Ballard Co., Marshall Co., Paducah Ind. superintendents have ideas for ed commissioner's upcoming forum on redesigning school accountability system

Paducah Sun, April 24, 2016

Area school leaders favor new accountability system

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has made clear his intent to steer the state's accountability system in a new direction.

It's too complicated, too competitive and too ranking-reliant, he's said. The state has to have a new system in place by the 2017-18 school year, as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Since early March, Pruitt has crisscrossed the state for town hall-style meetings with educators, parents and students, gathering input on what should stay and what should go. He'll wrap up his town hall tour Thursday in the Murray Middle School Auditorium from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and likely hear from every school district in the Purchase area.

K-12 leaders in western Kentucky have plenty to say on the subject.

"I think the commissioner hit the nail on the head in speaking of the need to simplify our model," said Casey Allen, superintendent of Ballard County Schools.

"When he says that you cannot explain our current system while standing in the checkout line at the grocery, he's dead on," Allen said. "Very few people in the school districts can accurately explain how the state measures 'Growth' or 'Gap.' However, those are two of the metrics used to determine the final accountability scores. The focus in the schools often becomes less on students and more on managing accountability. There is nothing wrong with being held accountable, but our focus should be on students."

The state last revamped its accountability system in 2011 and has been phasing in changes every year since, making year-over-year comparisons difficult in some cases.

Educators have mixed feelings about the "Unbridled Learning" system, but most agree it's cumbersome. It's commonly called K-PREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) after just one of the several assessments students take throughout the year, which make up only one of five complex pieces that factor into a school's overall score.

Aside from streamlining the assessment process, Pruitt wants to the new system to offer a broader view of schools with a "dashboard" approach, rather producing a single score and a ranking. Most educators who have spoken at Pruitt's eight town hall meetings so far have supported the idea, and local educators share the sentiment.

"I like the idea of a more holistic, dashboard approach that I believe will more effectively communicate to our parents and community the successes of our school districts across the commonwealth," said Donald Shively, Paducah Public Schools superintendent.

"Regardless of what accountability system we have in place, we will continue to know each child by name and need, and focus on meeting each child's unique needs. We do stress in our district that our students are not summed up by one test score. Similarly, it is hard to sum up a school or a district by one number."

Trent Lovett, superintendent of Marshall County Schools, added that he'd like to see accountability testing shortened and possibly given three times a year with a quicker turn-around on feedback.

As it stands, K-PREP results from one year aren't released until the year following, limiting their usefulness to educators trying to improve in real time. Most teachers and schools do their own, shorter-circuit assessments throughout the year to monitor student progress.

Across the board, local educators said they do like the emphasis on college- and career-readiness that the Unbridled Learning system introduced. Several also expressed support for keeping Common Core standards.

The commissioner said he'll soon name a committee to incorporate the public feedback and develop a draft proposal for the state's new accountability system. The draft will be released for another round of public input by November, followed by a first reading by the state education board in January 2017 and its second reading in February.

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