Do Kentucky’s students with more exposure to Common Core really learn faster?
This question arose thanks to a recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR). That AIR report cites supposed “faster progress in learning” of students in Kentucky following the state’s changeover to the use of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), though the report hedges about making any definite claims that this is specifically due to Common Core.
Unfortunately, I can’t really dig into the AIR study. The AIR research team was granted full access to individually identified student test and demographic data covering a large number of Kentucky students. In the interests of student privacy, ordinary citizens are not allowed to see such individually identified data.
As things turned out, lack of access to the full data doesn’t mean I can’t raise some interesting questions about the AIR report.
To start, everyone has online access to overall statewide average ACT scores for Kentucky’s 11th grade students. These overall scores are available for a number of years both leading up to and during the early implementation of Common Core in the state. Some of that data is collected in Table 1.
In Table 1 data for years before Common Core had much, if any, real impact at the classroom level in Kentucky are shaded in blue. The years with yellow shading include the three-year period where Common Core based tests have been in use in Kentucky.
Note that during the pre-CCSS years between 2009 and 2011, the average “all student” ACT Composite Score for Kentucky’s 11th grade students increased by 0.6 point on ACT’s 36-point scale. In fact, in both of the one-year transitions from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011, the ACT Composite Score experienced the same rate of improvement with a 0.3-point rise per year.
The rate of progress clearly slowed once Common Core started. During the first three Common Core years the annual rate of improvement has only been 0.2-point-per-year. Between 2012 and 2014 the ACT Composite Score increase only totaled 0.4 point.
Clearly, looking at the overall ACT Composite Scores from Kentucky’s 11th grade testing program, the rate of progress slowed down once Common Core came along.
So, Kentuckians now face a puzzle. The data in Table 1 above say that Kentucky education’s rate of progress performed quite differently from what the AIR study shows. So, what is really happening? You would need access to the identified student data to begin answering that question.
Regardless, Kentucky’s current ACT performance level certainly isn’t good enough. As I wrote back in December, a recent study from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability shows only 37 percent of Kentucky’s 2014 high school graduates were actually college ready based on their ACT performance. If our ACT improvement is actually starting to slow after Common Core’s introduction, we need to find out why, because Kentucky’s education system clearly has a very long way to go.