Sunday, March 21, 2004

Senate asks for scrutiny of CATS

Too much time spent on writing, some critics say

By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky fourth-graders spend hours working with their teachers on portfolios, collections of writing pieces the students are allowed to revise throughout the year.

Critics say this isn't a good way to measure ability. Kentucky legislators want to know more.

By a vote of 36-0, the Senate last week approved Senate Joint Resolution 156, which next goes to the House for consideration.

The resolution would direct the state's Office of Education Accountability to scrutinize the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. It uses writing portfolios, short-answer questions and other testing to determine how well schools are doing each year.

Annual tests have been in place since Kentucky's 1990 education reform. Over the years, critics have complained that questions were too hard or too easy, that the grading was too subjective, that the test didn't allow for comparisons with other states.

As a result, the system has been changed several times. For instance, math portfolios were eliminated and a nationally standardized test added.

Among the questions that would be addressed under the resolution:

How valid is the testing? How much does it cost? Should portfolio scores be included in assessments of school performance? How do the tests affect classroom instruction on a daily basis?

Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, said review is always a good idea.

Joan Walter, a fourth-grade teacher at Yealey Elementary School in Florence, likes some of the changes that have been made over the years.

But she still has concerns about writing portfolios. They comprise only 14 percent of a school's score, but because the pieces can be almost endlessly revised, teachers spend a disproportionate amount of time helping students with them.

"I think they should seriously look at whether the portfolio is measuring what it's supposed to be measuring," Walter says.

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