Education

Students in Jefferson County Public Schools will undergo standardized testing next month. But there are a few changes to the K-PREP, including a shorter test and fewer consequences for schools with poor results.

State and local officials were hoping the Biden administration would waive the federally-required testing in 2021 because of the ongoing pandemic, as the Trump administration did in 2020. However, Biden’s secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, did not oblige.

“To be successful once schools have reopened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” a department representative wrote in a February letter to state public school leaders.

That means in Kentucky, students in grades 3-8, 10 and 11 will be offered the K-PREP, as in most previous years.

However, the U.S. Department of Education is providing some flexibility. The tests will be shorter than usual. For example, JCPS Chief of Accountability Dena Dossett said third-graders, who normally test for more than two hours in reading and one-and-a-half hours in math, will instead test for one hour in each subject this year.

It’s also likely that far fewer students than usual will take the test. The federal and state guidelines will still require the test to take place in person. That means schools are asking families who are still in a fully remote setting to send their students into school on the day of the test, but not requiring that they do so..

“We’re not exactly sure how many families will take us up on our offer, but we’re encouraging them to participate,” Dossett said.

Around 40% of JCPS students are fully remote. Dossett said the district is providing transportation and meals to students who participate, “trying to take away any barriers that families might have.”

JCPS officials said they’ve also told schools not to hold any K-PREP rallies this year — those are pep rallies or assemblies schools use to boost morale and create a sense of excitement in students before the test.

At Iroquois High School, Principal Rob Fulk said he’s encouraging his students to look at testing days as “no different from any other day.” Like many other school leaders, he was disappointed the federal government did not waive the testing requirement.

“I think given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it would have been the wise thing to do, but I’m not an education policymaker,” he said.

JCPS was under a fully remote learning model for more than a year because of the pandemic. The district allowed students to return to the classroom in person with just 8 to 10 weeks left in the school year, depending on a student’s grade level. With such a limited time for in-person learning, the district’s message to school leaders is to prioritize meeting students’ needs over passing the test, Dossett said.

“Where we’re focusing now is building relationships, and taking as much time as we can for instruction, and making sure that we can accelerate learning where we can,” she said. “It really hasn’t been a message of, ‘Lets cram everything we can to prepare for these tests.’”

Dossett also said any results of this year’s K-PREP should be viewed with caution.

“I think it’s going to be hard to compare this year’s results with any past years’,” she said. “I mean, it’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.”

The U.S Department of Education did grant the Kentucky Department of Education’s request that test results from 2021 not be used to identify schools for consequences and interventions, such as leadership changes.

For JCPS, K-PREP will run from May 10 to May 27.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.