In any state-to-state education comparison, student demographics matter
In its zeal to portray Kentucky’s public education system in the best possible light, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has issued a 2012 update to its on-going “Top 20 by 2020” reports.
But, Prichard still doesn’t get this right. Prichard simply ignores advice, readily available in all federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report cards since 2005, that comparison of NAEP scores from state to state should consider differing student demographics and exclusion rates.
It’s not hard to understand why Prichard ignores that advice.
Consider the case of Fourth Grade NAEP Math. If we look at the officially published NAEP Scale Scores for California and Kentucky for 2011, Kentucky beats California by a statistically significant seven points.
But, California’s public schools are only 25 percent white, while Kentucky’s remain very white at 84 percent. And, whites score much higher in both states than either blacks or Hispanics do.
So, what happens to California’s overall NAEP score if we simply level the playing field by weighting California’s NAEP scores for the different races’ using the demographic makeup of Kentucky’s schools?
The answer is astonishing.
Instead of scoring seven points behind Kentucky, California would outscore us by seven points if that state had the same student racial demographics.
California’s educators have no control over the current immigration situation, which has flooded their schools with lots of lower-scoring minority students. And, as you can see by clicking the “Read more” link below, California has actually made amazing progress with all its significant student racial groups despite the Tsunami of non-white students that have engulfed the schools there. But, you can’t see that if you only look at the overall student scores.
One more thing – the NAEP Data Explorer shows that the eligibility rate for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program in California’s public schools for the 2011 Grade 4 Math Assessment was 58 percent while Kentucky’s was 55 percent (a difference probably not statistically significant). When we break down the NAEP performance by race for those students who are lunch eligible, Kentucky and California tie for both whites and blacks.
Kentucky’s Hispanics do outscore Hispanics in California, but there may be an unsatisfactory reason for that. Table A-5 in the 2011 NAEP Math Report Card shows an astonishingly high 98 percent of all English language learners in California participated in the NAEP. In Kentucky, a much lower proportion, just 73 percent, were tested. That will certainly inflate Kentucky’s Hispanic scores.
So, let’s not dwell on that old poverty excuse!
And, let’s get this loud and clear! In comparing state-to-state performance with the NAEP – or with any other test like the new Stanford 10 now used in Kentucky as part of the K-PREP system – it is essential to consider the scores disaggregated by race. Otherwise, Kentuckians will get an inflated sense of accomplishment in their schools.