Monday, October 08, 2007

Putting CATS out of its misery

And they thought the BCS system of determining the best team in college football was bad. They obviously haven't seen Kentucky's system for determining educational success.

The top story in today's Lexington Herald-Leader was on the confusion over the CATS tests. Gee, where have we heard that before. The confusion over the state's testing system isn't new. But it is getting worse all the time.

Why do I say this? Let me count the ways.

This is not the first time the measuring stick that is used to determine successful schools has been changed. It was also changed in 1999, after the General Assembly, in 1998, shifted the first set of chairs on the deck of the Titanic by taking away some of the consequences for unsuccessful schools, changing the way it graded the tests, and renaming it CATS (It was formerly, "KIRIS").

And let's all remember why they had to do it: because there was another bill that year that would have repealed the entire testing system altogether, which was rocking the Capitol that year, and came within a hair's breadth of passing. Legislators couldn't afford to go home without at least saying that they had changed the test. Well, that and the fact that it was clear that the only progress that was being made by schools was to get students from the Novice to Apprentice category, but little in the way of getting them from Apprentice to Proficient--which was the goal.

So in 1999, the Kentucky Department of Education changed the way it the tests were scored. That made comparison with tests from previous years nearly impossible. Now, in 2007, it has been changed again, and comparison with previous years scores has once again been rendered inscrutable.

How would you feel if you were headed somewhere in car and someone kept pressing the reset button on your trip odometer?

Folks, there is something very wrong here (Wait a minute, I'm getting deja vu again. I could have sworn I've said this before). But wait, it gets worse.

Not only is there growing confusion on what test scores mean, but there is increasing confusion about what this test is for.

Did anyone notice the comment by Warren County School Superintendent Dale Brown? Or rather, I guess it was the reporter's summary of what he said, so maybe we shouldn't be too harsh. But Brown was basically lamenting that because of the change in the tests, his schools couldn't accurately measure individual student progress because of the adjustment.

How does a superintendent get away not knowing that the CATS tests are not for individual assessment?

From the inception of KIRIS in the 1990's--despite all the confusion on everything else--there was one fact that everyone agreed on--test developers, legislators, and, presumably, professional educators: KIRIS and CATS were not accurate when measuring individual performance: that the tests were only for the purpose of measuring schools, not students. Ed Reidy, the Dr. Frankenstein of KIRIS, said it repeatedly. Helen Mountjoy, the previous Chairman of the State School Board, who played the Don Quixote role in pressing forward on the tests, said it too. Everyone knew this.


Now we have professional educators who think it is useful for individual assessment.

The CATS testing system has been on artificial life support for several years now, and the only thing keeping it breathing is that fact that extraordinary means have been taken to keep it alive. Its time someone stepped in to put the sorry thing out of its misery.

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