I am checking out an issue with the place I loaded my January 2018 report about School Based Decision Making Policy – A Closer Look, so I am making it available through the blog. Just click here to access.
I wrote recently about the fact that Kentucky’s recently reported high school graduation rates might be more due to social promotion than real improvement in education. That first blog in this series looked at overall statewide averages for a statistic we have developed called the Transition Ready Graduation Rate (TRGR). This shows the proportion of entering 9th grade students who graduate on time with more than just a piece of paper, ready to transition to the next phase of their lives.
The earlier blog shows that statewide only about 59 (58.7) out of every 100 entering 9th grade students who became the Class of 2019 graduated from high school with an education that allowed them to qualify for at least one of about a dozen different ways they could be considered ready to transition to the next phase of their lives. That’s a TRGR of only 58.7%. NOT IMPRESSIVE!
Things get even more unsatisfactory when we drill down to look at each Kentucky public high school’s TRGR. I set up an Excel spreadsheet you can view by clicking here to see that information sorted in several different ways. But, one of the most disturbing examples is exemplified by this table, which shows the high schools that reported a top-of-the-list 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 100%.
A 100% graduation rate really sounds great, but – oh, boy – does the real picture vary for some of these 11 schools once we consider their TRGR and the difference between the officially reported ACGR and the TRGR.
Scholarship tax-credit policies make it possible for low-and-middle-income families in 18 states to enroll their children in a private school – something only wealthy families had previously been able to afford. Since we’re committed to bringing such a policy to Kentucky, taxpayers in the commonwealth need to fully understand what the policy is – and is not – and how it works.
For example, it’s important to understand the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit, and why a tax-credit policy offers a more-attractive incentive for businesses and individuals to donate to scholarship programs.
So, what’s the difference?
Tax deductions reduce how much income is subject to being taxed while a tax credit reduces the total amount of taxes owed.
For example, let’s say your income is $100,000 per year and your tax bracket is 40% (for easy round numbers). Without taking any deductions or credits, you would owe $40,000 in taxes. (Fig 1.)
However, consider how your taxable income changes if you make a $1,000 charitable donation that’s tax-deductible.
The $1,000 donation comes directly off of your taxable income (Fig 2). If you’re still in the 40% tax bracket, you’re now taxed on $99,000 instead of $100,000, meaning you owe $400 less than if you had not taken the deduction.
However, if instead you were able to take a tax credit, your taxable income would stay at $100,000 but your tax liability would be $1,000 less (Fig 3).
So, the $40,000 you owed in the first example is now $39,000 because the $1,000 donation comes directly off the amount you owe. A tax credit means you pay $600 less in taxes on a $1,000 donation than you would with a tax deduction, making a tax credit far more desirable.
One of the bright spots in the new Kentucky education report that came out on October 1 was that high school graduation rates in the state’s schools have risen a bit more and already are high.
But, while the state is handing out more paper to students, does this mean the education level is really improving? Is the graduation rate picture really that bright?
One way to examine these questions is to bring another reported statistic into the equation – the Transition Rate. This shows the percentage of the high school graduates who were able to meet at least one of the numerous ways a graduate can be declared ready for his/her next life transition. That transition might be to college or a living wage job like getting a welding certification.
There are lots of ways to qualify as transition ready, including:
Academic readiness, which can be achieved by performing well enough on:
- College Admissions Examination – The ACT
- College Placement Examination –KYOTE
- Dual Credit Course Completion
- Advance Placement (AP) with Appropriate Test Score
- International Baccalaureate (IB) with Appropriate Scores
- Cambridge Advanced International (CAI) with Appropriate Scores
Career readiness, which can be met with:
- Qualifying for Approved Industry Certifications
- Career and Technical Education End-of-Program Assessment Passage
- Assessment for Articulated Credit (KOSSA)
- Career and Technical Dual Credit (Complete six or more hours of Kentucky Department of Education-approved CTE dual credit and receive a grade of B or higher in each course)
- KDE/Labor Cabinet-Approved Apprenticeship (TRACK)
- KDE-Approved Alternate Process to Verify Exceptional Work Experience
(For more information see the department’s Transition Readiness Web page)
The point is that if a student cannot qualify under any of these Transition Ready criteria, that student very likely didn’t receive an adequate education and is likely to have some real problems in adult life.
So, here is how we compute what we at BIPPS call the Transition Ready Graduation Rate, a graduation rate that acknowledges the importance of getting a quality education as opposed to just getting a piece of paper.
