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MY WORD: Why the delay on state test results?

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By Paul Waller

In his My Word article Neihof (“Believe in students; believe in schools,” Oct. 17), Shelby County Public Schools Superintendent James Neihof describes what many state and county school officials are feeling: excited and jittery about the soon-to-be-released Kentucky public school testing results.

While Mr. Neihof may have seen those test scores, you cannot. Why? Because the Kentucky Department of Education has embargoed those results from being made public until at least this week. Actually, the KDE has not guaranteed the release of those scores before the General Election on Tuesday.

As a result, citizens across Kentucky may find themselves going to the polls and judging the work of incumbent school board members without having access to the important data revealed by the most recent state test scores.

Until the release of the new scores, many public school superintendents are doing exactly what Superintendent Neihof did in his piece: preparing the public for a severe drop in student ratings in core educational content areas. Yes, major damage control is taking place around the state, led by Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.

A review of papers in county after county reveals articles similar to Neihof’s. When the embargoed results finally are released, the public most likely still will be shocked by how few Kentucky public school students score proficient in mathematics and reading. Many parents and teachers in Kentucky expect the embargoed results to prove that prior KIRIS and KCCT scores were inflated.

At various times in the past, Kentuckians were asked to believe that the KIRIS and then the KCCT assessment systems accurately captured the scholastic achievement of our students and the effectiveness of our schools.  Now, according to the Sentinel-News, Mr. Neihof, “as well as educational leaders in Frankfort and across the state,” are asking us, in essence, to forget what those tests revealed about our students’ achievement because there is “no way to compare” KIRIS and KCCT scores with the embargoed results.

According to Mr. Neihof, “We are establishing a new reality – one that gives us an accurate representation of how our students stack up against peers worldwide.” Well, with all due respect, we’ve heard that before.

Superintendents can write about the embargoed test scores, having full knowledge of what they reveal, but no citizen can respond from that same knowledge base. Everyone outside official school administrators is being kept in the dark until too close to the upcoming elections to have much effect. While Mr. Neihof mentions the current school board members favorably in his October 17th article, the citizens of Shelby County cannot learn what the embargoed test scores reveal about the effectiveness of the current board’s policies and spending until, at best, right before the election.

 

Even though the KDE has thus far chosen to keep citizens in the dark about the most recent test results, Shelby County taxpayers have enough information to know that we are not getting what we pay for and that our students are not getting the education they deserve.

A letter from school board incumbent Sam Hinkle (“Core subjects: Finances vs. performance,” Oct. 12) asserts that the current board “has been very fiscally responsible.”

In his My Word (“Schools are on correct track,” Oct. 24), Leon Mooneyhan writes, “The current rate of taxation is in the middle 50 percent of all 174 Kentucky school districts.” That allegation is disproven, however, by data compiled by the Kentucky Revenue Cabinet in a document entitled “2011 Property Tax Rate Book.”

According to that data, before the recent increase, Shelby County Public Schools had the second-highest school tax rate on real property of the 120 county public school districts and the 29th highest rate of the 174 independent and county public school districts.

Until the Shelby County public schools’ average ACT composite score rises to or above the national average, however, our school administrators and board members cannot claim, with any credibility, that our students are receiving the best education possible and that our hard-earned tax dollars have been most effectively spent.

Despite a high rate of taxation, the 2012 average ACT composite score for the Shelby County district is below the national average. Moreover, the Shelby County district ranks 69th among Kentucky’s independent and county public school districts in average ACT composite scoring.  

Like Mr. Neihof, I believe students respond to challenges and most often meet big goals their schools set for them.  For this reason, I applaud the school system’s target of having “every student graduating ready for college or career in 2016.”  Shelby County’s schools are full of excellent teachers and smart students, but to reach this laudable objective, our county must have effective leadership on the school board. 

While the KDE should allow voters to know about the embargoed test scores before election day, we already have enough data to recognize that our current school board has failed to set fiscal and academic policies to attain excellence. The current school board’s policies have produced an average ACT composite score that ranks poorly among other districts in a state that ranks only three from the bottom in the nation.

Shelby County’s bright students, dedicated parents, talented teachers and hard-working taxpayers deserve better.     

 

Paul Waller lives in Simpsonville.