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State ed board: Begin work on course assessments; uniform content

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Board of Education gave the go ahead Wednesday to develop plans for tests that state high school students would take at the end of a course to demonstrate whether they have mastered the material covered.

It still isn't known just what high school classes would use the proposed end-of-course assessments, or what the testing program would cost. Those are details that Kentucky Department of Education staffers will work out.

Wednesday's action was a preliminary step. Final approval and implementation of end-of-course tests would require board approval.

End-of-course assessments are in line with provisions of Senate Bill 1, the wide-ranging education improvement act approved by the Kentucky General Assembly last winter.

Assuming the department's plan goes through, high school students probably wouldn't start taking the new tests until the 2011-2012 school year. The plan also would call for "summative assessments," which are tests that students would take periodically during a course to gauge what they have learned.

Deputy Education Commissioner Larry Stinson told state board members on Wednesday that instituting end-of-course assessments could offer several educational advantages, such as making Kentucky students more directly responsible for their education by requiring them to demonstrate what they have learned in their classes.

That was echoed by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who said the education department has been "hearing from teachers that they want some student accountability in this thing."

According to Stinson, local school systems apparently could use end-of-course assessments as final exams in some course, if they chose.

Results from standardized end-of-course assessments could help state educators track which schools or teachers are doing the best job in getting course information across to the students.

Several matters are still to be decided, including what would happen if students fail to pass their assessments.

In other action Wednesday, the state board told the state education department to proceed with plans to ensure that course content is the same from school to school statewide. Now, content in, say, Algebra 1, can vary from one school to another, educators say.

Officials stressed that providing for uniform course codes would not preclude local school districts from creating their own courses to meet particular needs, or hinder teachers' flexibility in presenting material to students.

"We're not going to be telling teachers how to teach, but what they should be teaching," Holliday said.