News release: Bluegrass Institute releases online report addressing Kentucky Education’s shaky ‘college and career readiness’ statistics
Contact: Jim Waters 270-320-4376
Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s recently retired Commissioner of Education, spent his final day on the job crowing about improvements in his “college and career ready” statistics. The numbers Holliday cites are up sharply, and both the college and/or career ready and high school graduation rates increased a bit more when the 2015 Unbridled Learning results were released on Oct. 1.
“However, there are serious questions about the validity and consistency of the methods used by the state Department of Education to determine if a Kentucky high-school graduate really is ‘ready,’” said Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst Richard G. Innes, who examines Kentucky’s readiness numbers in an online report released on the organization’s blog at www.bipps.org as part of a tele-press conference today.
“When the college/career ready numbers are tied to those graduation-rate figures, it turns out that an enormous proportion of our students are leaving school with a hollow piece of paper but without the education they need,” Innes said. “In fact, even if we accept both the college/career and graduation rate data as accurate, the Bluegrass Institute estimates that more than 40 percent of the students who started the ninth grade with the high school Class of 2015 failed to leave school with an adequate preparation for life.”
Innes also addressed the changes since 2012 regarding the standards by which students were considered “college ready.”
Prior to 2012, only students who obtained sufficiently high scores on the ACT college entrance tests in English, math and reading were considered “college ready.” Those passing scores, called “Benchmark Scores,” were established by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). Entering college students who failed to meet one or more of the CPE’s Benchmark Scores were required to take remedial courses in the related areas. There was no “career-ready” calculation at that time.
In 2012, the CPE added more ways students could be deemed “college ready” and admitted to credit-bearing courses: by doing well on either KYOTE or COMPASS college-placement tests for English, math or reading – even if those students scored low on the ACT.
Several previously nonexistent ways for students to be declared career-ready – regardless of ACT performance – were also added to what’s correctly titled the College and/or Career Ready statistics in 2012.
“All of these changes might be acceptable if the KYOTE and COMPASS measured ‘readiness’ adequately and if the assessments of ‘career-ready’ status could be confirmed,” Innes writes. “However, it will take several years for employment data to verify the career-ready numbers. For now, those numbers must be considered as unconfirmed results from tests, not actual employment histories.”
Regarding the college-ready part of the College/Career Ready equation, problems have already surfaced. The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission’s Office of Education Accountability (OEA) presented a report in December 2014 that raises serious questions about these “college-ready” figures.
The OEA’s report shows that a high proportion of students who only qualified as “college ready” through use of the alternative KYOTE and COMPASS tests had very low grade-point averages during their first year of college.
The OEA also points out that the Kentucky Department of Education didn’t compute its “college and career ready” numbers in a consistent manner between 2010 and 2014.
The OEA provides its own, consistent calculations of “college readiness” from 2010 to 2014 using the current CPE ACT Benchmark Scores to determine the percentage of Kentucky’s public high school graduates adequately prepared for college-level work in all three subject areas.
Let’s compare OEA’s consistently calculated numbers to the ones Commissioner Holliday has been citing:
• The lowest line on the graph below shows the OEA’s “college-ready” rates. These OEA-calculated “college-ready” rates are based on the only consistent data available throughout the period between 2010 and 2014. The OEA says their college-ready rate rose from 30 percent to just 37 percent between those years. Thus, even using the CPE’s own ACT Benchmark Score data, the OEA shows nearly two out of three Kentucky public high-school graduates in 2014 were not “college ready.”
• The top line on the graph shows the “college and career ready” rates Holliday has been citing. These “apples to oranges” figures and an additional figure for 2015 of 66.8 percent are misleadingly presented together in one table in the 2015 Statewide Kentucky School Report Card as though they can be fairly compared. Students who meet either the Kentucky Department of Education’s “college-ready” criteria or the “career-ready” criteria count as successes here.
• The middle line shows the percentage of high-school graduates annually that met Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning school accountability system’s “college-ready” definition using any of the various combinations of the ACT, KYOTE and COMPASS. These percentages are calculated from official student “college-ready” counts found in the 2012, 2013 and 2104 Statewide Kentucky School Report Cards. Data to compute this ACT/KYOTE/COMPASS-combined “college-ready” data isn’t available prior to 2012.
Notice that the middle line in the graph shows that a major part of the overall figures Holliday crowed about actually comes from the School Report Cards’ college-ready” data. Through 2014, “career-ready” students didn’t contribute much to the totals. The “college-ready” figures shown by the middle line are MUCH larger than the higher confidence data shown by the OEA’s data on the bottom-line.
According to the OEA, in 2014 only 37 percent of the state’s high-school graduates qualified as “college ready” using the CPE’s ACT Benchmark Scores. Another 18.6 percent (55.6 percent minus 37 percent) of the 2014 graduates qualified as “college ready” only through added use of KYOTE or COMPASS, which, as the OEA’s report indicates, provide dubious information about real readiness. A rather small 6.9 percent (62.5 percent minus 55.6 percent) of Kentucky’s 2014 public high-school graduates were considered “career ready” only through one of the several different ways (that still need to be verified) by which that determination currently is made.
So, while our now-departed commissioner crows about great gains in “college and career readiness,” as he incorrectly titles the data, most of those supposed increases are based on college-readiness tests of questionable validity, which probably results in thousands of students being turned loose in Kentucky’s colleges and universities with little awareness of the remedial support they need to survive, much less thrive, academically.
Note: A more detailed explanation of the problem with Kentucky’s current “college and/or career readiness” data can be found in an online release titled “Bluegrass Policy Brief: Kentucky Education’s shaky ‘college and career ready’ numbers cast doubt on claims of progress.”
For interview information, please contact Jim Waters at 270-782-2140 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Richard Innes at 859-466-8198 or email@example.com.