We start with the Kentucky Department of Education’s officially reported Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). This basically shows the percentage of entering ninth grade students who graduate on time with their classmates four years later. If a school has an ACGR of 90.0, that means that out of every entering 100 ninth grade students for that graduating class, 90 graduated on time.
Now the Transition Rate statistic, also officially reported by the Kentucky Department of Education, shows the proportion of the graduates (not the 9th graders) that were able to meet at least one of the many ways to be declared transition ready.
Let’s say the same school with the 90.0% ACGR has a Transition Rate of 70%. That would mean that out of the 90 graduates, only 63 graduated with a transition-ready education. The rest might have gotten a lot less education than they will need for a decent adult life.
Now, recall we started with 100 ninth graders and now only have 63 of them with real transition readiness. That would be a Transition Ready Graduation Rate (TRGR) of just 63%.
In practice, we just multiply the reported ACGR by the Transition Rate (and move a decimal point around) to figure the TRGR.
The table shows how this has worked out over the past two years when the Transition Rate has been in use. The table also shows earlier, similar calculations for the time when the department used a statistic called the College and/or Career Ready Rate, or sometimes just the College and Career Ready Rate, in place of the new Transition Rate.
While the Transition Rate calculation isn’t quite the same as the College and/or Career Ready rate calculation, the comparison is still interesting. And, you can readily see that once we apply the Transition Rate information to the reported graduation rate, the picture for our students doesn’t look good at all. Sure, lots of kids are getting paper, but with a TRGR less than 60 percent, we are losing a really big part of each class either as dropouts or as paper holders who lack the education they need in life.
Stay tuned, because I have also worked up the TRGR for every public high school in Kentucky, and there are some really interesting things going on when the data is broken out in that increased detail.
Ample evidence provided by the latest test scores assessing Kentucky’s academic performance during the 2018-19 school year suggests too many of our students struggled academically and that the drama and disruption caused by teachers’ illegal strikes and school shutdowns exacerbated the problems.
The percentage of students in both Kentucky’s middle and high schools who demonstrated proficiency in the key academic areas of math, reading and writing dropped when compared to the previous school year.
Even more vexing is the fact that according to the latest KPREP numbers, more than half of elementary, middle and high-school students failed to demonstrate proficiency in grade-level mathematics.
Barely 35% of high school students statewide tested proficient in math, down from nearly 38% the previous year.
A major decline occurred in writing, where middle-schoolers scored more than 12% lower on this year’s scores.
Did the tumultuous environment caused by more than 1,000 teachers illegally abandoning their classrooms and causing schools to close while they protested in Frankfort affect students?
At the very least, none of the recent test results suggest the demonstrations aided middle-and-high-schoolers during a crucial period in their educational development.
In Jefferson County, where schools were closed for six days during the two-week period beginning Feb. 28, the district’s overall test scores tumbled and even more schools dropped into the lowest-performing category known as “comprehensive support and improvement” – or CSI – schools.
According to the Courier Journal, which called the district’s performance “equally disheartening” when compared with the rest of the state, “JCPS now accounts for 70% of the state’s lowest performing schools, up significantly from last year.”
How disheartening it must be for those parents who discover their children are among the thousands of students in CSI schools while knowing they have no options.
After all, many of the same individuals who were stirred up by their unions and special-interest groups into shutting down their schools to go yell at legislators in Frankfort about their pensions also protest against providing choices for parents who would prefer their children were in school learning instead of being pawns caught up in political grandstanding.
Had Kentucky already offered charter schools and scholarship tax credits, it’s likely many of those children whose classrooms were darkened in March would have been in school – learning, graduating and preparing for their futures.
Instead, the commonwealth’s own data indicate little more than 60% of students who actually make it to graduation are truly equipped to successfully transition to college or career.
This means nearly half of our ninth-graders are leaving high school either underprepared and receiving largely meaningless diplomas or completely unprepared and dropping out altogether.
Adding context to this picture is the fact that more than half of Kentucky 11th-graders failed to meet the ACT Benchmark Scores set by the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education and will have to take costly and inefficient college-remedial courses in English, reading and math.
In fact, the percentage of high school juniors failing to reach the benchmark increased in all three academic areas during 2018-19 compared to the previous school year.
The drama and disruption caused by the illegally striking teachers – which even forced JCPS to close schools on the day its 11th-graders were originally scheduled to take the ACT – must be considered.
These students were primed and pumped to take this test only to be forced to wait another month because of the antics occurring in Frankfort.
If you think that wouldn’t affect teenage test-takers, then you’re as naïve as those striking teachers misled into believing they have to do whatever their union bosses demand of them – even if it means damaging students’ futures.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.
Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.