Will Kentucky’s education system be standards driven or test driven?

When the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) came to the Bluegrass State, Kentuckians were told their state’s education system would be built around those standards.

Well, perhaps not.

There was a presentation about the pending revision to the state’s science assessments during today’s meeting the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAAC). The presenter was asked if all science areas would be covered in the assessments for elementary, middle and high schools. The answer, to my considerable surprise, was “Yes.”

Not certain I heard this correctly, I questioned the presenter during a break and confirmed that all science areas would be fair game in the new science assessments at all school levels. That included chemistry and physics for high schools.

The reason this surprised me, and the reason this is a problem, is because the generally vague NGSS essentially cut off completely after high school biology. Topics from high school chemistry and physics are basically absent even though some at the Kentucky Department of Education don’t seem to understand that.

Furthermore, a well-established legal principal known as “Notice or “Fair Notice” says you can’t give tests that have consequences if you don’t provide advance notice of what is fair game on the tests. The way you provide notice is with the state’s education standards. NGSS can’t give adequate notice for things it doesn’t include.

So, is Kentucky sailing into really troubled waters with its new science assessments? Unless some changes are made, I think so.

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Charter School bill clears Kentucky Senate

The Kentucky Senate has voted 23 to 15 in favor of House Bill 520, with amendments, which will allow Kentuckians to create charter schools. The bill now returns to the House for a concurrence vote.

Charter School bill passes another hurdle

House Bill 520, which would introduce charter schools to Kentucky, was passed, with amendments, by the Senate Education Committee by a 9 to 3 vote and will probably go to the full Senate this afternoon.

If the amended bill is passed by the Senate, it will have to meet concurrence action from the House before heading to Governor Bevin’s office.

Bold new evidence: Kentucky does not lead the nation for education improvement

Claim especially misleading for state’s black students

Truth supports need for charter schools in Kentucky

As arguments swirled the past few months over charter schools, Kentuckians have been hearing claims that their state already leads the nation for the most educational improvement since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). As a consequence, that argument goes, this means Kentucky doesn’t need charters.

The latest example of this “leads the nation” claim is found in a March 10, 2017 Herald-Leader Op-Ed by David Hornbeck, one of the major architects of KERA. Hornbeck asserts:

“Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the nation.”

It’s a bold statement, but is it true?

And, is it true for all Kentucky’s children?

To explore these questions, we fired up the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Main NAEP Data Explorer web tool. We used data from the NAEP Data Explorer to assemble the two tables below, which show how Kentucky’s eighth-grade blacks stack up against other states that also had scores for these children of color reported for both the earliest and latest years of NAEP state testing.

Table 1 shows the NAEP Grade 8 math results black students in the listed states received back in 1990, the year KERA was enacted, and 2015 scores – the latest available. The table is sorted by the change in the NAEP Scale Score for math in each state across the 1990 to 2015 period.

Table 1

Grade 8 Math Improvement for Blacks for 1990 and 2015 Ranked

As you can see, Hornbeck’s assertion isn’t just wrong, it’s very wrong when we talk about improvements for Kentucky’s largest racial minority group compared to other states with usable NAEP data for black students.

Kentucky lands nearly at the bottom of the stack when we rank each state’s increase in NAEP Grade 8 Math Scale Scores for black students over time. Only four of the 28 states with data available progressed even less than Kentucky.

If we only consider southern states listed in Table 1, we find that North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas all matched or exceeded the national average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015. Kentucky never came close to any of them.

By the way, all of those five Southern states have charter schools. At present, aside from Kentucky, only Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia don’t have charters. Thus, except for West Virginia, all the states listed above Kentucky in Table 1 have charter school laws. That is something to think about.

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Digital learning: Not always pleasing parents

Before getting into this, I want to stress that I believe digital learning has strong potential to improve K to 12 education. I base that opinion on my own experience when I was an Air Force instructor pilot and an instructional technology program developer for the first generation of automated teaching machines to go operational in the Air Force pilot training program. Good equipment, properly used by well-trained staff, and – perhaps most importantly – loaded with good instructional programs, can enhance learning.

With that said, I also believe that just loading up a school with lots of digital equipment and then rapidly grabbing ahold of a digital learning program can prove problematic.

