Is Kentucky’s “Unbridled Learning” school accountability program hiding serious problems?
I am starting to look at the new spreadsheets released last Friday from Kentucky’s second year of the Unbridled Learning public school accountability system. Already, I am disturbed by what I am finding even though I’ve only looked at the high school math performance.
Very simply, Unbridled Learning’s very complex numerical calculations are obscuring some very fundamental problems, especially with Kentucky’s chronic failure to fix white minus African-American achievement gaps. Unbridled Learning’s excessive focus on abstract numerical calculations, which average far too much material together before making performance judgments, hides important, fundamental information about unacceptable proficiency rates and achievement gaps for minorities.
The table below was developed from two spreadsheets (“Accountability Profile” and “KPREP End-of-Course”) found in the “Data Sets” section of the Kentucky Department of Education’s School Report Card web page.
The table shows the 2012-13 Unbridled Learning school classification and reward/recognition categories for the listed schools along with black and white Algebra II proficiency rates (the combined percentage of students who scored either Proficient or Distinguished on the K-PREP Algebra II End-of-Course exams in each school).
The table is sorted by the white minus black math achievement gap for each school, shown in the far right column.
Problems with Unbridled Learning leap out from this table.
Out of the 10 schools, only two, Henry Clay High School – a “Focus” school, and Franklin-Simpson High School – a “Priority” school, are identified as having any problems under Unbridled Learning. However, all 10 of these schools have the very highest white minus black proficiency rate gaps of any regular high schools in Kentucky.
Even more bothersome, three of the listed schools have absolutely dismal black math proficiency rates below 10 percent (after more than two decades of KERA)!
Despite its dismal performance for children of color, Paducah Tilghman High got lauded in Unbridled Learning as a “Proficient” school that also is “Progressing.” Well, that’s certainly not for its black students.
Likewise, Danville High School left all of its black students completely behind in math, but it was rated “Proficient,” supposedly telling us Danville performed better than the performance produced by 70 percent of Kentucky’s high schools last year.
The other single-digit black proficiency rate school, Franklin County’s Western Hills High School, also got praised in Unbridled Learning as a “Proficient” school. Kentuckians are being told this school performs way above average. Clearly, such a process fogs the school’s real performance for its children of color.
Although the schools listed in the table had the biggest white minus black achievement gaps in the state in 2012-2013, every one of these schools picked up a label saying it at least ranked in the top 30 percent of all schools in Kentucky. The seven schools rated “Distinguished” supposedly perform in the top 10 percent of all schools.
Obviously, in the key subject of mathematics, it clearly isn’t so for blacks. If Murray High School has teachers on staff who can produce a 74.2 percent proficiency rate for its white students, why can’t it do something nearly as good for its blacks? It isn’t impossible. If you look at all the data (not shown here), Madisonville North Hopkins High School posted a black Algebra II proficiency rate above 50 percent.
And, 14 of the 77 high schools that got reported Algebra II results for blacks posted better scores than Murray did. That’s 18 percent of the schools with better scores for blacks. If we were doing Unbridled Learning scores based on those results, Murray wouldn’t make it into the “Distinguished” top 10 percent category at all.
I’ll be looking at similar results for elementary and middle school math soon. I don’t expect to find anything different, however. Unbridled Learning made a very fundamental mistake, the same mistake made with our former CATS and KIRIS assessments, averaging too much material together before making a performance judgment. That is very different from No Child Left Behind, which required separate evaluation of the performance of each minority student group. No Child had flaws, to be certain, but if you really don’t want to leave students behind, in this area the federal program got it right, and Unbridled Learning is coming up lame.