Kentucky high school students could be required to pass tests to demonstrate basic competency on 10th grade reading and mathematics before they can graduate if the state Board of Education approves new requirements next week.
The requirement is up for discussion at the board meeting Wednesday. Initially, officials said it would go into effect in the fall, 2019. But the department is revising its proposal based on feedback from superintendents, according to information provided Sunday by department spokeswoman Jessica Fletcher and the first class that would have to take the exit exam would enter high school in the fall of 2020.
Some leaders of the state’s key educational organizations have been concerned, saying the change in graduation requirements is happening too quickly.
Montgomery County Superintendent Matt Thompson, a board member of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, tweeted recently: “While raising expectations is a good thing, more time needs to be taken in considering the unintended consequences of these proposed graduation requirements.”
“I am all for raising the bar for our students,” Thompson said in explaining his Tweet. “However, anytime you get ready to drastically change something it is extremely beneficial to take time to study what the unintended consequences might be.”
Kentucky Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis defended the proposal explaining, “We are dissatisfied with the reality that kids graduate from Kentucky high schools and struggle to read and do basic mathematics.”
But Penny Christian, the president-elect of the 16th district PTA that covers Fayette County, says more testing might not be the answer.
“While we understand they feel that some of our graduates leave school not fully prepared, we have to wonder how increasing assessments will be an effective method to their goal,” Christian said. “A citizenship test — which they are required to pass — along with ACT, and exit exams appears excessive.
“Further, as advocates for all children, what do these new requirements look like for students with disabilities? There are multiple moving parts, and we are not sure if this is what’s best for all kids. The Montgomery County Superintendent makes a valid point.”
Lewis explained his concern saying that students could take the test for the first time in their sophomore year, but they will be permitted to take it an additional two times in the 11th grade and in the 12th grade if needed. There’s also an appeal process if students have not passed the test by 12th grade, Lewis said. The latest revision provided to the Herald-Leader Sunday creates an additional appeals process through which students who fail to meet the scale score necessary to pass the 10th grade assessments may appeal to the local superintendent on the basis of having scored proficient or higher on the 8th grade K-PREP reading and/or mathematics assessment.
Other proposed changes the state board is considering gives students more flexibility in mathematics course requirements, requiring only Algebra I and Geometry, Lewis said. Students would be required to have an additional two math credits. They would not be required to take Algebra II as they currently are, he said, but they could take Algebra II if they wanted.
Tom Shelton, the executive director of Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said the group’s board and legislative committee had discussed the issue and it agrees with Thompson.
Kentucky Education Association members “have posed lots of questions that are centered around unintended consequence,” said Stephanie Winkler, the president of the teacher’s group. “We agree that these new standards should be done slowly and not in a rush.”
Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, said that his group has not taken an “official” position, “but we are hearing from many members of our association with concerns similar to those expressed by Matt Thompson.
“Tying graduation from high school to one test score has the potential to be unduly punitive to students.,” Young said.
Lewis responded to the criticism, saying there are consequences to not making changes, as well.
“We will continue to graduate students who struggle to demonstrate basic competence in reading and mathematics, we’ll continue to graduate students who are not prepared for the workforce or for college, kids who go on into post secondary education and the vast majority of whom exit without earning a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or a credential,” he said.
The changes are not being rushed, Lewis added. In fact, the staff at the state Department of Education have been working on the proposal since before he took the interim commissioner’s position in April, he said. Department staff have been talking publicly about proposed changes with the board since June and have solicited feedback from a wide range of groups and people, including educators, Lewis said.
Some research on exit exams tied to a high school diploma says the exams don’t raise achievement, Lewis said. But, exit exams vary tremendously from state to state in terms of their intent and the subject areas they cover and don’t necessarily mirror what Kentucky is proposing, he added.