A case in point seems to be surfacing now in the Boone County Public School District in Kentucky.

In “Facebook program at school causes controversy,” the Kentucky Enquirer points to a growing controversy in the Boone County system over a digital learning program called Summit Learning, which was originally developed in California. Summit is being supported online by Facebook.

For sure, Summit, at least in its Boone County incarnation, is controversial. The Enquirer says the squabble is “so fierce that at least two families have yanked their children from Boone County Schools and other parents are accusing the district of treating students like guinea pigs.”

The Enquirer continues, “There are questions about how classrooms should be structured, how students should be graded and how much homework they should get. And there are questions about privacy – who collects what data and how it is used.”

There have also been questions about implementation. For example, Summit is supposed to be a “Blended Learning” approach where students spend part of the day on computers but are also supposed to still get classical teacher led instruction, as well. However, determining exactly what the computer-to-classical-approach mix should be is a challenge even in well-ordered systems.

In my Air Force days there was still a large amount of instructor-to-student interaction after our instructional technology came along. Having observed some Summit classroom activity, my initial impression is that the Boone County model is more heavily weighted towards computer time. I don’t know if the Boone mix is right or not; I am not sure at this point that anyone else really knows, either.

Without question, parents have been speaking out about their concerns with Summit. Long before the new Enquirer article came out, it was public knowledge that parents were upset.

For example, parents took considerable time to criticize the Summit program – on the record – at the November 10, 2016 meeting of the Boone County Board of Education. Parent Jeremy Storm said his child was supposed to have teacher interaction, but it seemed like the child was only working with teachers about 10 minutes a week, at best. Myrna Eads echoed this 10-minute teacher contact comment concerning her child. She also said that, as of this November school board meeting, some students had already finished the entire year’s program with Summit and were now just playing video games.

Jeremy Storm also said teachers were not really aware of what was in the Summit program because the adoption wasn’t taken slowly. Stacie Storm, his wife, added to the concerns saying her school’s School Based Decision Making Council didn’t handle the Summit adoption correctly and said Summit is not fully aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Other parents were upset that no alternative to Summit was offered in some Boone County middle schools. That could be problematic for students who need more direct teacher contact.

Permission Slip Controversy

The Enquire article echoes comments I’ve heard about controversy over a permission slip parents are required to sign before their students can participate in the Summit Learning program. The Enquirer talked to parents and writes, “They said the permission slip for Summit was buried in a mountain of back-to-school paperwork, which was sent home with a threat: sign and return these, or your kid gets detention.” There was no opt-out option available on this permission form.

Parent coercion is just not acceptable.

Furthermore, there are concerns about sharing of private student data with Facebook/Summit, which may or may not prove to be a major problem.

I think more answers on Summit are coming. I am advised that complaints have been raised with the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA), which is the responsible agency to investigate claims regarding SBDM activities and some of the other issues parents have raised. The OEA is usually detailed and thorough in its investigations, so I don’t know how soon their findings will be made public.

However, multiple sources confirm that several parents were so upset that they have pulled their children completely out of the Boone County system. That, by itself, is a major attention grabber.

Kentucky’s Real Progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

On Friday, March 3, 2016 the Kentucky House made history when it voted for the first time in favor of a charter school bill and sent it on for Kentucky Senate approval.

The vote was contentious.

Debates in the morning meeting of the House Education Committee and during the eventual deliberation and adoption of the bill by the full Kentucky House sometimes were bitter – even tear filled. And, there were lots of inaccurate statements along the way.

One entirely too prevalent assertion mentioned by many legislators was that Kentucky has made great education progress since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). Sadly, while the state’s public education system has made some progress in the past quarter of a century, it’s a real stretch to say “great” progress has been made. Let’s examine why inflated claims of great progress are out of order.

Figure 1 shows the NAEP Grades 4 and 8 reading and math proficiency rates for all Kentucky students from the earliest available year of testing and the most recent, 2015 results. There obviously has been progress, more in Grade 4 than Grade 8, but calling this a “great” accomplishment just isn’t right.

