I posted on Tuesday about how Kentucky’s white students performed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Math Assessment. Today, we’ll look at how the state’s white fourth graders fared.
Although there has been scant coverage in the press, lately I have been hearing a fair amount of discussion in Northern Kentucky and elsewhere about skilled labor shortages.
Our public education system is involved with this problem because large numbers of kids are currently getting high school diplomas but cannot demonstrate readiness for anything after school, not college, and not a career, either.
Certainly, the problem is starting to seem serious. I was recently told that robotics-based manufacturers in Northern Kentucky are having such a hard time finding talent that they now are encouraging area business recruiting organizations to stop attracting more robotics operations to Northern Kentucky. The pressure on the existing pool of qualified talent is already too great.
To be sure, this isn’t a very encouraging situation for Kentucky’s economy, to say the least.
As a result of what I’ve been hearing but not seeing in the press, I was particularly interested when the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education met on Monday, July 18, 2016 to discuss the state’s workforce challenges and to hear from Kentucky Secretary of Education Hal Heiner and others about programs intended to deal with those challenges.
I also got something else at the meeting – more confirmation that Kentucky’s under-prepared workforce is indeed a growing problem. During the question period, Kentucky State Representative Jim Decesare addressed some of the workforce problems he is hearing about in his part of Kentucky. He also cited one of Secretary Heiner’s briefing slides with some grim statistics about the large proportions of recent high school graduates in the state who are not prepared for careers or college.
Maybe the popular media doesn’t want to talk about this stuff, but according to Rep. Decesare, the situation regarding skilled workforce shortages is so bad that some existing Kentucky businesses are now talking about leaving the state. But, I’ll let Rep. Decesare say this for himself.
To this, I’ll just add that we also recently have been hearing a lot from some about great progress in Kentucky education. Somehow that just doesn’t square with the rather grim numbers that worry Secretary Heiner and Representative Decesare.
It looks like Whitley County is the latest school district to have insider school adults make off with money meant for our students.
The Times-Tribune reports a “‘Forensic audit’ planned for Whitley Co. Schools” following the firing and arrest of the district’s former chief financial officer, Leigh Burke.
Over the past few years, we have been dismayed to learn of multiple cases of school system personnel thinking they have some sort of right to snatch money meant for kids.
The Dayton scandal went on for about a decade before the state auditor finally caught up with this criminal activity.
When the Shelby County incident broke, I commented about annual audits in each district that I thought were supposed to catch such nonsense. Obviously, that isn’t happening. And, our kids continue paying the price.
Unfortunately, doing valid comparisons of Kentucky’s NAEP scores to those from other states isn’t so easy. For one thing, statistical sampling errors in NAEP turn many apparent “wins” into nothing more than ties. Other factors such as wildly different student demographics and the ever-present achievement gaps complicate state to state comparison of scores, as well. You can’t just compare overall “All Student” scores from the NAEP and get a valid idea about relative state education system performance. You have to break the data out and do more refined comparisons.
I have done that for the NAEP Grade 8 math results using the NAEP Data Explorer tool to generate maps that show states where white students scored statistically significantly higher, the same as, or statistically significantly lower than Kentucky on this math assessment series. The results are very disappointing.
Senator Higdon conducts “school”
As I previously wrote, educational progress in Kentucky became an issue again during the Kentucky Legislature’s Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee meeting yesterday. Kentucky’s supposed education ranking compared to other states was one of the major topics, so it seems worthwhile to explore again some of the rich evidence this blog has accumulated about this important – often poorly researched – area.
In this blog, let’s take an overall look at the misleading pictures that can be created when state education systems are only ranked on overall average student scores. The statistical trap involved even has a name, “Simpson’s Paradox.” Kentucky State Senator Jimmy Higdon got to conduct a little “school” about Simpson’s during the legislative meeting for presenters from the Prichard Committee and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Prichard and the Chamber scored “Novice” on this important math lesson when they created their new paper, “A Citizen’s Guide to Kentucky Education.”
At today’s meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, the subject of Kentucky’s progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) came up again. So, I will be resurrecting and updating some earlier blogs that already deal with this information.
To start, let’s look at the earliest and latest available NAEP scores for all students in Kentucky for each of the areas where NAEP has conducted state-level testing.
This first graph shows the data.
First, a few details about the graph above. It shows the “All Student” NAEP proficiency rates for Kentucky students from the most recent round of NAEP testing in these subjects and the earliest available proficiency rate and test year for each subject.
For example, the first bar, in blue, shows that 40 percent of Kentucky’s public school population tested proficient or better in Grade 4 Reading in the 2015 NAEP. Added on the bar is the proficiency rate from the first time the NAEP examined fourth grade reading in Kentucky, which was 1992. The state’s reading proficiency rate that year was 23 percent.
What can we project from this data?
Over the past 23 years from 1992 to 2015, Kentucky’s fourth grade reading proficiency increased by 17 percentage points from 23 to 40 percent. That works out to a rate of improvement of only 0.74 percentage point per year. If we continue to improve at that rate, we won’t reach 80 percent proficiency for reading in Kentucky until 53 years from now.
Got that? We are still half a century plus away from what I think most would consider a minimally acceptable reading level in Kentucky’s fourth grade classrooms.
Using a similar approach to that from the fourth grade example above, this table shows the projections to an 80 percent proficiency rate for Kentucky’s students for math and reading in grades four and eight.
The message in this table is pretty grim. After 25 years of Kentucky education reforms, we are a very long way from reaching minimally acceptable proficiency rates in any subject shown. If our current rate of progress continues, we are going to need more than a full additional century before our eighth grade students handle math at what I think many would consider a very minimally acceptable level of proficiency.