Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

AP test taking rises in Kentucky

But, minority opportunity remains an issue

AdvanceKentucky remains important motivator for improvement in AP statistics

New performance results for Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been released by the Kentucky Department of Education, and there is some good news tempered by some continuing questions about equity and access in these numbers.

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KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – High Schools

Over the past few days I’ve blogged about the problems with white minus black reading and math achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary and middle schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the high school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black proficiency rate gaps over time from the KPREP English II End-of-Course exams used in Kentucky’s high schools. The English II End-of-Course exam scores are also used for reading accountability in Kentucky’s high schools.

As we saw in the lower grades, things don’t look very good during the time these tests, which are part of the ACT’s Quality Core series, have been in use.

Figure 1

High School KPREP EOC Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the white reading proficiency rate has been jumping up and down slightly since 2014. The new 2017 white reading proficiency rate of 59.6 percent is actually lower than previously posted rates for 2015 and 2016 and really isn’t much different from the 2014 rate, either.

For all intents and purposes, the white high school level reading performance in Kentucky hasn’t really changed in half a decade.

The rate of progress for black reading performance looks just about the same, except that the scores are much lower. With the 2013 and 2015 black reading scores both higher than the latest 2017 results, about the best you can say is black high school reading performance in Kentucky has also been flat for half a decade.

The achievement gaps are also problematic. While the 2017 white minus black high school reading proficiency rate gap is smaller than in 2015 and 2016, it is larger than the gaps for 2012, 2013 and 2014. That isn’t progress.

Basically, after six years of Unbridled Learning testing, the English II End-of-Course exams indicate there has been scant progress in reading in Kentucky’s high schools since the Common Core State Standards came along either for whites or blacks.

Figure 2 shows the high school math situation.

Figure 2

High School KPREP EOC Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

This math picture is far more sobering than the flat reading situation.

For starters, the white math proficiency rate in 2017 is not only lower than it was last year, but it is more than a percentage point lower than it was back in 2012. That is a bit less than just flat performance.

The math situation for blacks as of 2017 is far worse. In fact, the drop in the black Algebra II End-of-Course exam proficiency was so severe in 2017 that I double-checked with the Kentucky Department of education to insure there wasn’t a typographical error. There was no typo, unfortunately. That 9.4 point math proficiency rate drop from 2016 to 2017 is apparently real.

Even if we were to consider the 2016 score as abnormally high, the 2017 score is still well below the initial 2012 score of 24.4 percent proficiency and is well below the rate for all other years, as well. When you consider that well under one in five Kentucky black high school students met muster in Algebra II in 2017, this is a very sobering situation indeed.

Arguably, Kentucky’s blacks have gone backwards in math since Common Core came along.

The high school math gap situation is also problematic. The most recent white minus black high school math gap is by far the largest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either. What makes the gap growth particularly troubling is that even though the white math proficiency rate dumped by more than three points between 2016 and 2017, the white minus black math gap still managed to increase dramatically.

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KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – Middle Schools

A few days ago I blogged about the problems with white minus black achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the middle school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black gaps in KPREP reading over the time this Common Core-aligned testing program has been in use.

Figure 1

Middle School KPREP Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the proficiency rates in reading for both whites and blacks have improved, but the whites have made more progress. As a result, Kentucky’s 2017 middle school reading achievement gap is larger than for any earlier year.

Furthermore, fewer than one in three black middle school students is reading at the proficient level as of 2017, which I must remind some is 27 years after the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was passed with promises to deal with this problem.

Now, Figure 2 shows the middle school math situation.

Figure 2

Middle School KPREP Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

Figure 2 clearly tells a much more sobering picture for math than the rather somber gap story in Figure 1 for reading. First, both white and black scores either went stagnant or into decline in 2017. That isn’t what Common Core promised us.

The gap situation is also problematic. The most recent gap is the highest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either.

Given that scarcely more than one out of two white middle schoolers in Kentucky is proficient in math and less than one out of four black students passed muster on the KPREP, these faltering results for 2017 are particularly unsatisfactory. With foreign competition lining up to swamp our kids if we don’t get them much better educated, Kentucky cannot afford to allow such meager performance and slow rates of progress to continue.

Technical Information:

All scores in Figures 1 and 2 came from the Kentucky School Report Cards for the state for the years listed. The specific data came from the Data Sets section, ASSESSMENT_KPREP_LEVEL link.

What happened when Minneapolis got some serious school choice?

There is a really interesting podcast from the Education Writers Association about a study conducted by reporters at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the impacts of school choice on what was once Minnesota’s largest school district.

What happened is interesting. When charter schools and district to district transfers became available, it wasn’t white students that bailed out of the traditional Minneapolis schools. It was kids of color who took the most advantage of these options – particularly blacks and Asians – and they did so for a number of reasons. That surprised the Star’s reporters who really expected to find white flight predominating. The reporters were also surprised that blacks who left for charters were not predominantly from upper income black families, either. For sure, the white flight myth some have pushed regarding charter schools didn’t pan out in practice in Minneapolis.

