Virtual learning generic

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When Jefferson County Public Schools offered transportation so nearly 22,000 students learning from home could take K-PREP standardized tests, only about 400 took the district up on its offer, records obtained by WDRB News show.

At more than one-third of JCPS schools, documents provided by the district in response to an open records request show not a single family with students enrolled in virtual instruction requested bus service to schools so their children could take Kentucky’s standardized tests.

While data do not reflect how many families took students to schools for K-PREP testing, the numbers provide a preliminary glimpse at how many decided to briefly return to schools for standardized testing and how many simply stayed home.

Absences from state testing won’t affect districts nearly as much as past years thanks to a federal accountability waiver that Kentucky and other states received in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Standardized test results won’t be used to identify schools that need targeted government assistance and intervention, and students who don’t take K-PREP exams without medical excuses won’t get “novice” scores if schools’ participation rates fall below 95 percent.

The apparent disinterest from families in sending their children back to schools to take standardized tests was unsurprising for JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, who said Kentucky’s largest school district expected “much lower numbers” in terms of students taking the K-PREP exams.

“I was not expecting many parents who kept their students at home because of concerns around a pandemic to then turn and send their child into a school building in order to provide a standardized test,” Pollio said. “… We did see a lot of parents take their child into school, but I think it speaks to the validity of the data once again that a significant number of children are not taking the assessment.”

Neither JCPS nor the Kentucky Department of Education had data on K-PREP participation readily available.

Education Commissioner Jason Glass said he expected to get test results and participation numbers from the state’s testing vendor around August or September. K-PREP results are typically released to the public in October.

“We expected there to be lower participation,” Glass said, adding that he had hoped the U.S. Department of Education would waive standardized testing entirely for a second year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JCPS had resumed in-person learning weeks before K-PREP testing began and only then on a hybrid schedule that mixed remote and traditional classroom instruction during the week. Pollio said about a third of families opted to continue distance learning to end the 2020-21 school year once classrooms reopened.

Many JCPS teachers were dismayed at the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to resume standardized testing in the 2020-21 school year after providing blanket waivers to states that requested them in the previous school year.

Tammy Berlin, vice president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the union has long opposed high-stakes testing for students because, in part, the process “takes learning time away from kids” and leads to teaching for test preparation versus “real, authentic, engaging learning experiences.”

“My preference would have been for there to have not been testing this year, but the feds felt there was a need for it,” Berlin said.

She wasn’t alone in her frustration with administering standardized tests during a school year upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the mitigation measures enacted to limit COVID-19’s spread.

“This year I do not think K-PREP or standardized testing was a productive use of time considering the limited time we had with students in-person,” Pollio said. “… I don't think this is going to provide the data that our educators need to make adjustments.”

“I didn't agree with the decision,” Glass said of the U.S. Department of Education not offering waivers to cancel the latest round of standardized testing for states, “but we follow the rules that come down from the U.S. Department of Education because there’s funding attached to giving those tests.”

Berlin was among parents throughout Kentucky who declined to send their children to schools for K-PREP tests while they were learning remotely. Her son is a junior in Oldham County Schools.

“We got some strong communications from the school urging parents to send their virtual kids in and basically saying your kid is required for testing and that kind of thing,” she said. “Knowing what I know about the situation and the waivers, I just didn't send him, and of course there are no consequences to him for that.”

At JCPS, records obtained by WDRB News show that 399 students had requested transportation services for May 12 and May 19 testing dates for virtual learners. That’s about 2 percent of the 21,920 students who were in third through eighth and 10th and 11th grades learning remotely at the time, JCPS records show.

K-PREP tests are administered to students in those grades.

Sixty-eight JCPS schools did not record a single transportation request for those dates, district documents show.

Families that declined to send their children for K-PREP testing in May because they believed the exams didn’t matter as much in light of the federal waivers “have a point,” Glass said.

“It’s not being used for accountability purposes, so the tests are not harming or helping the school or the district in terms of the results because Kentucky was one of the states granted a waiver from using those tests in an accountability context, which I think was the right decision,” he said.

Both Glass and Pollio said results from the 2020-21 K-PREP exams should be interpreted on their own rather than compared to previous testing years given the expected drop in student participation.

“I don't think we'll be able to make any collective assumptions anywhere in the Commonwealth of Kentucky … because of lack of validity,” Pollio said.

Instead, they say results from diagnostic tests like Measures of Academic Progress will yield clearer views of where students stand after learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that COVID-19 and virtual learning over the course of an entire year impacts student learning,” Pollio said. “I mean, there is just no doubt about it, so we’re prepared for that and we know that’s going to happen.”

“Standardized testing will be important for us moving forward but more important is going to be that MAP testing, but I really don’t think we're going to be able to make any broad assumptions based on the data that will be coming in September,” he said.

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