A recent report from Danville Kentucky showed that the school district is embracing project based learning and moving away from standardized testing as a measurement of knowledge and achievement.
Danville Independent School District is leading the state in project based learning, a model that requires students not only to learn content but to prove that they can apply it so they are prepared for college or a career.
It’s a different kind of accountability system for schools, and Superintendent Carmen Coleman is not stopping there. With Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s backing, Coleman is preparing to ask state and federal officials for permission to eliminate two standardized tests that she considers meaningless.
“They have to take them, but we do not put any emphasis on them,” Coleman said.
“Our schools in so many ways have become about test prep. We’ve got to have kids graduating who can do more than respond to multiple-choice questions.”
Her goal is to eliminate Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress and end-of-course tests for high school students. Those tests would be replaced with tests that reflect project-based learning.
If Coleman’s methods are successful, schools all over the state could follow her district, Holliday said.
“We wouldn’t completely eliminate testing,” but some tests might be eliminated “so we can put those funds toward more in-depth types of assessments that are project-based, like Danville,” he said.
Coleman wants to keep one standardized test — the ACT — because it’s required by many colleges as a measure of whether a student is ready for college or career.
Ultimately, she wants the district to be held accountable for how many students complete college.
Coleman said the district has doubled its test scores in terms of whether students are college- and career-ready. To be college-ready, students have to reach benchmarks. About 34 percent of the district’s students reached that standard in 2011. In 2013, more than 70 percent reached that status, Coleman said.
But in Kentucky’s current accountability system, Coleman said, Danville Independent is labeled as a “needs improvement” district. The overall scores have not reached the cutoff for proficiency status, she said.
“We knew that we would take hits … and we have,” she said.
Holliday said that’s OK.
“I don’t think the standardized test is always the ultimate measure,” he said. “I think standardized tests are limited in their ability to measure the types of skills that the work force of the future will need. That’s why I’m very supportive of their work, not backing away from accountability but looking for very different ways to measure student progress.