There is a contentious battle under way about how Kentucky teaches students with learning disabilities to read – or not. This includes sharp dissention over what seems to be excessive use of readers on the state’s so-called reading assessments for these special students.
Believe it or not, each year thousands of Kentucky students have the state’s reading assessment read to them, 17,310 of them in 2011 state testing, for example (Reference, Kentucky Department of Education handout to Kentucky Board of Education, “Test Accommodations for Readers,” dated November 30, 2011 – not on line).
The reading fight certainly boiled during the August 14, 2012 meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS), although press coverage has been limited.
Unfortunately, Kentuckians have absolutely no idea about how well – or if – thousands of students with learning disabilities in Kentucky can read printed material, because many of those students don’t ever take a true, printed text reading test.
The excessive use of readers also biases the overall average scores for all students, creating excessively favorable pictures both in state-run testing and federal testing with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
However, while I cannot tell you about the true overall average reading ability of Kentucky’s students with learning disabilities, we can take a look at the reading performance of Kentucky’s students who are not disabled and compare that to other states. Using the NAEP Data Explorer, I conducted a comparison of the NAEP fourth grade reading scale scores for Kentucky’s white non-learning disabled students against their counterparts in other states across the country. I looked only at white scores because overall scores for all students in Kentucky in the NAEP are also biased upward by very different student racial demographics in other states, a subject I have written about extensively in the past such as here, here and here, to cite just a few examples.
Concerning Kentucky’s non-learning disabled student’s reading performance, what I found is sobering. The map below tells the tale.
Even after allowing for the statistical sampling errors in the NAEP, fourth grade whites in a solid majority of other states – 29 of them – and even whites in the educationally troubled District of Columbia – got NAEP fourth grade reading scores that were statistically significantly higher than Kentucky’s whites in 2011. These states are shaded green on the map. Notice there are a number of Southern states with green shading.
Kentucky’s non-learning disabled white fourth graders tied those in 17 states. The state’s shaded in tan on the map tied Kentucky.
Shockingly, Kentucky’s non-learning disabled fourth grade whites only outscored their counterparts in just three states for NAEP reading in 2011 – that’s all, just THREE! These three states are salmon-colored on the map.
Once you consider that whites in Kentucky make up the vast majority of our public school population, about 84 percent of it, the map above becomes even more startling.
So, we now know the state isn’t doing even an average job of teaching reading to the vast majority of our non-disabled students.
We also know that we simply don’t know if most learning disabled students in Kentucky are receiving any reading instruction what so ever, let alone how effective that instruction might actually be.
I don’t feel very comfortable about this, either for our students without learning disabilities or for those who do have learning disabilities. My gut feeling is we can do a lot more for these students – if we develop the will to do so.