Education Week reports that a new study from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University shows Common Core State Standards are definitely driving changes in the way teachers teach, but results for students remain “elusive.” In other words, there isn’t evidence so far that all these classroom changes make a difference for students.
WDRB in Louisville broke a major story yesterday, raising questions about how money supplied by the state legislature for what was supposed to be a reading support program in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) got diverted to pay nurses’ salaries instead.
At issue: possible misappropriation of state funds
Reaction from the new administration in Frankfort wasn’t slow in coming. Kentucky’s new Secretary of Education Hal Heiner immediately brought the potential misappropriation of funds from the Every1Reads student reading program to staff salaries. Apparently, the new Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts is also concerned. WDRB now reports that Auditor Mike Harmon is going to be doing another audit of the JCPS even though one was recently conducted by his predecessor, Adam Edelin. However, Edelin’s audit apparently didn’t look into the fiscal areas where the Every1Reads situation would have been discovered.
So far, JCPS spokespeople are claiming there was no fault in the redirection of money because it was being reported openly in the automated MUNIS fiscal accounting system.
However, WDRB already has interviewed a number of legislators who voted for the budget who all thought the money was being spent to help kids learn to read and not being redirected to another use not in the budget language. The Kentucky Department of Education claims it didn’t know about the redirection, either.
One thing we already know at the Bluegrass Institute is that Every1Reads was always guilty of a major misrepresentation of actual reading performance in JCPS schools.
Years ago, JCPS started reporting improbably high numbers of the district’s students were reading “at or above grade level.” When I looked into that claim, it turned out the district had applied its own, misleading scoring scheme to the state’s Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) reading test results. The official scoring scale for CATS was the familiar Novice, Apprentice, Proficient and Distinguished scale still in use with the current KPREP system. There never was an “at grade level” score.
Jefferson County not only fabricated its own scores for CATS, but it declared that all students who only reached the “Apprentice” level were “at grade level.” The Kentucky Department of Education and the state board, which legally has sole authority to assign scoring schemes for the state’s tests, always indicated that “Proficient” was the target to be met.
As this graph from a very old BIPPS blog shows, the Every1Reads scoring deception went back to at least 2007.
So, long before the fiscal impropriety question surfaced, Every1Reads was already problematic.
Flash forward to the present, and there is current evidence that JCPS should not be pulling money away from efforts to help students learn to read.
Our comparison of eighth grade EXPLORE scores for the district from 2011-12 to 2014-15 shows that reading scores dropped dramatically for both whites and blacks during this period. The percentage of Jefferson County Whites scoring at or above the EXPLORE Readiness Benchmark Score for reading dropped 3.5 points and the blacks readiness dropped 3.8 points (Source: Kentucky School Report Cards for Jefferson County for 2011-12 and 2014-15).
The tenth grade PLAN scores for Jefferson County show significant reading declines for whites and blacks in Jefferson County, as well.
In any event, stand by for more on this one, which could involve the illegal misappropriation of somewhere between $4 to 5 million since the nurses first started getting money intended for Every1Reads around 2009.
Too much ‘politics’ in some Kentucky legislators’ ‘understanding’ of the state’s actual education performance
This past week has provided a number of disturbing examples recently that a number of state lawmakers legislators don’t have a good grasp on the data about Kentucky’s public school performance. The real picture is certainly different from what some pols would have us believe.
House Education Chairman Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, sounded off in a Courier-Journal op-ed about his problems with Senate Bill 1, an education-reform measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who chairs his chamber’s education committee.
Regardless of that bill’s issues – and there are some – Graham made several comments about Kentucky’s education performance that are just flat wrong.
For instance, he claims:
“…there is just too much positive data out there to imply the state hasn’t made remarkable progress in educating our children.”
Graham cites as supporting evidence this gem: “Kentucky elementary and middle school students have registered greater gains in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the past decade than students in almost all other states.”
Well, while our fourth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) changes between 2005 and 2015 are high, the same cannot be said for Kentucky’s eighth-graders.
The table below shows the reported NAEP eighth grade scale scores for white students in all the states for reading and math for 2005 and 2015, the latest year of NAEP data available.
