School testing, accountability remains in limbo, educators told

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By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) School Counselor Advisory Council (SCAC) met virtually Jan. 28 and members were asked to continue planning for state assessments, though department staff still are monitoring the situation with the U.S. Department of Education.

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“The jury is still out on if we’re going to be required to administer a test or not,” said Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass.

Kentucky has been preparing to test students under the guidance of the former federal administration. But with a new administration and secretary of education, Glass said he expects a decision on testing and accountability to come sooner rather than later.

“Almost certainly we’re going to get a waiver on accountability and I think it’s in the cards that we get a waiver on testing,” he said. “Even if we don’t get a waiver on testing, districts should expect a great deal of flexibility on how that happens, when it happens and how the results are used locally.”

Jennifer Larkins, a program consultant in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability (OAA), met with the council to provide additional details on the steps the department is taking to prepare for a potential spring testing period.

According to Larkins, OAA has been in contact with Pearson, the vendor that administers the K-PREP, to develop a shorter version of the test. The condensed version of the K-PREP would be populated with previously used assessment items that appear in both the new and previous Kentucky Academic Standards.

To gather additional information from students on the impact of COVID-19, and to aid in the interpretation of test scores, Larkins said OAA also is looking to enhance the questions within the Quality of School Climate and Safety survey.

Asked if students would be allowed to test remotely, Larkins explained that since a trained test proctor must be present when students are assessed, testing must take place in person. Like the field testing that occurred last spring, the state assessment will be an online test with paper tests available for students who need accommodation, she said.

The department is working on state assessment guidance, which Larkins expects to be ready for release in two weeks.

“Until we do get different guidance from the new (federal) administration, this is where we are,” she said. “As of Jan. 28, 2021, we have a plan and we have to move forward as if we are going to test students.”

KDE Equity Updates
Thomas Woods-Tucker, KDE’s chief equity officer and deputy commissioner, met with the council alongside Damien Sweeney, program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling in KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning, to provide updates on the department’s equity initiatives.

KDE currently is speaking to district and school leaders about addressing disproportionality in special education and ensuring access to high-rigor courses like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge International and dual credit for all students.

Additionally, the department is engaged in its own continuous improvement through professional learning opportunities with national experts, such as Roger Cleveland, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Eastern Kentucky University.

Sweeney reminded the council of the Kentucky Board of Education’s resolution affirming its commitment to racial equity in Kentucky public schools, which was adopted last summer. In the resolution, the board specifically mentioned the importance of the Kentucky Framework of Best Practices for School Counselors.

This framework is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth and helps to reimagine and realign the roles and responsibilities of school counselors so they can better meet the immediate needs of Kentucky’s students.

Going forward, school counselors will play a vital role in equity and inclusion efforts throughout the Commonwealth, Woods-Tucker said.

“This is all of our work,” he said. “This is work that the Kentucky Board of Education supports, and it’s work that needs to be done here at the Kentucky Department of Education and in our school buildings so this can impact the lives of each of our 650,000 students.”

As part of a statewide equity and inclusion scan, Woods-Tucker said districts should look for equitable practices already in place in their schools and ask whether the district itself has an equity and inclusion action plan or includes equity in its strategic plan.

All members of Kentucky’s education community are encouraged to provide feedback on equity and inclusion efforts in their districts.

“We want to hear from all of our stakeholders,” Woods-Tucker said.

School Counselor Advocacy
After examining the Kentucky Framework for Teaching and the Kentucky Framework of Best Practices for School Counselors to discuss effective methods school counselors can use to communicate and collaborate with school principals, Jenny Ray, who heads KDE’s Principal Partnership Project, asked the council what they wish principals knew about their roles.

Eef Fontanez, school counselor at Berea Community High School (Berea Independent), said school counselors usually are the most trained mental health provider in the building and should be utilized as such.

Echoing this sentiment, Michelle Sircy, director of school counseling for Jefferson County Public Schools, said, “We desperately need principals to understand the role, depth and reach our school counselors can have if used appropriately.”