For example, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested at or above NAEP’s Proficient level in 2015 in both fourth grade math and reading. That means that after a quarter of a century of KERA, 60 percent of our fourth graders – well over half – still don’t meet muster in either subject. After a quarter of a century, with so far yet to go, does it seem right to talk about “great progress?”

In the eighth grade NAEP, results were even worse. Only 36 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading. Far more disturbing, only a truly disappointing 28 percent of Kentucky’s eighth graders met muster in NAEP math. That means 72 percent of the state’s eighth grade students – as of 2015, a full quarter century after the launch of KERA – still don’t perform adequately in math.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Based on the known rates of progress that can be calculated using the data shown in Figure 1, the Bluegrass Institute projected the number of years following 2015 that remain before Kentucky can anticipate that at least 80 percent of its students will score proficient or above on the NAEP. You can see those projections in the table inserted in the upper right side of Figure 1. Those time estimates to reach 80 percent proficiency rates on the NAEP range from at least 34 more years required in Grade 4 math to an astonishing 126 more years for Grade 8 Reading.

With so much left to do, it is obviously inappropriate to crow about already making “great” progress. A large amount of progress simply hasn’t happened.

By the way, the situation looks MUCH worse when we examine the NAEP performance of Kentucky’s black students. Claiming “great progress” once this actual data is examined is simply unacceptable.

As Figure 2 shows, even as 2015, the NAEP reports only depressingly low percentages of Kentucky’s black students scored proficient or above in both Grade 4 and Grade 8 reading and mathematics.

Figure 2

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, Black Students Only

In two cases shown in the table insert in Figure 2, the trends on NAEP tell us Kentucky is nearly a century away from seeing a desirable math proficiency rate for its black students. In eighth grade math, the goal is the better part of two centuries away. In the case of Grade 8 Reading, the 80 percent proficiency rate goal is more than 2-1/2 centuries away!

This is simply unacceptable.

Clearly, Kentucky’s actual NAEP performance renders claims of great progress to be greatly exaggerated.

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Kentucky House approves charter school bill

It’s now officially recorded. The Kentucky House has approved the state’s first charter school bill by a vote of 56 to 39.

Vote Tally on HB 520 During Vote Explanation

Legislation Alert: House Bill 520 to establish charter schools passed by Kentucky House Education Committee

Full House debating now

Today marks a notable move forward in the attempt to bring more school choice to Kentucky. House Bill 520, with amendments, received a favorable vote in the Kentucky House’s Education Committee this morning.

The discussion on the bill included highlights by several key Kentucky leaders including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and Kentucky Board of Education member Pastor Milton Seymore in addition to those from the bill’s sponsor, Kentucky Representative John (Bam) Carney.

Starting shortly after noon, the legislation is now being heard in the full Kentucky House.

Important late-breaking changes to the approved bill include the deletion of pure online charter schools and the addition of the mayors of Louisville and Lexington as authorizers.

If eventually adopted, House Bill 520 would make Kentucky the 44th state to have a charter school law.

Beware Beshear’s claims about Kentucky’s high school graduation rates!

Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear delivered a rather weak response to President Donald Trump’s recent — and impressive — address to the joint meeting of the Congress.

In his remarks, Beshear touted Kentucky’s rapid growth in high school graduation rates. It sounded impressive, but the nation deserves to hear the rest of this misleading story.

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, the Kentucky School Report Cards database reported a high school graduation rate of 88.6 percent based on the new Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) formula now required for federal reporting. That graduation rate is indeed well above the national average and has increased slightly from the 86.1 percent ACGR posted by Kentucky at the end of the 2012-13 school year (which is the first year Kentucky used this new formula, making comparisons to earlier years’ graduation rates inappropriate).

Kentucky’s ACGR numbers look impressive, but the real question is whether or not Kentucky’s recent high school graduates are getting the education those diplomas are supposed to represent. Unfortunately, there is very strong evidence that Kentucky is just handing out lots of rather hollow diplomas.

Hollow Diplomas Exhibit A starts with a review of Kentucky’s education regulations.

Kentucky regulation 704 KAR 3:305, “Minimum requirements for high school graduation” stipulates that Kentucky’s high school graduates will be competent in mathematics through Algebra II.

