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What we think: CATS may go but need remains

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By The Staff

The General Assembly’s passage last week of a bill that would eliminate the CATS test merits further consideration before being signed into law.

In fact this step, and its effects on the well being of our students, deserves, well, more study.

There is little doubt that the CATS test – as with most education achievement tests – is flawed. Parents complain that it puts too much pressure on students to perform on one test. Educators complain that it forces them to teach to a test rather than a base of knowledge.

And virtually everyone complains that, no matter what the test scores may say, our students aren’t getting the depth of knowledge they require to get into the best schools and perform at the highest standard. After all, the CATS test has little if any relationship to other standardized testing, such as the ACT or SAT.

All of this is true, but if you were to write this problem in mathematical terms, the value of “x” would be missing.

In  education, x=parental involvement.

To be sure our educators put forth their best efforts. Any one teacher and any one school can be better than the next, but typically that’s more a byproduct of the commitment of parents and the community than educators.

Where parents perform better in helping their students, those students appear to perform better in the classroom. Their achievement scores prove this, whether you believe in them or not.

But the sad reality of American education is that the commitment to good habits and good performance are not as present at home as they once were.

Do you think Abe Lincoln worried about his CATS score when he studied on the dirt floor of his cabin near Hodgenville? Probably not.

But you can believe his parents insisted on Abe’s learning to read, write and do arithmetic and provided him with the motivation, the means and the time to broaden that knowledge and expand his world.

And you certainly could argue that their methods worked.

Today’s world is far more complicated. But children have managed to master PCs, cell phones, I-pods, Wii’s and other technological developments. Too bad these marvels don’t teach them algebra, geography or chemistry.

Today’s parents have busier schedules, as do their kids, with sports, music, drama and after-school jobs. But many parents – certainly nowhere near all of them -- are either too tired or otherwise entangled to get involved in their child’s education. 

By so doing they allow more shortcuts to be taken and thus more gaps to emerge in the base of knowledge for that student.

Thus the burden falls to our teachers, who only can measure how students are absorbing and applying knowledge and not be certain any one student is retaining as much as possible.

That measurement often falls to the CATS test, which provides the state a barometer for determining how effectively the education system overall is working – i.e. are we getting good performance for all that money we’re spending on education.

Yes, CATS is outdated, to be sure, and maybe now is the time for it to go. But that doesn’t mean we should stop measuring our students’ progress. We just need to improve the process.

Maybe what we really need is an achievement test for parents.