Is Kentucky Socially Promoting Public School Graduates?

The new Nonacademic Report is out from the Kentucky Department of Education. The state reports that the high school graduation rate is up very slightly with a corresponding slight reduction in dropout rates.

But, maybe the news really isn’t so good.

For one thing, the report itself admits the percentages dropped slightly for the proportion of 2007 high school graduates who made a successful transition to adult pursuits such as work, the military, or college. In addition, the percentage of students going on to college in Kentucky also dropped a bit – a statistic guaranteed to upset the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and its member universities.

But, another key statistic isn’t in the report. I had to calculate this one myself using graduation counts from the new report and the counts of Kentucky public high school students who have taken the ACT college entrance test in recent years.

I have been assembling those public school ACT test taker counts over the years from annual data files created by the ACT for the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability. Those files are made available to the public through the offices of State Senator Jack Westwood (who gets a tip of the Bluegrass Institute hat for this effort to improve transparency in government).

So, what did I find? This figure tells the tale of what has happened since the early years of Kentucky’s CATS school testing program.

(Note: Corrected from Earlier Post)

There was an upward spurt in the percentage of each graduating class that took the ACT for a few early CATS years, but we have lost almost all of that advantage in recent years. The decline coincides with the increased pressure from No Child Left Behind to improve graduation rates, which are a federally accountable statistic under that legislation.

Do the recent drops in percentages of ACT test participation hint that we are graduating more students, but with poorer preparation? Certainly at a time when there is great pressure to increase college attendance in this state, the ACT test-taking pattern isn’t encouraging. Coupled with this year’s reduced college-going rate and somewhat lower transition to adult life rates, there could be small clues here that socially promoting students to a diploma may be increasing in Kentucky. The trend isn’t all that large at present, but it certainly is something to be concerned about. And, a drop in ACT taking patterns isn’t what Kentucky needs.