The reporters say students left the traditional public school system for a number of reasons such as behavioral problems in the traditional schools that are better controlled in charters and for the better academic environment that results. Parents interviewed said they were happy with their children’s new schools of choice and had no intentions of returning to the traditional system.

But, is it working? Due to privacy laws, the Star’s reporters could not access individual student data to positively track what happened to each student that took the choice option. However the reporters did do some checking that indicates schools where these kids transferred tend to do better for minority groups than the traditional schools in the Minneapolis system.

One more point caught my attention. With its student base dwindling, the traditional system in Minneapolis is finally waking up and starting to change, as well. The district is currently conducting a study, or assessment, of its own to find out what can be done to better serve students. That change in district behavior is EXACTLY what charter proponents have been saying would happen all along. Maybe the traditional school “boat” in Minneapolis will rise, yet.

This 14-minute podcast is well worth a listen and it shows, at least in Minneapolis, comments some have made to malign school choice are wrong.

Quote of the day

“It is time for Kentucky to end the continued self-congratulations about how much progress we have made educationally since the days of KERA. We must acknowledge that student learning and performance across our state is far from what it needs to be if our children are to have a chance at success in the 21st-century economy, and to compete in future job markets with students from other states.”

Hal Heiner, Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
Lexington Herald-Leader Op-Ed

What if Kentucky Raised Its Education Level Just a Little Bit?

KY Ed Sec says even small improvement in education could solve state’s pension, budget problems

Kentucky’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, Hal Heiner, made a really interesting presentation to the Kentucky Board of Education today, and we think all Kentuckians should have access to those comments. Heiner says even a small improvement in the state’s educational situation could create on average a boost of 12 percent in family incomes and a whopping $20 billion in extra state revenue, enough to quickly deal with the current pension crisis and budget woes.

KY State education board approves charter school regulations

Kentucky moved a step closer to its first charter school when the Kentucky Board of Education approved the initial versions of new charter school regulations that will govern the process for individuals and groups to seek approval to operate these schools of choice.

The four regulations approved, 701 KAR 8:010, 701 KAR 8:020, 701 KAR 8:030 and 701 KAR 8:040, cover a multitude of requirements such as how students will be enrolled in charters, using a lottery if necessary, evaluation of those who authorize charter schools, conversion of a failing traditional school into a charter school and many other details such as guidelines for the contract charter school organizers must complete and detailed description of the application form they must submit.

The regulations now will go through a public comment period during the month of November and a review of the expected comments by the state board at its December 2017 meeting. The regulations will then go through a review by several legislative committees before their anticipated final adoption in late February 2018. That could provide enough time for the first charter school request to be approved for the 2018-19 school year.

The board’s approval of these regulations marks an important waypoint in the development of better school choice opportunities in Kentucky. A lot of hard work was required to get to this point, and it was gratifying to see a very large number of individuals both at the Kentucky Department of Education and on a number of advisory committees were deeply committed to doing a high quality job for the students in Kentucky.

New schools data shows social promotion to high school diplomas remains a problem

The new Kentucky School Report Card for the 2016-17 school term has been issued, and we’ve already made some initial observations about test scores. Now it’s time to examine one of the rather few supposedly bright areas in the data – the high school graduation rates in Kentucky.

The officially released data on high school graduation rates are based on a federally required calculation called the “Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.” The calculation supposedly tells us the proportion of first time entering ninth grade students who graduate on time after a standard four years in high school. This formula is supposed to be more accurate than any other alternative.

However, the cohort rate formula tells us nothing about whether students receiving diplomas actually got a minimally acceptable education. Worse, there is evidence that the public school systems across the nation and in Kentucky are passing out more educationally thin diplomas than they should. Let’s look at the new evidence for Kentucky.

Table 1 first shows the officially reported College and/or Career Ready Rates (CCR) for Kentucky’s high school graduates over time. This rate shows the proportion of new high school graduates who were able to meet at least one of the readiness requirements formally established in Kentucky for either college readiness or career readiness. The CCR criteria include such things as obtaining sufficiently high scores on college readiness tests such as the ACT or scoring adequately on a career oriented test such as the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery plus completing a minimum number of courses in skilled trades areas.

Table 1

CCR, ACGR and Effective Grad Rates 2013 to 2017 Statewide

Table 1 next shows the officially reported 4-Year Averaged Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR) for Kentucky from 2012-13 through 2016-17.

The table also shows a calculation I developed for the Bluegrass Institute called the “Effective High School Graduation Rate.” The Effective High School Graduation Rate shows the percentage of entering ninth graders who graduate on time after four years in high school with the skills required to meet at least one of Kentucky’s official measures for college and/or career readiness. In other words, this rate only includes kids who get an education that effectively prepares them for what will come next after high school. By the way, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence also adopted the formula for our Effective High School Graduation Rate about a year after we created it, calling this a “Ready Graduates” statistic.

As you can see in the far right hand column of Table 1, the difference between the official high school graduation rate and the effective rate is very large in Kentucky.

