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Pandemic-Affected Kentucky Test Scores Raise Concerns, Prompt Caveats

Josh James

The latest batch of statewide test results from Kentucky schools is raising red flags, both about student achievement amid the pandemic and the ability to test under current conditions.

On paper, the numbers can seem a little alarming — more than half of Kentucky elementary students are not meeting reading standards, an even greater percentage of middle school students are behind in math, and high schoolers unprepared for college-level math and reading also number 60 percent or more.

At the same time school leaders warn the 2020-2021 results released Wednesday by the Kentucky Department of Education should be taken with a big grain of salt.

Fayette Superintendent Demetrus Liggins notes that students took the newly-designed written exams just weeks after returning to in-person learning. The tests were also voluntary, leading to much lower participation rates. A full 40 percent of high school students were not even tested.

"The scores do not give us a lot of information beyond highlighting some of the concerns we’ve already known from previous data," Liggins said in a statement. "We are always hesitant to put a heavy emphasis on any one test on any one day, but even more so this year due to the circumstances surrounding the assessment."

While Liggins indicated Fayette schools won't be using the limited data to "drive instructional decision-making for students," Prichard Committee President Brigitte Blom cautioned educators and administrators not to dismiss the snapshot either.

"It's important that we take these results seriously," she commented. "They are one data point to help us understand the impact of the global pandemic on student learning and to own the truth of education outcomes for our students at this moment in time."

The numbers, Blom says, underscore the need to innovate, and meet students and parents where they are during a time of uncertainty and disruption. To that end, some are reviving questions about whether testing models should rethought, especially in light of "new normal" of the COVID era.

Democratic Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a teacher, told KET's Kentucky Tonight this week that it's a idea that should be on the table. 

"It's time to come up with something different that can allow our kids to have high quality, deeper learning, an exceptional public education, but not a focus on standardized testing," she said.

Read the full KDE report.