Thursday, June 07, 2001

State OK's student standards with 'more meat'

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Board of Education on Tuesday adopted new standards for judging whether students are learning what they should and can demonstrate it.

        The first update in nearly a decade gives teachers more finely detailed descriptions of what constitutes a student's work at each of four performance levels — novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished — in each subject area. Cutoff scores also are adjusted.

        “There certainly is more meat on this product,” Judith Gambill, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said after the board's action. But “there may be some ambiguity” until teachers become accustomed to the standards, Ms. Gambill said.

        The new standards will be used to set schools' goals on state tests. All schools are under pressure to achieve an average level of “proficient” by 2014.

        “Before, the target changed every year,” said Diana Heidelberg, assessment coordinator for Campbell County Schools. “Now, it gives every school a look at what kind of improvements they need to make.”

        The revised standards were developed over more than a year by 1,651 Kentucky teachers, who also drafted the descriptions of each performance level.

        Actual student work was examined, graded and reclassified. In most subjects tested, the percentage of students classified as proficient or distinguished increased when their work was judged against the new standards.

        That was fuel for critics of the state-testing system. “Are we grading this test on a curve?” said Martin Cothran, a policy analyst for The Family Foundation. “What does it say about what we have been doing the last 10 years?”

        Mr. Cothran's group contends the state board and the Kentucky Department of Education are helping schools inflate their scores to reach proficiency. But in the reclassification of student work, the percentage of students dropping to novice also went up in many cases.

        The performance descriptions have gradations, and the shading often is subtle. For example, an eighth-grader proficient in arts and humanities would demonstrate “developed knowledge” of literature and the performing and visual arts, whereas a distinguished student's work would be “detailed and developed.”

        Apprentice-level work would show “basic knowledge” of the same elements, while a novice-level student would demonstrate “minimal and/or incorrect knowledge.”

        Enquirer reporter Lori Hayes contributed.


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