It’s broken out by race because if we only examine “all student” scores, Kentucky could get an unfair advantage because our state has a much higher percentage of whites in its classrooms than in the vast majority of states.
Couple high white enrollment with the massive racial achievement gaps that also occur on NAEP and something called “Simpson’s Paradox” tells us the “all student” scores can be misleading. (This is a topic I have discussed in the Bluegrass Policy Blog before.)
So, let’s see how our white eighth grade students compare to their counterparts in other states over the past decade on the NAEP:
Looking at the table, it’s clear that Kentucky’s eighth-grade students didn’t log greater gains in the last decade than “almost all other states.” In fact, our improvement has only been about average.
Even worse, as of 2015, our white eighth grade NAEP scores in both math and reading are statistically significantly lower than the national public school average scores for whites across the nation. When you are behind – as Kentucky is – it’s easier to make, and show, improvement.
Public-private partnerships usually prove harmless to taxpayers on projects like expanding student housing at the University of Kentucky.
However, “P3s” have been disastrous on numerous highway schemes where accurate traffic projections and accompanying estimates of toll revenue needed to pay for the roads are much-more difficult to come by than calculating how many students will move in and fork over the rent money needed to fund a new dorm.
One project missing from Combs’ bill this year is a proposal to place tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Covington with Cincinnati, an idea that’s mobilized groups like Northern Kentucky United – a coalition of business and labor leaders along with residents and elected officials – to stymie her legislation during past General Assembly sessions.
Former state Sen. Joe Meyer serves as Northern Kentucky United’s spokesman and succinctly summarizes: P3s “have fallen short of investors’ expectations and taxpayers’ protections.”
Meyer, also a former state Secretary of Education and Workforce Development who’s filed to run for mayor of Covington, cautions: “there have been a large number of bankruptcies” on P3 projects, including those involving the Indiana, American and Pocahontas toll roads as well as Virginia’s Dulles Greenway, California’s State Route 91 and Greenville, South Carolina’s Southern Connector.
These and other transportation-related P3s face higher-than-predicted costs and inaccurate traffic projections, which – when talking tolls – mean smaller-than-projected revenues, bigger-than-expected consequences and way-too-many unknowns.
- Meyer notes first-year revenues of 26 public and private toll roads opening between 1986 and 2004 averaged one-third less than projected.
- According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway – Ohio’s first-ever P3 project – “will cost taxpayers nearly three times its announced price tag of $429 million.” Taxpayers will wind up paying $1.2 billion throughout the next 35 years just to fund a 16-mile bypass skirting Portsmouth, Ohio.
- The failures of expected revenues to materialize on similar projects have resulted in the risk of loss being transferred back to the public via “availability payments.”
Meyer notes that the private contractor for Louisville’s recently opened East End bridge – a P3 project connecting the River City with southern Indiana – enjoys an “availability payment” arrangement with the Hoosier State.
“If tolls collected exceed the availability payment, Indiana will be happy, but if tolls are less than projected and don’t cover the costs of the availability payment, Indiana is still on the hook for the full amount,” Meyer said. “At the end of the day, the transportation fund is liable for the full amount of the contract. This is just another ‘off the books’ debt.”
With an arrangement like this and for most of what’s being done in the name of public-private partnerships – like building those dorm rooms – why’s there even a need for P3 legislation?
The only way the case can be effectively made for passing such a law is if it strengthens the accountability process by getting rid of blank checks for crony capitalists and costly non-compete clauses that allow private partners to prohibit other badly needed projects from being built just because they may affect traffic flow on a P3-built roadway.
Failure to prohibit such a non-compete clause resulted in taxpayers being forced to buy back Orange County California’s Riverside Freeway. Without taxpayers both assuming the turnpike’s $135 million debt and paying the company nearly $73 million in cash, badly needed congestion-relieving improvements in the region couldn’t happen.
“As long as the risk of loss stays with the public sector, it’s a purchase contract plain and simple; everything else is window dressing,” Meyer says. “The state and its taxpayers would be better off using the normal procurement processes.”
A number of new state tests have come on line in the past four years as a result of adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Several being used in more than one state include the ACT Aspire tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Other states have adopted their own, unique Common Core tests such as Kentucky’s KPREP tests.
