The new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) scores are out today for Kentucky schools, and initial news coverage has started. Some articles try to spin the story into some sort of good news, or at worst mixed news, but I honestly don’t see much to crow about in the new data.
Keep in mind that KERA is about to celebrate its 20th birthday. After all the time, effort and tax dollars we have expended on our schools, the numbers released today aren’t impressive.
There is another problem, as well. Very few reporters attended the NCLB press conference on Tuesday at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), so I don’t know if the regular press will dig very deeply into the scores. That’s a shame, because some disturbing patterns are emerging as I look over the 2009 data. As I learn more, I’ll be sharing those concerns over the next few days (or weeks).
Overall, there was a very disturbing drop in the percentage of schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) from last year. In 2009, only 60.2 percent of reporting schools made the grade, seriously down from 2008 when 72.9 percent made the goals. The 12.7 point drop from 2008 to 2009 is much larger than the 4.6 point drop from 77.5 percent of schools making goals that was posted in 2007. This train is on a collision course, and it is speeding up.
The KDE excuses that rather large drop by saying that the required NCLB proficiency rate percentages increased dramatically this year, but there is a lot more to that story.
For one thing, the target NCLB proficiency rate percentages did indeed rise in 2009 by something like 7 to 10 points, depending upon subject and school level. However, even after those jumps, Kentucky’s target NCLB proficiency rates are still rather unimpressive, generally running between 47 to 67 percent depending upon the subject (math or reading) and school level.
Somehow, shooting for something along the lines of a one out of two proficiency rate in the critical subjects of math and reading at this point in KERA’s evolution seems like a pretty un-ambitious target. Once again, we’ve been at this for nearly 20 years.
Furthermore, as far as this year’s big jumps in the target proficiency rates go, Kentucky did that to itself. The state’s education crowd “backloaded” the required proficiency rates so that in the early years of NCLB little, if any, improvement was required. Our educators gamed the system, hoping NCLB would go away before it was time to pay the piper. Our educators lost that gamble, but they did it to themselves.
Worse, because we delayed a needed day of reckoning for some schools, we also delayed taking early action in those schools. Our kids pay the price for such delays.
For another thing, as we have abundantly discussed before in places like our recent report on Kentucky’s NCLB Tier 5 schools, and our earlier report on how CATS wasn’t suitable for NCLB use, there are a lot of NCLB loopholes in Kentucky. No school has to actually reach the published NCLB proficiency rate targets to escape accountability. Thanks to a statistical slight of hand using something called “Confidence Intervals,” while the official NCLB high school target proficiency rate for reading in 2009 was 49.54 percent, schools with considerably lower proficiency rates will get credit for reaching that target.
The exact number of confidence interval “bonus points” varies considerably from school to school, with smaller schools benefitting more from this statistically excessive slight of hand.
You can be assured that no high school in Kentucky actually had to post a 49.54 percent proficiency rate in reading with any of its accountable student groups in 2009 to escape sanctions.
For one example, it looks like the Fulton County High School only had a 31.82 percent reading proficiency rate for white students this year, way below the required target. But, this small school got a confidence interval booster of 28.78 points for its white students, pushing its credited proficiency rate for this ethnic group well above the required target.
What makes the Fulton County High example even more unsettling is that last year the actual reading proficiency rate for whites was 66.67 percent. This small school had a dramatic drop in proficiency this year to less than half of last year’s rate, but it still didn’t get tripped up in reading thanks to Kentucky’s out of control use of confidence intervals.
Anyway, as we close in on KERA’s 20-year anniversary next April, a 49.54 percent reading proficiency rate, especially since it is based on an inflated test like our KCCT reading test, doesn’t sound like much of a return on our huge educational investment.
I’ll have more on that as I get more time to dig into the reports, so stay tuned. Based on its general lack of interest in yesterday’s news conference, I expect the classical media’s interest in these important school results to wane quickly.
One last note: The link to access the individual school NCLB reports was inadvertently left off of the main Web page at the KDE Web site. You can look up your home school’s report here.