BROKEN PROMISE? Common Core tests were supposed to usher in a new era of comparing America’s schools

Back in 2010 one of the major reasons we heard for adopting the Common Core State Standards was that the results from new Common Core-aligned tests would be comparable across states.

It’s now 2017, and as Chalkbeat points out, this is yet another promise from the education community that hasn’t been kept.

Kentucky, of course, uses its own, self-created Common Core-aligned Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) tests, which don’t compare to tests used in any other state.

But, even for those states that joined one of the two Common Core test consortia and are nominally using the same tests, Chalkbeat’s article points out that no one is calling the results comparable.

It makes you wonder if the underlying education in each state is even close to comparable.

Which brings up another problem.

We normally could answer that question about cross-state education performance with results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, there was a change in the way this federal test was administered in 2017. Right now, we won’t see the 2017 NAEP results for several more months, at least. Even then, it is possible the 2017 results might have problems because of those changes in administration procedures. So, even the NAEP might not be useful to analyze the Common Core and cross-state education performance as of 2017.

In any event, right now, that Common Core promise about comparing cross-state testing remains unfulfilled. With seven years under its belt since enactment, that doesn’t speak well for Common Core.

Do parents really care about Kentucky’s school councils?

A major goal of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was getting parents more involved in their children’s schools. Towards that end, KERA required that virtually all regular schools in Kentucky had to install School-Based Decision-Making Councils (often referred to as SBDMs) no later than December 1996. These councils would take on major responsibilities for such things as curriculum development, staff selection and final allocation of finances that formerly were local school board prerogatives. Parents, elected by parents in the school, would fill some SBDM positions.

Kentucky’s SBDM governance scheme certainly created a major shift in power, but there was a catch – while parents would have a voice on the SBDMs, teachers alone would have the controlling votes. KERA stipulated that each SBDM would have a membership ratio of three teachers to two parents. Because a majority vote rules in SBDMs, this ensured real control over the schools would be in the hands of teachers, not parents. Still, it was hoped that parents would like the idea of having some voice on the SBDMs and get more involved.

In any event, as is true with many education fad ideas, the goal with SBDMs was noble, but after more than two decades of school council operations in Kentucky, reality is catching up. For a lot of reasons, questions about the efficacy of Kentucky’s SBDM system have bubbled up recently (you can read about some of those issues here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Given the original goal of increasing parent involvement in schools, I thought it would be interesting to examine some data in the Kentucky School Report Cards “Data Sets” section to get a feel for how well parents really participate in one of the SBDMs’ most important activities – the election of the parent representatives.

What I found is disturbing.

When I looked at the Kentucky Department of Education’s data for the 2016-17 school year, I found a total of 1,124 schools had data listed for both school student membership (often called enrollment by the general public) and the number of parents who voted for the SBDM parent representatives. If parents are participating enthusiastically, you would expect those numbers to agree fairly well.

To investigate that the level of agreement, I calculated the number of parent voters as a percentage of student enrollment in each school.

For example, the department’s data shows in the Hazel Green Elementary School the student membership in 2016-17 was 314 and the number of parents voting in the SBDM election was 280. That works out to a voter to student membership figure of 89.2 percent, which is really good.

However, there weren’t many cases like Hazel Green. Only 15 schools out of the 1,124 schools with data had an SBDM voter to student membership ratio of at least 50 percent. Still worse, 818 schools – 72.8 percent of all the schools – had only single-digit ratios of parents voting in the SBDM election compared to the total student enrollment – that’s all (You can check out this Excel spreadsheet covering all the schools to see more)!

This little study provides disturbing evidence that in the typical school in Kentucky the vast majority of parents don’t get involved with SBDMs very much. When almost three out of four schools have single-digit ratios of parent SBDM voting numbers compared to student enrollment, I submit that if a key purpose of SBDMs is to generate parent interest, then this school management model has failed very badly to attain that goal.

To be fair, there are limitations to this simple analysis.

For one thing, student enrollment is not equal to the total number of parents in the school. Some students still come from two-parent families (both parents can vote for the SBDM representatives in this case) and in some cases a family may have more than one child registered in a school. So, it would be unreasonable to expect really high agreement in the SBDM voter and student membership numbers.

There are also concerns about the general accuracy of the Kentucky Department of Education’s data. The numbers are self-reported by the schools. While I would expect the membership data to be fairly accurate, the parent vote data isn’t being audited and could have notable errors for some schools.

Still, the numbers in my spreadsheet look highly problematic. Simply put, the numbers in most schools are just way too low. When only about one in ten students or even less is represented in the vast majority of SBDM parent member elections, parent interest in SBDM activities in the vast majority of Kentucky’s schools is obviously problematic.

[Read more…]

Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

Digital Learning: Care needed

My own experience indicates that, properly conducted, digital learning can be beneficial. Essentially similar machine-based instruction certainly proved to be an improvement nearly half a century ago when I was an Air Force Instructor Pilot programming the first generation of automated teaching technology to go operational in that service’s pilot training program. Student pilots picked up a number of skills more quickly and instructors could move immediately to more advanced discussions in their pre- and post-flight briefings because the students were getting basic introduction to new material in the learning center setting.

