Parents who attended last week’s county school forums about the new state performance testing system seemed to have steeled themselves for the probability that the initial scores, due out soon, won’t elevate local students’ self-esteem. The scoring is different from that used in the old CATS exams and educators are warning everyone to brace for a shock.
Previous tests were graded on a 0-140 scale and local schools have been accustomed to landing in the 80-100 range. County Superintendent Chrissy Jones warned that’s likely to drop to the mid 50s. The best we can recall from the olden days when 100 represented a perfect test score, 50 was a failing grade. Educators expect tougher testing will lower the percentage of kids rated proficient on reading and math.
The few parents who showed up for the meetings at Elkhorn Middle School and Western Hills High School welcomed more demanding standards, which they hope will motivate Franklin County’s most academically talented learners as well as those who struggle. But remember that people who come out for such meetings probably represent a minority of parents, those who take more than passing interest in academic matters. Others may fall into apoplexy when little Johnny, who’s always been at the top of his class, comes home with a test score showing he isn’t such a smart boy after all. It’s better they get the news now, while there’s time to improve, rather than later when he graduates from high school and discovers he’s not up to the rigors of college studies or the high-tech workplace.
A testing system that pulls no punches in revealing the truth about the educational inadequacies of the community and commonwealth as a whole probably won’t win popularity among those who’d rather get good news. (Who wouldn’t?) It means both students and teachers have to work harder.
The call for higher standards often runs into resistance. That happened last year in the Frankfort Independent system when the Frankfort Middle/High School council asked the school board to back off a pre-advanced placement program intended to close college-preparation gaps. Some teachers worried it would cramp their style and students who couldn’t keep up would be demoralized.
The federal No Child Left Behind program emphasizes reaching out to groups of students who traditionally have under-achieved even with relatively weak standards of academic attainment. Although Kentucky was one of 32 states granted waivers from the program requirements this year, it’s not relieved from responsibility to improve the performance of minority, low-income, special-education and non-English-speaking learners under the new testing system. They still must not be “left behind.”
Just the same, parents told The State Journal’s Katheran Wasson after last week’s meetings that they’re glad to see more ambitious goals for high achievers, too often under-challenged in public education. The ideal is for students at all levels to see their shortcomings and strive to do better. All must to come to grips with the sober realization that a long haul lies ahead.