A Validity Study of the Kentucky's Performance Based Assessment System with National Merit Scholars and National Merit Commended

By Strong, Sue; Sexton, Larry C. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000 | Go to article overview

A Validity Study of the Kentucky's Performance Based Assessment System with National Merit Scholars and National Merit Commended


Strong, Sue, Sexton, Larry C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


This study explored the validity of Kentucky's Performance Based Assessment System with National Merit Scholars and National Merit Commended. A significant percentage of these scholars were judged by the Kentucky tests as nonmastery in reading, math, science and social studies as well as in their writing portfolio. The results indicated that this assessment system is highly suspect as a valid measure for high achieving scholars.

"During the 1980's, testing became a cornerstone of the education reform movement. Testing burgeoned; the consequences for performance on tests were greatly increased; and assessment increasingly became a means of changing behavior rather than a mechanism for gathering information ... Now the nation stands poised on the brink of yet another wave of test-based reform, and again we appear prepared to undertake it without sufficient quality control" (Dunbar, Koretz and Hoover, 1991, p. 301).

Performance assessment is the current favored testing technique for reform (Madaus, 1994). Performance assessment is not a new measurement technique. It was used before the multiple-choice technique, and continues to be used in many disciplines: art, music, technical areas, and athletics (Bergen, 1994). However, performance assessment is increasingly being used to measure the entire curriculum, as well as individual schools, for state accountability purposes.

Many states are using performance assessment, on a piece-meal basis, or considering its use (O'Neil, 1992). At present, Kentucky is the only state to mandate reform and measure it solely with performance assessment. The Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 mandated that the Department of Education develop and administer a performance based test of student achievement. In 1991 the initial Kentucky performance based assessment system was called Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS). KIRIS was created as the major part of a school accountability system which assessed a school's success in attaining Kentucky's educational goals (Academic Expectations). Initially this system included open response questions in reading, math, science, and social studies; written response to performance events; and writing and math portfolios. Based on the student's test performance they were classified into four categories; Novice and Apprentice (nonmastery) and Proficient and Distinguished (mastery). The number of students in each category forms the basis of the school's Accountability Index. The major purpose of the test was to hold schools accountable through a system of rewards and sanctions using an Accountability Index generated by KIRIS results. While leaving the system substantially intact the 1998 Kentucky General Assembly renamed the performance assessment system from KIRIS to CATS (Commonwealth Accountability Testing System). The new test will look much like the old one and will continue to use performance based assessment for high stakes decisions.

The test was intended to evaluate schools not individual students. Therefore, Kentucky's performance based assessment is used both to drive instruction and for school accountability. "Such a system is not generally used, primarily because of the issues of reliability and validity connected with the development of new forms of testing" (Steffy, 1993, p. 43). "Researchers who study assessment reforms have pointed out a fundamental tension between assessment as an inducement to instructional reform and assessment as a measurement tool" (Koretz, et al., 1996).

Purpose of the Study

Although KIRIS was initially presented as a measure of school, not individual performance, individual scores were and have continued to be generated and reported to students and parents. School districts have been encouraged to use and have used individual scores for selection and evaluation of students. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) asked schools to put KIRIS scores on high school transcripts. …

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