When I retired and went to work for a major US airline, that company’s annual recurrent and initial pilot training programs came to increasingly rely on significant amounts of digital learning approaches, as well. Again, this suited me and a lot of other pilots well.

But, technology isn’t always a magic silver bullet. If the instructional materials are not high quality and are not employed with skill, the old computer term “Garbage in, garbage out” can take hold quickly.

Obviously, if kids are playing video games instead of looking at the day’s instructional modules or listening to the classroom lecture, learning isn’t happening.

Thus, it wasn’t a real surprise when I heard about a new study about digital learning from the West Point Military Academy. Researchers split over 700 cadets into three separate sample groups to explore how varying amounts of technology impacted performance in a lecture-based sophomore level economics course.

As Rick Hess summarizes:

“On the three-and-a-half-hour final exam—which included multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay questions—students in the technology-free group fared best.”

On the other hand, students who were allowed to use technology in or out of the classroom as they desired scored lower by “a statically significant and pretty meaningful difference” according to Hess.

There are some important limitations to the West Point study. It appears that no lessons were designed to be taught on the computer, so the technology was only being used as an aid in traditionally taught classes.

Thus, the jury is still out on the real impacts of using digital devices in the instructional setting. However, the West Point study shows that caution is advised when digital learning is involved and more research is badly needed.

Along those lines, I have been looking at the first year’s test results for a very extensive digital learning effort that started in several Boone County schools in the 2016-17 school term. This one encompassed massive use of digitally based instruction as well as the use of digital devices as support elements. I’ll have more to say about that Boone County effort soon, so stay tuned.

An Open Letter To: All Individuals Involved with Reworking Kentucky’s Academic Standards

Thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 1 during the 2017 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session, Kentucky’s current education standards for English language arts and mathematics, which are currently cut-and-paste adoptions of the Common Core State Standards, are going through a change. However, it remains to be seen how dramatic a change will actually occur.

Part one of the review and development of Kentucky’s new reading, writing and math standards – an online public comment effort – has already been completed. As I discussed back in May, I have reservations about how this process, which was conducted online using Survey Monkey, seemed likely to produce few changes to the existing Common Core-based standards in Kentucky. People using the Survey Monkey had to shoehorn their suggestions around the existing standards. There was no practical way to suggest major changes with this limiting approach.

In any event, the next step in Kentucky’s standards reworking process is for new Standards And Assessments Review and Development Committees supported by several grade level specific (K to Grade 5, Grade 6 to 8, Grade 9 to 12) Advisory Panels to be formed and to start the detailed work of examining the academics our students really need to be successful in the ever more technically involved world economy. One of the new committees and its support panels will cover the English language arts areas and another group will handle the math standards.

So far, there has been no announcement about who will serve on these committees and panels or what their working sessions will look like. As statutorily created agencies, these committees should be subject to Kentucky’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws, but again we have no details at this time.

Because I don’t think the Common Core has the right elements presented with the right timing to meet students’ needs, and because of my concerns about the Survey Monkey process and its almost inevitable outcomes, I put together an open letter that discusses what truly high quality standards look like in a high performance education system. I hope this letter eventually reaches all of the committee and panel members who will do the tough work to create the new standards called for in Senate Bill 1. However, since I think many others in Kentucky – and in other states as well – would benefit from this, I am making the open letter available online here: Standards Review Open Letter Sep17

AP test taking rises in Kentucky

But, minority opportunity remains an issue

AdvanceKentucky remains important motivator for improvement in AP statistics

New performance results for Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been released by the Kentucky Department of Education, and there is some good news tempered by some continuing questions about equity and access in these numbers.

[Read more…]

Dr. Gary Houchens: Achievement Effects of Scholarship Tax Credits

BIPPS scholar Dr. Gary Houchens has posted a nice discussion about the impacts of scholarship tax credits on student performance in other states. The quick message, these programs allow a tax credit when donors support private non-profit groups that give needy students scholarships to attend the K to 12 school that works best for those students.

Houchens points to improvements in student learning and college-going rates thanks to these scholarships, something Kentucky could really use. But, read his article to get the full message.

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – High Schools

Over the past few days I’ve blogged about the problems with white minus black reading and math achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary and middle schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the high school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black proficiency rate gaps over time from the KPREP English II End-of-Course exams used in Kentucky’s high schools. The English II End-of-Course exam scores are also used for reading accountability in Kentucky’s high schools.

As we saw in the lower grades, things don’t look very good during the time these tests, which are part of the ACT’s Quality Core series, have been in use.

Figure 1

High School KPREP EOC Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the white reading proficiency rate has been jumping up and down slightly since 2014. The new 2017 white reading proficiency rate of 59.6 percent is actually lower than previously posted rates for 2015 and 2016 and really isn’t much different from the 2014 rate, either.

