We got more evidence of this priority when No Child Left Behind came along with its heavy focus on those two, pivotal subjects.
So, my interest was piqued when the Kentucky Board of Education received its annual report on February 4, 2015 on the progress of Kentucky’s “Priority Schools,” which used to be called the “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.” How did things look for the bread and butter stuff?
As expected, the department tried to make as good a show of their data as possible. In fact, the Power Point used to brief the board was titled, “Priority Schools, Kentucky’s Success Stories.” There were a lot of figures from Unbridled Learning including a “hurrah” that five of the Priority Schools, once among the lowest performers in Kentucky, were now “Distinguished” schools. That sounded pretty amazing.
The presentation included hardly any negative comments. Most notably, there was no information on the math and reading performance. You have to dig into the full report to find that. And, you have to go to the very end of the full report – Page 40 and on, to be exact – to find out how the Priority Schools are doing with reading and math.
I slugged through that information for you to set up an Excel spreadsheet, Percentage of Students Rated P or More in Reading and Math Combined in PLAs for Gap and All Student Groups, so I could see what is happening. Here are some summaries of what I found:
• In 2014, out of the 39 schools still in the Priority Schools program, only 13 – just 33 percent – got a combined math and reading average proficiency rate above the statewide average for their minority and disadvantaged students (the department collectively calls these students the “Gap Group,” a term some of my friends in the minority community don’t like).
• All but one of the 39 Priority Schools had sufficient data to compute a desired 2014 target reading/math proficiency rate for their students who traditionally have under-performed. Only four of the 38 schools met their target in 2014.
• There also are average student scores for all students in each school. All 39 Priority Schools had reported scores in 2014, but only seven schools scored above the statewide average.
• There were targets for the all student scores, as well. Only five of the 38 schools that had data reached their combined reading/math proficiency rate targets.
• If we are going to move forward in these schools, it is obvious that proficiency rates in reading and math need to improve. So, I was particularly disturbed to find that 15 of the 39 schools actually experienced a decline in their combined reading/math proficiency rates for their traditionally under-performing student populations between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school terms.
• Even if we include the non-disadvantaged students in the Priority Schools, a total of 15 out of the 39 schools, or 38 percent, experienced a drop in their combined reading/math proficiency rates between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school terms.
There was one more bit of information. More than half of the 39 schools, 24 of them, did see a reduction in the gap between their disadvantaged students’ reading/math proficiency rate and the overall average reading/math proficiency rate for all their students. That seems impressive until you learn that 11 of those 24 schools only saw their achievement gap decrease because their “all student” scores decreased between 2011-12 and 2013-14. That’s not the way we want to reduce gaps.
The bottom line is that when we look at basic, bread and butter scores for Kentucky’s Priority School students, things don’t look that impressive. In far too many cases the math and reading performance is weak and even trending in the wrong direction. Clearly, we need to try something else.