By Hank Bond
The Greenup Beacon
The media’s swirl of national attention on school testing, accountability and cheating raises questions about just how a school district can make sure of a lifelong learning benefit can be made for students in schools’ high stakes testing.
In light of the negative attention in Atlanta, local school superintendents speak about the world of school testing and how it truly all impacts students.
Russell Independent Schools Supt. Sean Horne says there is pressure on all concerned in the world of testing.
“There is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on students and teachers: from the very first day school begins.
“We consistently look at ways to streamline the amount of testing our teachers and students face.
“A lot of what is done throughout the year is state mandated and non negotiable---You simply can't opt out.
“It is required or you are punished via the state if these assessments are not completed by all and in a timely fashion. My hope moving forward, especially in light of a new leadership change at KDE is the leadership looks at the number of assessments and see what can be done.
“In light of the multiple assessments, I am proud to say we continue to raise the bar and our students and staff perform exceptionally well,” Horne said.
Greenup County Schools Supt. Sherry Horsley weighs in on student and teacher pressure.
“The importance that the state puts on assessments does result in greater responsibility for students, teachers, and schools.
“These assessments are the demonstration of the learning and effective teaching that took place throughout the school year.
“This increased responsibility does create stress for both children and adults. However, it also creates an environment that requires schools to focus on the standards and teach at a rigorous level to meet the increasing high expectations of state testing,” she said.
Raceland – Worthington Independent Schools Supt. Larry Coldiron also weighs in on the resulting stress and pressures on all concerned.
“Unfortunately, today's teachers and students live in a time of high stakes accountability.
“It is something that is continuously on the minds of our teachers, students and our administrators.
“We are always looking for ways to ease the amount of testing that is done in our schools. At this time, I do not see this changing and if anything, I believe that it will only get worse.
“As the state looks to add more End of Course testing, this will only increase the pressure that students and teachers feel.
“I'm afraid the days of students learning to learn and teachers teaching to teach, could be gone for the foreseeable future,” Coldiron reflected on the issues surrounding the ramifications of intense testing.
The integrity of teachers and students across these districts is unquestioned and each district has steps in place to assure the reliability of the testing and results.
Horne said, “We have a DAC (District Assessment Coordinator) in place that oversees the integrity of the assessments at each building.
“Everyone who is involved with testing is trained in Testing / Ethics and we protect the integrity of the process by placing an enormous amount of time and energy making sure it is done correctly.
“If a problem arises we have protocols in place to self report and get guidance immediately from KDE. We do an exceptional job in this area,” the Russell Superintendent explained.
Horsley offered her thoughts in the same areas.
“It also creates a situation where schools as a whole must plan for interventions for individual students needing additional instruction and/or time to learn.
“The new state assessment also takes into account growth of individual children from one year to the next in math and language arts.
“This makes it important to ensure each child grows from where they were the year before in these areas. Even if a child is not proficient, they should show growth after a year's worth of instruction,” she said.
Cordiron says there many similarities between all the districts and with each comes individual problems.
“We too have a District Assessment Coordinator that oversees our testing processes.
“We train our teachers and administrators thoroughly on testing ethics and how the state test should be given.
“I also go through this training,” as superintendent, “because I am still involved in giving the state assessments to our students.
“The state is very thorough on protocols on how the tests are distributed, retrieved, and stored.
“They leave nothing to chance. If any problems arise, protocols are in place to self report and KDE is notified immediately,” Coldiron said.
The future is subject to interpretation and Horne offers his thoughts about the future.
“I hope we continue to get input from the people in the trenches: principals, teachers, students, parents, staff, etc.
“This will allow us to see what options we might have in improving the system.
“We will continue to be diligent in preparing our students without compromising their daily learning.
“Our teachers do a tremendous job under the current format, but each year it becomes more and more intense.
“I hope adjustments in the future are made to keep accountability high, but streamline the amount of state mandates to make life easier here in our district,” Horne concluded.
Supt. Horsley offered these thoughts.
“Other areas monitored each year are graduation rate and college/career readiness.
“The state graduation rate has increased significantly as a result. In today's world, young adults really need to earn a diploma to obtain a sufficient job.
“Also a major part of the new assessment system is CCR. This requires schools to work toward more students meeting college/career benchmarks before graduating as a senior.
“This helps prepare them for college entrance without having to take remedial classes that do not count towards their degree and they must pay for and take time to complete prior to entering college ready courses.
“This previously was a major issue for many students entering college, especially in math. It also allows career pathway students to earn KOSSA or industry certifications in career areas like welding, IT, health science, etc. In addition the career path has students to take the Work Keys, involving math and reading assessments which give them a certification that can help them when obtaining jobs immediately in the workforce and helps when entering CTE post secondary schools,” Horsley concluded, “Do I as a superintendent stress about state assessments? Yes, daily. However, these high targets also keep me focused on continuing to improve the instruction and learning in my district.”
Coldiron, just as his counterparts, wants all aspects of his district to improve.
“I hope that we are continuously looking for ways to improve the process.
“I do not believe that high stakes accountability testing is going away.
“We are always looking for ways to strike a balance between assessment and teaching.
“I believe that assessments must be seamless in the classroom.
“Students and teachers have to look at testing as an opportunity to show what they have learned and not what they have not learned.
“Saying that, I understand that this line of thinking is very difficult. Because of the high stakes accountability, teachers will always feel the pressure to succeed because of test scores being compared not only against other teachers in their buildings but with other districts in our area and across the state,” Coldiron accessed.
Based on statewide stories and reports the intensity of teaching, learning and testing will not ease, but will increase to maximize learning in accountability inside a state system still being determined year to year.