A key concern about all of these new tests is whether or not they provide useful information about real readiness for college and/or careers. Today, we’ll take a quick look at several of those new tests. One is the ACT Aspire where we examine results from Alabama. The other is Kentucky’s “home grown” KPREP. We use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as the linking measurement for this analysis after presenting interesting evidence that the NAEP seems useful for this approach.
Key takeaways from this blog include:
• Grade 8 NAEP results from 2015 for Kentucky agree surprisingly well with the state’s ACT EXPLORE test scores. EXPLORE is a well-established college readiness test leveled for Grade 8 use. As in past years, Kentucky’s 2015 NAEP proficiency rates correlated rather closely to the state’s EXPLORE college readiness benchmark scores. This provides some evidence that the 2015 NAEP is useful to examine new Common Core aligned tests because Common Core supposedly is all about college and career readiness.
• In 2015 both the Kentucky-unique Common Core aligned KPREP tests and the Alabama results from the multi-state Common Core aligned Aspire tests show considerably higher proficiency rates than the NAEP reports. Given the close correlation of NAEP to Kentucky’s EXPLORE results and the much worse correlation of NAEP to both KPREP and Aspire, it appears both of these new Common Core aligned tests could be providing inflated indications of educational performance.
Too many graduates not ready for college or careers
Too many not proficient in Algebra II even though it’s supposedly a graduation requirement
Too many poorly informed people in Kentucky are crowing about the state’s very large high school graduation rate numbers. Either a lot of folks, including legislators who work on education, just don’t understand what is going on, or they are willingly part of a massive deception about the real quality of Kentucky’s high school diplomas.
Let’s examine some facts.
The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) web site makes it very clear that the math content required in an Algebra II course is required for graduation. On its web page for “Minimum High School Graduation Requirements,” the KDE lists the math requirement as:
“Mathematics – 3 credits to include Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II (An integrated, applied, interdisciplinary, or technical or occupational course that prepares a student for a career path based on the student’s Individual Learning Plan may be substituted for a traditional Algebra I, Geometry or Algebra II course on an individual student basis if the course meets the content standards in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS).”
Because Algebra II subject matter is in the KCAS, students are still required to get Algebra II content even if they take some other sort of math sequence.
All of our students are also required to take the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course exams, as well. The state couldn’t require that if it didn’t expect all students to have Algebra II or its equivalent.
So, there doesn’t seem to be any question about this Algebra II requirement.
Certainly, the Kentucky Commissioner of Education thinks student need Algebra II to graduate. Consider Commissioner Stephen Pruitt’s comments in his State of Kentucky Education report released several weeks ago. Pruitt says:
“In 2015, 88 percent of Kentucky public students graduated from high school on time, among the highest rates in the nation (all states now use the same 4-year cohort graduation rate calculation). Kentucky ranks the highest of states that require Algebra II and four years of English to graduate” (Emphasis Added).
So, Kentucky’s graduates are supposed to complete an Algebra II course or receive equivalent math instruction before graduation. That is the publicly proclaimed requirement.
But, what is REALLY happening?
Here is the credibility problem for the department of education and all the others who cite such implausibly large numbers as a 2015 high school graduation rate of 88 percent.
Over the past three years, Kentucky School Report Cards for the state show proficiency rates on the Bluegrass State’s own Algebra II End-of-Course exam have never exceeded the 2015 rate of 38.2 percent.
So, how can it possibly be that Kentucky has a high school graduation rate for 2015 of 88 percent when only about 38 percent or fewer of the state’s students perform acceptably on the Algebra II End-of-Course exam?
Is this just more evidence of what former Jefferson County Academic Director Dewey Hensley so nicely put it as:
In any event, readers should strongly challenge anyone who presents Kentucky’s obviously misleading and inflated graduation numbers as though they credibly represent real educational accomplishment. Sure, kids are getting pieces of paper, but our students are not receiving the education our state education leaders tell us those pieces of paper supposedly represent.
Sadly, this diploma deception is going on all across the state. If you would like to see the discrepancy between your local high school’s latest Algebra II proficiency rate and its graduation rate, click here to download our Excel spreadsheet.