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Bill would scrap CATS

FRANKFORT — With sudden wide-spread agreement to overhaul Kentucky's student testing system, a former defender of the exam is offering a plan that would replace it by 2011.

Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, said he is finishing a draft of legislation he plans to file Monday that builds upon a Senate bill passed earlier this month. Both bills are aimed at scrapping the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS.

Moberly and Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, were two of six House Democrats who joined key Republican and Democratic senators, as well as educators such as Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman, to discuss the future of student testing in the state on Tuesday.

"I have to say almost everyone I talk to is on the same page," said Rollins, chairman of the House Education Committee. He added that the House Democrats' plan is "fairly close to the Senate's position on some things, but actually more comprehensive."

CATS has come under fire for being cumbersome, providing unhelpful results and sucking up an increasing amount of class time for preparation.

Senate Bill 1 calls for striking open-ended test questions from CATS and would exclude student writing portfolios from being part of the assessment.

The House plan would toss out CATS altogether, including the name.

The new plan would first direct the state Department of Education to work with the Council on Postsecondary Education to establish standards in all core subjects, including math and English, Rollins said.

If schools and state colleges work together to establish expectations for students, officials hope to cut down on the high rate of students who must take remedial math and English courses as college freshmen, Moberly said.

A new test would be designed based on the tightened standards and would be in place in time for the 2011-12 academic year.

Writing portfolios, under this plan, would be maintained for each student as a way for superintendents to measure progress in their districts, but would be separate from the main testing system. Some of the writing now seems too well-coached and "not authentic," Rollins said.

One part of the bill, if approved, would take effect immediately. Moberly is proposing to ban teachers from giving practice CATS tests during or after school hours.

"That's one of the implementation problems we have with CATS now and what many teachers and educators are complaining about," he said.

Missed-day waiver

Also on Tuesday, the House Education Committee passed a bill that would allow school districts affected by last month's ice storm disaster to waive the make-up of up to 10 missed school days.

The bill, sponsored by Democrat Mike Cherry of Princeton, would give local school boards the option of asking the Department of Education to waive some of their make-up days. But the language of the legislation mandates that the education commissioner approve any waiver request by using the word "shall."

Moberly strongly urged Cherry to change the wording to "may" so that the education commissioner would have the final say. Some districts will be more diligent at trying to make up the days than others, he said.

"We're not talking about freedom for school boards, we're talking about the kids here," Moberly said.

After the bill passed, Cherry said he would "strongly consider" changing the wording.

Currently, the school districts can ask for a waiver if more than 20 school days are missed for weather or other reasons.

Dual-credit classes

With after-school college courses costing $240 a pop, some ambitious high school students who might want to finish their freshman college English or sociology courses ahead of time can't afford it.

A pilot program outlined in House Bill 324 would provide $1 million in coal severance tax money each of the next two years to help high school students take the dual-credit classes in Eastern and Western Kentucky coal-producing counties.

That legislation, proposed by Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, sailed unanimously out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The measure was helped along by a presentation from Hall's daughter, Jasmine, who won rave reviews from committee members for her explanation.

Jasmine, a Phelps High School senior, is taking sociology and Appalachian studies in the evenings on her way to earning 33 credits before she steps on the University of Kentucky's campus as a freshman this fall.

Keith Hall said the pilot program can support as many as 4,000 high school students receiving up to 12 credits.