FRANKFORT — Monitoring the individual progress of students will be a key part of Kentucky's new public-school reforms set to begin in the fall, according to the first phase of the new system approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education.
"It's important because we will be able to see how individual students are progressing through their educational experience, whether they are making progress from year to year," Dena Dossett, director of planning for the Jefferson County Public Schools, told The Courier-Journal.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said the board's approval marked the first of many steps the state will take to begin a new era of education reform this fall.
The new system replaces the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, which was dismantled as part of a wide-ranging education-reform bill passed by the Kentucky legislature in 2009.
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Under the new system, schools and districts will be classified as distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or persistently low achieving.
A new statewide written test is still being developed, but students in grades three to eight will be tested next spring in math, reading, science, social studies and writing.
High school students will take end-of-course assessments in algebra II, English II, U.S. history and biology.
The standards are intended to better prepare students for college and a career, said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. In some cases, concepts that are now being taught in students' sophomore and junior years might be accelerated to eighth or ninth grade.
The new system will hold schools accountable for up to five areas, depending on whether they teach elementary, middle or high school students. Each will count for a percentage of a school's overall score, with 100 being the top score.
The areas are:
Achievement: All students will be expected to eventually score "proficient" or "distinguished" on state tests. Schools will score more points for having more students who score proficient or distinguished in reading, math, social studies, science and writing.
Schools will get bonus points for students who score distinguished, the highest, and lose points for students who score novice, the lowest.
Learning gap: Schools will be expected to close the gap on state test scores for groups that traditionally score lower than average, including minority, low-income and disabled students and students with limited English proficiency.
Academic progress: Schools will be judged on how fast students make progress on state tests, with faster progress resulting in a higher score. Gross said Kentucky's goal is for 100 percent of students to reach proficiency, the same as it was for CATS.
College and career readiness: Middle and high schools will be judged on whether students are ready for college, using tests such as ACT Explore, which prepares eighth- and ninth-graders for high school coursework and has content similar to the ACT; by job certifications; and by other measures that have yet to be determined.
Graduation rate, for high schools: Gross said schools and districts will be judged "on individual student performance and whether or not specific groups of students are making progress."
Parents "should be able to see how their child is progressing from year to year and how they compare to their peers," she said. "That is our overall goal."
Dossett said the state is working with the federal government to determine whether the new system can be used to measure progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, which created the federal school-accountability system.
Holliday said he's not sure if the federal government will allow the state's model to be used, but said he has talked to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's office about possibly using Kentucky's accountability system as a model for other states.