ideas, for example.

Michelle Little, mother of a third-grader and a high school freshman, who previously worked for FCPS, said there would be competition among schools when the rankings come out.

“Any district you go to, there’s always that one school that’s that high-scoring school, and everybody says, ‘Oh, it would be so good to beat them,’” she said, with a laugh. “I won’t say any names, but…”

Jones said she feels the competition among districts too. She told the parents gathered Tuesday that her goal is for FCPS to land in the top 50 school districts statewide within three years.

“I’m somewhat of a competitor, but you know, it displays what our kids can do,” she said.

“There’s no reason why our kids can’t do it – we’ve got a strong staff, we’ve got great kids, so we’ve just got to pull together and do it.”

Visit education.ky.gov for more information about the upcoming test results. Several guides are published on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website for parents and the public.

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