For example, in 2016-17 we are told the official high school graduation rate is 89.8 percent. But, the Effective High School Graduation Rate is far lower – only an astonishingly disappointing 58.5 percent. It appears that another 31.3 percent of the entering ninth grade class got a piece of paper, but they could not meet true graduation readiness requirements.

Still worse, the improving discrepancy between the official and effective rates reversed direction in 2017 for the first time even though the official ACGR rate continued to climb. That points to the likelihood that the increase is mostly, or even exclusively, due to schools simply awarding more watered down diplomas to students who don’t meet state standards.

There is yet another way to look at this problem. Kentucky regulation 704 KAR 3:305, Minimum requirements for high school graduation, requires students to be competent in math through Algebra II to graduate.

Now, the Kentucky state testing program includes an Algebra II End-of-Course Exam, which the Kentucky Department of Education says is taken by most students in the 11th grade. Thus, you would expect a fairly close agreement between the Algebra II End-of-Course Exam’s proficiency rate and the graduation rate in the following school year.

Well, guess again.

Table 2 shows the very large discrepancies between Algebra II testing and those getting a high school diploma.

Algebra II P Rate, ACGR 2017 Statewide

As you can see, the discrepancies here are considerably larger than those found in Table 1 for the comparison of CCR to graduation rates. Because not every student takes Algebra II as an 11th grader, I don’t expect a perfect match in Table 2, but the discrepancies between Algebra II proficiency and the graduation rate are simply far too large to excuse away. Here again we see important evidence that supposed requirements for high school graduates are simply being ignored in many Kentucky school districts. That totally undermines the credibility of Kentucky’s high school diploma (something employers tell us they well understand already). This also makes the small improvement in the high school graduation rate uncompelling evidence of real education system improvement.

By the way, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt is aware of this diploma quality control problem and is promising to address it soon.

One more point – do not use the Algebra II numbers shown in Table 2 by themselves to evaluate Kentucky’s trend in this subject. Recall again those numbers are for a year earlier than the listed graduation year. For graduation year 2016-17, the Algebra II End-of-Course proficiency rate was only 38.1 percent, notably lower than the 42.3 percent figure you find at the bottom of Table 2, which is actually the Algebra II proficiency rate for 2015-16. So, this is another area where the 2017 scores release is a disappointment.

Tech. Data

Sources for Data in Table 1:
2012-13 to 2014-15 Data Sources: 2014-15 Kentucky School Report Card, State, DELIVERY_TARGETS, CCR tab and DELIVERY_TARGETS, GRADUATION_RATE tab
2015 to 2017 Data Source: 2016-17 Kentucky School Report Card, State, DELIVERY_TARGETS, CCR tab and DELIVERY_TARGETS, GRADUATION_RATE tab

Sources for Data in Table 2:
2013-14 and 2014-15 (actually for years 2011-12 and 2012-13) from each year’s Excel spreadsheet for ASSESSMENT, K-PREP END-OF-COURSE area from Kentucky School Report Cards.
2014-15 to 2016-17 Algebra II End-of-Course Proficiency Rates (actually for years 2013-14 to 2015-16) from each year’s Kentucky School Report Card ASSESSMENT, STATE_REQUIRED_TESTS, K-PREP_END_OF_COURSE tab
The source of graduation rates is the same as listed for Table 1.

Update October 29 2017 makes minor grammatical corrections

Kentucky’s disappointing new test results – other voices – Louisville

WDRB in Louisville has looked at the new public school testing results and declares:

JCPS test scores show small regression in reading and math, but improvements among middle school students.”

However, when you dig past the article’s headline, things appear even less rosy.

A few example comments from the article:

  • Only 44.5 percent of students scored proficient in reading and math, a decrease from last year and well below the state average.
  • College and career readiness also took a hit.
  • The achievement gap continues to widen among minorities.


Saying Jefferson County took a hit for its College and/or Career Readiness Rate is certainly correct. In 2015-16 the Kentucky School Report Card’s DELIVERY_TARGET, CCR tab shows the rate was 63.4 percent. It dropped by more than six points to 57.0 in 2016-17.

Regarding the achievement gap, I took a quick look at the district’s elementary schools’ combined math and reading proficiency rates over the past two school terms. Table 1 shows the results.

Table 1

Combined math and reading P rates Elementary Schools 2017

As you can see, the elementary school level white minus black proficiency rate on KPREP math and reading combined in Jefferson County, already very large, increased by a full additional point between 2015-16 and 2016-17 even though the white proficiency rate dropped by 2.1 points. The gap in 2016-17 of 31.0 points is considerably larger than the statewide average of 26.1 percent, by the way. The black combined proficiency rate is also 1.6 points behind the statewide average.

There is a big problem with gaps here. Currently, scarcely more than one in four black elementary school students in the district is proficient across these two critically important subjects.

At the present time the Kentucky Department of Education is conducting a massive audit of management in Jefferson County and it is clear that the district’s performance is very much on Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt’s mind. Reacting to the new scores, Pruitt told WDRB:

“My hope is that they’re going to have a real hard conversation about, ‘Why did our numbers go down? What did we do differently? Are we really paying attention to instruction or are we simply buying more books for us to practice tests?'”

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