The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank, joins with hundreds of groups nationwide to celebrate the fifth annual National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30). Since its beginning more than 12 years ago, the Bluegrass Institute has been the leading voice to give Kentucky parents effective alternatives to ensure that each child receives a quality education. As part of National School Choice Week, the Bluegrass Institute will publish a series of blogs offering information on school choice. This series will be one of 16,000 events nationwide taking place as part of this year’s National School Choice Week.
Today we’ll look at some very compelling evidence that shows Kentucky needs to get on board with the vast majority of the rest of the states where school choice options like charter schools, vouchers and tax credit programs allow disadvantaged students who are not thriving in the traditional public school to seek other options. Right now, unlike in those other states, disadvantaged students in Kentucky are generally out of luck if the state’s traditional schools don’t work for them.
The table below contains a stunningly disappointing message about what has happened to Kentucky’s largest racial minority group since the state began testing with Common Core State Standards aligned assessments in the 2011-12 school term. Let’s “explore” what is happening on Kentucky’s EXPLORE tests.
The EXPLORE test is given to all Kentucky eighth graders. EXPLORE’s Benchmark Scores are set to show students are on track to be ready for college upon high school graduation. Since the 2011-12 school year, EXPLORE scores have been available by race, which allows us to look at the white minus black achievement gap on this test.
Here are details about what the table shows.
The section on the left highlighted in yellow shows the percentages of white and black students in Kentucky who met the Benchmark Scores in 2011-12 and in 2014-15. This data comes directly from Kentucky School Report Cards for the state for these two years.
For example, in the 2011-12 term, 63.9 percent of the state’s whites met the EXPLORE Benchmark in English, but only 39.3 percent of the blacks did. In the 2014-15 term, 64.4 percent of Kentucky’s white eighth grade students met the English Benchmark, but only 38.7 percent of the blacks did.
Thus, as shown in the two columns on the far right of the table, where the headings are shaded blue, we see that the whites improved their percentage meeting the English Benchmark Scores by 0.5 point but blacks saw a decay in their performance of 0.6 point. Because of that decay, I show the black drop of 0.6 point in bold yellow text with a bright red background. Notice that the black’s changes in the percentages meeting the Benchmark Scores decline, or stayed static, in the other three subjects tested by EXPLORE, as well.
Returning to the yellow shaded part of the table, note that the 2014-15 percentages of whites meeting the Benchmarks are nothing to be proud of. Except for the English score, fewer than one in two Kentucky white eighth grade students are on track according to the EXPLORE in either math, reading or science.
The situation is MUCH worse for blacks in 2014-15, especially in math and science. Less than one in twenty black students in Kentucky achieved an acceptable score in science.
Now, look at the middle of the table, where the headings are shaded in pink. This area shows the white minus black differences in the percentages meeting the benchmarks for 2011-12 and 2014-15. The third column in this section, which is presented throughout with yellow text on a red background, shows that the white minus black achievement gaps grew in all four subjects tested by EXPLORE between those two years.
To sum up, Kentucky’s EXPLORE results in the Common Core era show the state’s blacks in particular have been very poorly served in the traditional public school system.
Clearly, we need to do a better job for our students, and especially so for our state’s most significant minority racial group. Charter schools and other school choice options are showing particularly good results for blacks, and Kentucky’s EXPLORE results make it clear it is time for the Bluegrass State to finally embrace this better education option.