However, the Kentucky School Report Card database shows the proficiency rate on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course Exam was only 38.2 percent in the 2014-15 school term (most Kentucky students take Algebra II in the 11th grade)! And, Algebra II proficiency rates haven’t changed much since Algebra II End-of-Course testing began in 2011-12 when the rate was actually a bit higher at 40.0 percent.

Clearly, it takes some “very interesting” math to reconcile a 38.2 Algebra II proficiency rate with a high school graduation rate of 88.6 percent when competency in that math subject is a stipulated requirement to get those diplomas.

But, there is more, as Hollow Diplomas Exhibit B shows.

Kentucky’s stated goal for its public education system is to make students ready for college and/or a career (CCR). The state has actually developed a number of metrics based on a variety of different tests and other things like earning a recognized industry certificate, e.g. a welder’s certificate, as evidence of such readiness. The current CCR criteria have been around since the 2011-12 school term.

However, in 2015-16 the Kentucky School Report Cards show only 68.5 percent of those students who received a Kentucky high school diploma were able to meet muster under any of the various ways available to establish readiness for either college or a career. The rest of the 2015-16 graduates, nearly one-third of the total, were not ready for either college or a career and clearly got a rather hollow diploma.

In fact, if you combine the data for graduation rates and CCR rates for 2015-16 together, it looks like only around 61 percent of Kentucky’s entering ninth graders who became the Class of 2016 actually graduated from high school with a meaningful education. That “Effective Graduation Rate” of only 61 percent isn’t something anyone would cheer.

So, beware Beshear’s Kentucky high school graduation claims. More kids are probably getting paper in Kentucky (though even that number has not been rigorously audited to my knowledge). But, this clearly is happening only because regulatory requirements and stated education goals are being ignored in a rush to socially promote students to a piece of paper regardless of merit.

For more on this important topic:

Kentucky’s high school diploma quality control problems continue in 2016 – Part 1

Kentucky’s high school diploma quality control problems continue in 2016 – Part 2

Kentucky schools, where an “A” might not really be an “A”

I wrote a few days ago about new research from the Kentucky Department of Education that compares average mathematics letter grades to performance on Kentucky’s math assessments.

That initial blog discusses the fact that Kentucky’s children of color are generally getting higher letter grades for math than white students receive for similar test score performance.

Today, I expand on that with another graph from the recently released “The State of P-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” This new graph compares the overall average math grades for all high school students to the probability the students are really ready for college math. The test measure is the ACT college entrance test, and the ACT readiness score has been set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) as a rather undemanding low of 19.

The Kentucky Department of Education says the figures used to generate the graph are for average performances across 2012 to 2016 data.

High School Grades Vs CPE ACT Benchmarks for All Students

There are some disturbing things in this graph.

The far right side of the graph provides evidence that even consistently scoring an “A” in Kentucky public high school math courses provides no guarantee of real math readiness. Less than 75 percent of the students who averaged an “A” in their high school math courses were also able to pass muster against the undemanding ACT target set by the CPE.

Things get more bothersome quickly as we move down the grade scale. Even for those students averaging a “B” in math, the picture is pretty grim. Fewer than one in two of those students are likely to meet the low requirement set by the CPE. For students with still lower math grades, the odds of surviving college math look pretty gruesome.

By the way, while the CPE says an ACT math score of 19 is good enough to avoid remedial coursework in college, the ACT says that a notably higher math score of 22 is actually needed to have at least a 75 percent chance of getting at least a “C” in the lower-level college math course of algebra.

In Kentucky’s public postsecondary system, a grade point average below 2.0 (generally a “C” average) will not allow graduation.

We often hear that high school grade point averages are better predictors of college performance than other factors like ACT scores. That correlation might have been true in the past, but when grading in Kentucky’s public school system today seems in too many cases to vary widely from real performances needed to succeed, this old rule of thumb might not be true anymore.

In any event, parents beware. Just because your kid gets an “A,” don’t think you are home free. There are plenty of stories of “A” students arriving on campus only to discover that they are not ready for college level math. Sometimes, that shock is more than our kids today can handle. And, based on this new research from the Kentucky Department of Education, it looks like there is plenty of room for even “A” students to get some very unpleasant surprises upon college entry.