The Lexington Herald-Leader ran an article today titled “Report: A large majority of Ky. kids aren’t reading proficiently by fourth grade.”
The headline is correct, and the new report the paper references from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kentucky Youth Advocates is, sadly, pretty much on target.
But, that didn’t stop education commissioner Terry Holliday from trying to water down the bad news.
Holliday raised a technical quibble about the data used in the Casey/KYA report: the test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) don’t report the percentage of students scoring “at grade level,” but rather report the percentage of students the NAEP says are “Proficient.”
Holliday does admit that NAEP “Proficiency” would equate more to being on track for college and career readiness, which is a much higher performance level than is actually being achieved in any grade in Kentucky at present. However, an average of college/career ready is a goal we would like to see exceeded in each grade (we have to exceed this on average because if the average is only college and career ready, then half the students would not be, which is a much lower standard than Kentucky wants).
The Herald-Leader also says:
“Holliday said Kentucky does well on other key comparisons in the NAEP.”
Well, not really. As soon as you disaggregate the 2013 NAEP data and look at how our dominant racial population compares to other states, you will see we have a whole lot of work to do.
The four comparison maps below were generated with tools in the NAEP Data Explorer. They compare the performance of Kentucky’s white students, who make up about 80 percent of the enrollment in this state, to performance of whites elsewhere. I used the scale scores instead of proficiency rates because this is a finer measure that reduces tie results.
This first map covers fourth grade reading.
Kentucky performs in a very large middle here, getting a NAEP Scale Score that is statistically significantly lower than 20 states, only tied with 28 other states, and only statistically significantly better than just 2 states.
Here is the eighth grade reading map.
Despite everything you have heard about our elementary schools doing better, the reality is our eighth grade readers do better, comparatively, than our fourth grade students. Kentucky is only outscored significantly by 14 states, ties the vast majority – 31 states, and only statistically significantly outscores 5 states.
Things degenerate in a hurry when you look at math.
In fourth grade math, Kentucky got outdone by 35 states, only statistically tied 14, and can only claim to statistically significantly outscore one state, just one.
Incredibly, the bad performance in the fourth grade gets worse when we look at eighth grade NAEP math results.
Kentucky was outdone by 42 states, only tied 7. The Bluegrass State only can claim to be statistically significantly stronger than West Virginia.
So, let’s get this straight. Kentucky does not do very well on the NAEP, especially in math, but you have to evaluate the data properly. Otherwise, the state’s huge and unfair advantage due to its very high white population is not accounted for correctly.
The people who administer the NAEP understand this, which is one reason why they went to the trouble to create the NAEP Data Explorer, so you and I wouldn’t have to rely on inaccurate interpretations about what the NAEP can actually show us.
Casey and KYA might have slightly stumbled on a technical definition issue, but overall I think these two organizations have a pretty good handle on the real message from the NAEP, and it definitely is not that Kentucky “does well.”
Keep this in mind as we continue in school choice week to talk about more ways Kentucky might really improve its educational system.