Franklin County

House Committee adopts student testing bill

FRANKFORT — A bill that would replace Kentucky's student testing system but retain some of its key principles sailed out of the House Education Committee on a unanimous vote late Tuesday.

House Bill 508 not only would create a new testing system, starting in the 2011-2012 school year, but calls for creation of new curriculum standards that would be used for the test.

The new content would be designed to provide "fewer, but more in-depth standards to facilitate mastery of learning."

The bill's proposed new student assessment would retain some features in the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), such as "open response" questions that require students to create answers rather than filing in blanks or selecting from prepared responses.

But the annual testing period would be shortened to five days, in response to criticisms that CATS testing takes too long. The bill requires that test scores be provided to school districts more rapidly.

Another provision calls for prohibiting "inappropriate test preparation activities," such as having students practice for the test outside normal classroom time. Such practices have drawn complaints from many teachers and educators.

The general aim is to "do more with less testing," according to the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond.

Moberly said after Tuesday's vote that the House Education Committee probably will place the "substance" of HB 508 in the Senate's testing bill as a committee substitute later this week.

The Senate measure, Senate Bill 1, also would abolish CATS. But it seeks to replace open-response questions with more multiple-choice exams that its backers say would save time and money. SB 1 already has passed the Senate.

If an amended version of SB 1 clears the House, a committee of lawmakers from both chambers would probably negotiate a compromise bill later this month.

Moberly contended that the Senate bill is not comprehensive enough, lacks a requirement for new curriculum standards, and doesn't provide strong accountability. It also doesn't do enough to ensure strong writing programs, he contended.

On Tuesday, the House committee approved several technical changes to HB 508, plus a longer amendment offered by state Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, aimed at strengthening writing.

HB 508 would retain writing portfolios for instruction purposes but take them out of the state accountability assessment program. Richards said he feared that could lead to writing being de-emphasized. His amendment calls for various changes to help improve how writing is taught.