For all intents and purposes, the white high school level reading performance in Kentucky hasn’t really changed in half a decade.

The rate of progress for black reading performance looks just about the same, except that the scores are much lower. With the 2013 and 2015 black reading scores both higher than the latest 2017 results, about the best you can say is black high school reading performance in Kentucky has also been flat for half a decade.

The achievement gaps are also problematic. While the 2017 white minus black high school reading proficiency rate gap is smaller than in 2015 and 2016, it is larger than the gaps for 2012, 2013 and 2014. That isn’t progress.

Basically, after six years of Unbridled Learning testing, the English II End-of-Course exams indicate there has been scant progress in reading in Kentucky’s high schools since the Common Core State Standards came along either for whites or blacks.

Figure 2 shows the high school math situation.

Figure 2

High School KPREP EOC Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

This math picture is far more sobering than the flat reading situation.

For starters, the white math proficiency rate in 2017 is not only lower than it was last year, but it is more than a percentage point lower than it was back in 2012. That is a bit less than just flat performance.

The math situation for blacks as of 2017 is far worse. In fact, the drop in the black Algebra II End-of-Course exam proficiency was so severe in 2017 that I double-checked with the Kentucky Department of education to insure there wasn’t a typographical error. There was no typo, unfortunately. That 9.4 point math proficiency rate drop from 2016 to 2017 is apparently real.

Even if we were to consider the 2016 score as abnormally high, the 2017 score is still well below the initial 2012 score of 24.4 percent proficiency and is well below the rate for all other years, as well. When you consider that well under one in five Kentucky black high school students met muster in Algebra II in 2017, this is a very sobering situation indeed.

Arguably, Kentucky’s blacks have gone backwards in math since Common Core came along.

The high school math gap situation is also problematic. The most recent white minus black high school math gap is by far the largest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either. What makes the gap growth particularly troubling is that even though the white math proficiency rate dumped by more than three points between 2016 and 2017, the white minus black math gap still managed to increase dramatically.

[Read more…]

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – Middle Schools

A few days ago I blogged about the problems with white minus black achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the middle school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black gaps in KPREP reading over the time this Common Core-aligned testing program has been in use.

Figure 1

Middle School KPREP Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the proficiency rates in reading for both whites and blacks have improved, but the whites have made more progress. As a result, Kentucky’s 2017 middle school reading achievement gap is larger than for any earlier year.

Furthermore, fewer than one in three black middle school students is reading at the proficient level as of 2017, which I must remind some is 27 years after the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was passed with promises to deal with this problem.

Now, Figure 2 shows the middle school math situation.

Figure 2

Middle School KPREP Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

Figure 2 clearly tells a much more sobering picture for math than the rather somber gap story in Figure 1 for reading. First, both white and black scores either went stagnant or into decline in 2017. That isn’t what Common Core promised us.

The gap situation is also problematic. The most recent gap is the highest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either.

Given that scarcely more than one out of two white middle schoolers in Kentucky is proficient in math and less than one out of four black students passed muster on the KPREP, these faltering results for 2017 are particularly unsatisfactory. With foreign competition lining up to swamp our kids if we don’t get them much better educated, Kentucky cannot afford to allow such meager performance and slow rates of progress to continue.

Technical Information:

All scores in Figures 1 and 2 came from the Kentucky School Report Cards for the state for the years listed. The specific data came from the Data Sets section, ASSESSMENT_KPREP_LEVEL link.

What happened when Minneapolis got some serious school choice?

There is a really interesting podcast from the Education Writers Association about a study conducted by reporters at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the impacts of school choice on what was once Minnesota’s largest school district.

What happened is interesting. When charter schools and district to district transfers became available, it wasn’t white students that bailed out of the traditional Minneapolis schools. It was kids of color who took the most advantage of these options – particularly blacks and Asians – and they did so for a number of reasons. That surprised the Star’s reporters who really expected to find white flight predominating. The reporters were also surprised that blacks who left for charters were not predominantly from upper income black families, either. For sure, the white flight myth some have pushed regarding charter schools didn’t pan out in practice in Minneapolis.

The reporters say students left the traditional public school system for a number of reasons such as behavioral problems in the traditional schools that are better controlled in charters and for the better academic environment that results. Parents interviewed said they were happy with their children’s new schools of choice and had no intentions of returning to the traditional system.

But, is it working? Due to privacy laws, the Star’s reporters could not access individual student data to positively track what happened to each student that took the choice option. However the reporters did do some checking that indicates schools where these kids transferred tend to do better for minority groups than the traditional schools in the Minneapolis system.

One more point caught my attention. With its student base dwindling, the traditional system in Minneapolis is finally waking up and starting to change, as well. The district is currently conducting a study, or assessment, of its own to find out what can be done to better serve students. That change in district behavior is EXACTLY what charter proponents have been saying would happen all along. Maybe the traditional school “boat” in Minneapolis will rise, yet.

This 14-minute podcast is well worth a listen and it shows, at least in Minneapolis, comments some have made to malign school choice are wrong.