LaRue County schools adopts new assesment system

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By Ron Benningfield

LaRue County school administrators say Kentucky’s receiving a waiver from the No Child Left Behind education law is a positive step.
“I really think the change is a good change. Actually, I haven’t talked to any educator who thought NCLB should continue,” Superintendent Sam Sanders said.
The waiver means that Kentucky can use a new and more flexible assessment system, Unbridled Learning, which it has developed, to determine progress in schools instead of the federally-mandated NCLB.
The new system is a result of Senate Bill 1, enacted in 2009, that called for a complete revamping of the state’s school assessment.
“I do believe NCLB was flawed because it was an ‘all or nothing’ approach,” said Sanders. “The law mandated every student be proficient in reading and math by 2014. If you didn’t meet the goal of proficiency, then there were consequences.”
“This past year we did not meet the goal in a couple of categories by one student, yet we were labeled ‘failing,’” he continued. “There were many very high performing districts in Kentucky who never met AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).”
Sanders added that NCLB wasn’t all bad as it made the district change its approach for delivery of services to students in subgroups, especially those in the disability group.
“Everyone on our administrative team was shocked back in 2003 when LaRue County had the largest achievement gap between regular education students and our disability students,” he recalled.  
“After receiving this information, we formulated a plan and our staff carried out the plan better than any other district I know of in Kentucky,” Sanders noted. “This is probably the reason the LaRue County Schools won the Johnnie Grissom Award (given by the State Board of Education) in 2010. LaRue was one of the very few districts in the state to make adequate yearly progress as a district for four consecutive years.”  
Sue Osborne, Hodgenville Elementary School principal, said the waiver will allow educators to focus on one accountability system instead of separate state and federal accountability.
“The SB1 (Senate Bill 1) system is much more comprehensive than NCLB, tracking Kentucky students’ progress using graduation rates and college and career-readiness,” she said. “Along with the new KPREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) assessment, we also give standardized tests such as EXPLORE (to eight graders), PLAN (sophomores) and the ACT (juniors).”
The new accountability system tracks how students’ are doing on a year-to-year basis, which is something Osborne said educators have wanted for a long time.  
“Another positive aspect about the waiver is that it removes the implication that a school is failing because it didn’t meet all of its goals,” she said. “With NCLB, a school could show progress and still not make AYP if it didn’t meet 100 percent of its goals. Our system is one that measures growth as well as success.”
District assessment coordinator and Abraham Lincoln Elementary School interim principal Amanda Reed mentioned the wider scope of assessment under Unbridled Learning.  
“The old NCLB goals were based predominantly on reading and math,” she said. “The new system includes all content areas plus some other data, so it’s a broader measure of overall school performance.”
Sanders acknowledged the new system “will be tough,” especially with the demands increasing every year at the same time state funding has decreased and with the emphasis on college and career readiness.
“When you look at our district’s EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT scores, we are generally in the top 15-20 percent in the state,” he said. “Having said this, we are not even close to reaching our goal of meeting the benchmark scores for these tests.”
“There is a big difference in being proficient and meeting the benchmark score.  The benchmarks are more difficult,” he said. “In February 2011 our board of education signed a resolution to support improving college and career readiness.  LaRue County pledged to increase the rate of college and career readiness of the graduates in our school district from 25 percent in 2010 to 63 percent in 2015.”