I got another reminder in a message today that many in Kentucky, including a large number of individuals working with the state’s education system in some way or other, simply have no real clue about how little progress the state has made in education since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was enacted nearly 30 years ago.
So, it’s time to review, again.
Kentucky’s K to 12 education system has not really made much progress over the past three decades, and for some student subgroups like our leading racial minority, our black students, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicates virtually no statistically significant progress has been made what so ever.
But, exactly how much progress has Kentucky made? The only consistent tests we can look at to answer this question come from the NAEP. After all, since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was passed, the state’s own testing program has seen at least three major changes going from the original 1992 Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS), which was ended for cause after 1998, to the also now defunct Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) Kentucky Core Content Tests, which were dumped for cause in 2009, to the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress (KPREP) tests, which are also going through major changes at this time and have been showing inflationary trends similar to the earlier tests, as well.
So, for consistent performance over time, the NAEP is the only game in town.
What does the NAEP tell us?
Figure 1 tells the story for overall average student scores in Kentucky from the earliest to latest NAEP results.
In no case have the Kentucky overall proficiency rates on NAEP even approached 50% in any grade or subject. The closest we get is in Grade 4 NAEP math, where even as of 2019 only 40% of our students score proficient or above.
But, we lose ground in math by Grade 8, where the latest proficiency rate is only 29% — meaning far fewer than one in three students passes muster.
In reading, the story over time is even more disheartening. Between 1992 and 2019 our fourth grade students only improved from 23% proficient to 35% proficient in that 27-year period.
In Grade 8 reading, which NAEP first reported for states in 1998, there has been virtually no change in performance in the intervening 21-year period in Kentucky.
In fact, after allowing for the statistical sampling error found in all NAEP scores, there is no statistically significant difference in the 1998 and 2019 NAEP Grade 8 Reading results for Kentucky. Basically, the Bluegrass State has not improved reading performance in this middle school grade in over two decades!
Using the existing proficiency rates from the bar graphs in Figure 1 to determine a score improvement rate per year, I have projected how many more years it will take for Kentucky’s students to show an 80% proficiency rate on the NAEP. Those projections are shown in the inset table in Figure 1, and the news here isn’t good, either, especially so for reading.
With so little accomplished and so very far yet to go, I really cringe when I hear people talk about “all the progress” Kentucky education has supposedly made. I just don’t see it.
By the way, I chose an 80% proficiency rate target because Kentucky currently runs somewhere around a 15% population in its schools that have learning disabilities. Outside of this group, I think all children should be able to read proficiently.
Well, Figure 1 shows the story for the overall scores, and it clearly is a disappointing tale. But, when we look at what is going on for Kentucky’s largest student racial minority group, you have to cringe. To see that, click the “Read more” link.