School discusses legislation to replace CATS tests
by Hawkins Teague
Mar 05, 2008 | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With little on the agenda last week, the Trigg County Board of Education spent much of its regular meeting time talking about proposed legislation that could have a huge impact on classrooms.

McGinnis said he was concerned about Senate Bill 1, which is cosponsored Sen. Ken Winters (R – Murray), who represents part of Trigg County. The bill’s goal is to eliminate the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) and replace it with a national norm reference test. This test would contain multiple-choice questions instead of devoting a great deal of testing time to open response question. Its supporters say it would take less time to grade and the results would get back to schools sooner, as well as compare Kentucky schools to schools around the country.

McGinnis said it disturbed him to think that the bill would completely dismantle the system currently in place if passed. He said the schools’ curriculum was based in large part on what material the tests would cover.

“When you dismantle the CATS, you dismantle the curriculum,” he said.

Beth Sumner, the assistant superintendent of instruction, agreed, saying that Kentucky schools were making progress and that it didn’t make sense to change everything suddenly.

“It really almost feels like a slap in the face that (the legislature is saying) that what we’ve been doing for the last 18 years in not enough,” Sumner said.

McGinnis said that he admitted that CATS had flaws, one of them being that they were designed to measure the success of schools, not individual students. This has become a liability in the age of the No Child Left Behind Act, which measures schools by individual student scores. He also noted that it didn’t make sense to test eighth-grade students in math and not test them again until 11th grade. He said it would be better to test them every year so that teachers could see more quickly which students need the most help.

McGinnis said that he also realized that an inordinate amount of time was spent in class preparing students to answer open response questions. He said this preparation cost schools a lot of money, but that it would be the last thing about CATS that he would fix.

Board Chairman Mike Davis said that while the main weakness of the CATS might be that it puts too much emphasis on open response questions, he said this idea is still a good one. He noted that open response questions force students to use critical thinking skills.

“Life’s not a multiple-choice test,” Davis said.

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