Once again, the Prichard Committee is talking about all the educational progress we have made in Kentucky at the same time they admit we have a long way to go.
I most definitely agree with the part about having a long way to go, but I just don’t see that what has happened so far is significant.
Take a look at this graph, which shows the latest available proficiency rate scores (percentage scoring at or above Proficient) from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The full bars show the most recently reported proficiency rates by subject and grade. Inside of each bar I show the earliest available proficiency rate data for that same subject and grade (click on the graph to enlarge it, if necessary).
Overall, notice that after 19 years of KERA (17 for writing, which was last given in 2007) we generally only find about one in three students are proficient in Kentucky in the listed subjects. For eighth grade math and writing, the proficiency rate is little more than just one in four.
Now, consider where we started on grade 4 reading and math and grade 8 math in the early days of KERA (other subjects didn’t start to test until 1996 or later).
In grade 4 reading, between 1992 and 2009, a 17-year period, our proficiency rate only increased by 13 percentage points. That works out to an average improvement rate of only 0.765 point per year. At that rate, it will take us more than 70 years to reach a proficiency rate of 90 percent! Clearly, we’ve barely started on the journey towards high academic performance, and we are a long way from attaining that goal in fourth grade reading.
I have run more estimates to reach 90 percent proficiency for other subjects in the graph, and you can click the “Read more” link to see that.
Bottom line, anyone who thinks the proficiency rates in the graph above signal significant progress doesn’t have very high standards. And, it is for certain that if we don’t do something dramatic (like establishing charter schools) to stimulate the sluggardly pace of improvement in our schools, the competition is going to bury our kids.
Consider eighth grade math next. We started out with 10 percent proficiency in 1990. Nineteen years later, we have only improved to 27 percent proficiency, for an annual improvement rate of just 0.895 point per year. Once again, at that annual rate, we won’t reach 90 percent proficiency until more than 70 years down the road.
How about grade 8 reading? NAEP didn’t start to test that until 1998, when our kids were 30 percent proficient. Eleven years later, we only improved to 33 percent proficient, for an annual improvement rate of 0.273 point per year. At that dismal rate, it will take more than two centuries, yes – two centuries, to get to 90 percent proficiency.
How about grade 8 science? Here, I am concerned about comparisons over time because the NAEP changed the testing framework for science significantly for the 2009 assessment and claims the results are not backwards comparable. Still, Proficient should mean something consistent, so with that idea in mind, in 1996 only 23 percent of our students were proficient in science while in 2009 supposedly 33 percent were. This gives us an annual rate of improvement of .769 point per year. So, to reach 90 percent proficiency in grade 8 science will take around 74 more years.