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Kentucky to Keep Own Rating System Along with NCLB

Parents will have to wade through twice as many numbers, acronyms and labels to figure out how their children's schools are performing if the Kentucky State Board of Education takes action expected today.

Rather than change the state's Commonwealth Accountability Testing System to comply with requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, a committee of state board members voted yesterday to create a two-in-one accountability system.

"We are doing this reluctantly," said state board member Hilma Prather. "But we are doing this out of necessity."

The state must comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind to receive federal dollars aimed at helping poor children. Last year, about 83 percent of all schools statewide received roughly $330 million in such federal assistance, called Title I money.

The full board is expected to endorse the parallel accountability systems today.

The federal and state models differ on how performance goals are set, how schools are judged, how students are tested, which scores are counted and how often schools are graded. The alphabet of accountability: CTBS, CATS, AYP, KCCT. The terms: novice reduction rates, assistance levels, progressing, in need of improvement, rewards.

"It has the potential for multiple levels of confusion," said state school board chair Helen Mountjoy. "But it also has the possibility for multiple levels of keeping the focus on meeting the needs of all children."

Under the dual systems, schools will be graded annually for federal requirements. While state scores are released each year, state performance labels are released biennially.

Since each system lays out its own set of consequences for poor results, based on distinct standards, schools may face disparate punitive or reward measures under each. It will be possible for schools to be wildly successful in one system and miserably fail in the other.

A simulation run by state officials found that if both systems had existed last fall, 76 of the schools that received state rewards would have been classified in need of improvement in the federal system.

Across the state, 326 of 1,182 schools would have failed for two years to meet the adequate yearly progress required under the federal law, and thereby possibly subject to penalties.

While all schools will be measured against the federal standards, only Title I schools will face consequences.

Many more Kentucky schools would be at risk under the federal system because the law requires every subgroup of students, including low-income, special education and racial minorities, to reach minimum levels of achievement.

Schools where students in any category fall short of the proficiency standard in reading or math would be labeled in need of improvement. In contrast, Kentucky's system averages overall student performance.

State officials haven't yet gotten results from the spring 2003 test and won't release new scores and judgments for another couple months. There will be no state accountability labels this year.

Officials yesterday emphasized the benefits of salvaging the state's existing accountability system, including its reliance on two years of data, setting individual school goals and emphasis on more than reading and math. The state tests in seven subjects.

"When we looked at all the other options, there are more downsides to just scrapping the system and going to the federal only," said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Noland Noland. "Our expectations would be lower, our standards would be lower."

Other states have also created a two-tier system, said Jeanne Brennan, spokeswoman for the Education Trust.

Parents' and taxpayers' abilities to determine how well their schools are performing will depend on states' efforts to explain the systems and how they differ, Brennan said.

Presentation will be key, leaders around the state agreed.

"It's going to be a difficult situation for school districts in Kentucky as we explain to our constituents why a school may be in rewards in the state system and in need of improvement in the federal system," said Fayette County Schools Superintendent Ken James. "It's a real mixed message."

"The state has got to find a good clear way to explain it to parents," said Bev Raimondo, director of the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership. "It's not an impossible task though."

— Lisa Deffendall
Judging your child's school to get harder
August 7, 2003


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