CATS task force makes recommendations

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By Nathan L. McBroom

An education task force has recommended that the state expand arts programs for students and change some of the methods and standards with which students are assessed.

The Task Force on Assessment and Accountability, which two women from Shelby County are a part of, made their recommendations to the state board earlier this week.

The task force was originally formed by Education Commissioner Jon Draud to scrutinize the state's testing system and provide a blueprint for progress after state lawmakers pushed to scrap the state’s current testing system, the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), during the last legislative session.

Shelby County School Board Member Brenda Jackson and former Shelby County Superintendent Elaine Farris are on the task force.

After months of meetings and work sessions, the group has come up with four recommendations for the state board of education.

The first recommendation expands a pilot humanities project that would enable assessment of elementary schools' arts programs. The project, which was conducted in the 2007-08 school year in 20 schools, provided the means to measure schools' arts instructional programs against standards for curriculum, instruction, assessment and organizational support for the arts and humanities program.

The task force recommended that the project be expanded statewide and to all grade levels.

The task forces second recommendation was to encourage formative assessments testing in classrooms statewide. Formative assessments are those that encourage learning and provide direct and immediate feedback to students and teachers. Examples of formative assessments include classroom assessments, anecdotal records, quizzes, lab reports and diagnostic tests.

The third recommendation is to work toward concise standards and a balanced assessment and accountability system. The task force wants a review of the state's subject-area standards and ensuring that those are rigorous and relevant. The group also wants a focus on a system of assessments that are accurate, efficient and provide detailed information on how well students attain specific standards.

The fourth recommendation is to provide teacher training and preparation related to assessments. The goal here is to "focus on standards and different types of assessment to foster a sense of 'assessment literacy' among educators to ensure that they use appropriate testing to best meet the needs of students."

Jackson said while the recommendations were not revolutionary the will help the quality of education in the state.

During the sessions, several of the members clashed on their vision for how the state should move forward.

One of the issues that came up during the task forces meetings was the future of writing portfolios.

State Sen. Dan Kelly repeatedly called for the end of portfolios while Draud and others insisted on their continuance.

In the end, like many others of the recommendations, the issue was beyond the bounds of the task force and was never put forward.

Jackson was against getting rid of portfolios.

"Students need portfolios to be a part of the assessment," she said. "However, some of the ways that portfolios are graded and created could be improved."

The group's recommendations will be considered by the Kentucky Board of Education at its meeting December 10-11. The recommendations could then be rejected or sent on to the state legislature to be considered during their January session.

According to a press release, Commissioner Draud will appoint a work group of practitioners and others for further action.