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Ky. education officials defend test data to board

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Some Kentucky board of education members asked Wednesday whether the goals set by the state are high enough to lift up low-performing schools.

Since test scores were released in November, critics have questioned why low-performing schools only have to move up one point next year to be considered improving.

"If you start at 38, you're still a long way from 100," said member Roger Marcum. "Is that a significant enough progress for a school that's low in achieving?"

But Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday chided board members, saying the new assessments evaluate schools on several factors to determine success. That differs from the No Child Left Behind Law, from which the state received a waiver. He also said the one-point goal is reasonable.

Holliday said if half of the schools meet the one-point goal next year and half don't, then "we want to keep one. We won't know until we get that data."

Under the new assessments, schools are classified as distinguished, proficient and needs improvement. The 2012 data showed 899 Kentucky elementary, middle and high schools needed improvement, 260 were proficient and 137 were distinguished.

Associate commissioner Ken Draut stressed that the one-point goal was a secondary consideration, and that the No. 1 priority for low-performing schools is to reach proficiency.

"If you achieve it, you get the label called 'progressing,'" Draut said.

Marcum said he's concerned about the public perception of the one-point goal, saying if a low-performing school meets that goal, "that can tend to make them think everything's OK here ... when the school is low-achieving."

Draut said a panel of experts has called the goal appropriate. As late as Tuesday evening, he said, officials consulted with the National Technical Advisory Panel on Assessment and Accountability, a state-mandated three-person panel that advises on education testing and measurement issues.

"But what they advised was you really need to stay the course a year or two to see what happens and how does this grow?" he said.

In other business, Education Department staff said goals are set to:

— increase the percentage of children ready for kindergarten from 28.1 percent this year to 64.1 percent in 2015-2016;

— increase the average combined reading and math scores for elementary and middle school students on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress tests from 44 percent this year to 72 percent in 2017;

— increase the average combined reading and math scores for third-grade students on the KPREP tests from 46.1 percent in 2012 to 73.1 percent in 2017.

Board member Brigitte Ramsey questioned whether new kindergarten-readiness measures used in a pilot program this year were sufficient because they tested only cognitive abilities. The tests are expected to be implemented statewide next year.

Ramsey said the state should also include a social and emotional component in the testing.

But Holliday said those questions are more appropriate for the Governor's Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education. He said the department's interest was in "how far behind our kids are in cognitive development."

The board also approved Holliday's recommendation to put the Breathitt County school district under state management and the Monticello Independent district under state assistance. The action comes after the department completed management audits last month finding a lack of effectiveness and efficiency.

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