Franklin County

Testing overhaul clears Senate

FRANKFORT — A bill to overhaul Kentucky's student testing system sailed unanimously through Senate committee and floor votes Tuesday to fast-track it to the House for more work.

There was no discussion of Senate Bill 1 Tuesday, but the committee did hear testimony last week. Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, said his yes vote was a both an agreement that the testing system had to change and a push toward more work on the bill.

"This vote reflects the consensus ... on a new strategy," he said. "This is not an endorsement of the strategy laid out in this bill."

Shaughnessy added an amendment to push any sunsetting of the testing system back to 2011-2012.

Sen. Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, a supporter of SB 1, said he, too, wants to see consensus develop on the proposal.

"I'm willing to vote for this amendment because it indicates everyone will have some input into the bill," Kelly said. He would still like to see faster change, he said shortly before the 36-0 floor vote.

SB 1 would eliminate writing portfolios from the state test, as well as shorten testing time and adopt off-the-shelf tests to measure how well students know the state's curriculum.

The Kentucky Department of Education has pushed for slower change, urging lawmakers to adopt new standards before changing the test.

The state Board of Education voted Tuesday to adopt a policy paper on testing. Interim Education Commission Elaine Farris stressed that education standards must be upgraded — starting with math — before a new testing system is devised.

"Everything will be on the table" when a new test is devised, Farris told the board. "There will be no sacred cows."

She said the education department has evaluated SB 1, which would dramatically alter the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, and will probably suggest amendments.

Nevertheless, Farris said she thinks common ground could be found, based on discussions she's had recently with lawmakers.

"The dialogue has been very open," she said. "I don't think we're as far apart in our thinking on accountability and assessment as some people think we are."

Testing has been a divisive topic since the advent of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. Although testing was aimed at holding schools accountable for progress, critics have said that too much emphasis was put on a test that couldn't measure individual student progress or compare students to those in other states.

Kelly stressed that the accountability system would stay in place, but that schools would be able to use test results in a more timely way to improve student performance.