5-12 Get Your Message Out

5-12 Get Your Message Out

School leaders’ testing window on new accountability system has started

By Brad Hughes
KSBA Member Support Services Director

So… how’s your Unbridled Learning IQ?

If you answer “Not so good,” I suspect that puts you in line with the vast majority of school board members and anyone who’s not a district assessment coordinator.

But too much is riding on Unbridled Learning – Kentucky’s new school and student assessment and accountability system – for public education leaders to leave it to assessment coordinators and psychometricians to tell the story of how we measure education progress in this state.

That’s one reason I suspect why Education Commissioner Terry Holliday convened education group leaders and staff in early April to brainstorm on communicating the replacement for CATS and NCLB before September’s release of new district and school report cards.
Most of these folks had spent hours studying the Department of Education’s documents, listening to KDE presentations, asking “What does ‘that’ mean?” questions. But Holliday and his guests shared a two-hour exchange that might help other conversations get going.

Ding, dong, AYP is dead
“One of the main messages we’ve got to communicate is that you can’t compare last year’s scores to this year’s scores,” Holliday said.  If you’re not willing to invest in learning anything else about Unbridled Learning, that’s an important contribution to make whenever we talk to parents and the public at large.

From a strictly communications standpoint, the new AMO (Annual Measurable Objective) sounds so much like the old AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) that it will be too easy a leap for reporters and editors to pull 2011 CATS score stories and try to determine winners and losers.

So clearly the first big challenge is to educate the public that last year’s measure of school progress was an apple, and the new gauge is a tree. OK, come up with your own, better analogy. But the bottom line is this: Kentucky’s new way of calculating educational progress is night vs. day different.

The new yardstick
The next step should be to get a command of what Holliday calls the “five drivers” of Unbridled Learning’s assessments:

• Achievement by student and by school
• Growth by student and by school
• Closing achievement gaps
• College and career readiness
• High school graduation rate

Each school and district will have a measurement (for 2012, a baseline) of the drivers that apply. For example, all schools and districts will be measured for achievement, growth and closing gaps. College and career readiness applies to the district, middle and high schools and graduation rates apply to high schools and districts.

Here the system begins to get complicated. Schools and districts that fall within a certain “percentile” – learn that word, it’s a key – will be rated as Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement. Proficient remains the goal, as it was under CATS and NCLB. Adding the scores of the applicable drivers will produce a percentile for each school and district within the state as a whole.

Once schools and districts are classified as Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement for accountability purposes, they will further be identified as schools or districts of distinction, highest performing, high-progress, focus or priority schools or districts.

Top-scoring schools (distinction, highest-performing and high progress) will be recognized in some way yet to be finalized.

Schools with percentiles in the lowest 5 percent will be labeled priority while the next 10 percent will be identified as focus schools. Those are the schools that KDE will be “monitoring” for their improvement plans, including building and district leadership to turn the drivers around. Be prepared: Based on models for the new system run by KDE staff, as many as 500 schools may begin in the focus category.

KDE will support these schools by using its share of Race to the Top school improvement funds for an online program, ASSIST (Adaptive System of School Improvement Support Tools). Holliday is hopeful all schools eventually will benefit from ASSIST, which is produced by AdvancED – an organization formed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and similar groups.

From this point on, board members will need better-informed explanations than can be covered within the confines of this column. But that help is readily available.

KSBA’s Board Team Development unit, led by Kerri Schelling, has completed two training modules about Unbridled Learning, specifically designed for school board members, their roles and responsibilities within Unbridled Learning. The training already is taking place at the local board level. Contact Schelling directly at KSBA to line up these workshops for your board.

The Last Word
Those of the white-haired set (or in my case, the radically thinning-haired set) recall the transitions from KIRIS to CATS to NCLB. My honest assessment is that the end results of efforts to explain those systems to the public could have been more effective.

End-of-course exams and the first year of the new state test are completed or nearly so. New report cards are due out in just over four months. So the questions for school board members, superintendents and principals will start soon, if they haven’t already. Now is the time to prepare to be an informed, participating leader in Kentucky’s brave new world of elementary and secondary education progress.

And that’s a message worth getting out.

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