In conjunction with his press conference on January 21, 2016, Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky’s new commissioner of education, issued a print/online report on “The State of K-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Some good news is this report covers a whole lot of interesting and important territory. Over time, this format could prove very valuable.
However, there are some obvious problems in this initial edition of The State of K-12 Education in Kentucky that can charitably be attributed to start up issues. There is a lot of room for improvement as some of the data and claims in the report are either incomplete or don’t convey an accurate picture.
My first example is this claim found on Page 25 in the report, which concerns high school graduations in Kentucky:
“In 2015, 88 percent of Kentucky public students graduated from high school on time, among the highest rates in the nation (all states now use the same 4-year cohort graduation rate calculation). Kentucky ranks the highest of states that require Algebra II and four years of English to graduate (Note: Emphasis found in the original).”
The State of Education report obviously makes a big deal about how rigorous Kentucky’s graduation requirements supposedly are, saying that the state requires Algebra II for graduation. That makes the well-above-average graduation rate sound even more impressive.
To be sure, if you look at the “Delivery Targets” part of the Kentucky School Report Card for 2014-15 for the state (access all report cards here), it indeed lists a 4-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate (the “on-time rate) of 88.0 percent (although the numbers behind that rate such as the actual number of graduates and what types of diplomas they received are strangely missing).
But, here is the “rest of the story” as the late Paul Harvey liked to call it.
First of all, the math requirement is inaccurately stated in the report. Here is an extract of how the math requirement actually reads in the Kentucky Department of Education’s own web site:
“Minimum High School Graduation Requirements
Published: 5/5/2015 2:16 PM”
“Mathematics – 3 credits to include Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II (An integrated, applied, interdisciplinary, or technical or occupational course that prepares a student for a career path based on the student’s Individual Learning Plan may be substituted for a traditional Algebra I, Geometry or Algebra II course on an individual student basis if the course meets the content standards in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS).”
The real math requirement does not guarantee graduates take an Algebra II course. Something else could be substituted, and the actual rigor of that substituted course could be (and probably should be) subject to considerable debate. Furthermore, it was reported at the press conference that thousands of Kentucky students enrolled in such career pathways. Is this a large-scale way to dodge the Algebra II requirement? More research is needed on this.
Aside from incorrectly listing Kentucky’s true math requirements, there is a bigger problem with this section of the report.
Regardless of what math course a student takes, they are all supposed to take the Algebra II End-of-Course exam prior to graduation.
However, when you check the 2014-15 Kentucky School Report Card, it turns out only 38.2 percent of our high school students scored Proficient or more on the Algebra II End-of-Course exam in 2015. In fact, nearly identical percentages scored proficient or more in 2014 (37.9%) and in 2013 (36.0%).
With the Algebra II End-of-Course pass rate running at a rather stable and very low level for the past three years, it looks like, at best, 38 percent of Kentucky’s 2015 high school graduates really met the state’s Algebra II standards.
So, here is another variation on those Common Core math questions that have parents so upset:
If you take an 88 percent claimed graduation rate and subtract the 38 percent or so that performed acceptably on the final test in a subject that supposedly is a graduation requirement, that leaves a whopping 50 percent of Kentucky’s graduates in 2015 who perhaps should not have graduated!
Thus, the results from the state’s own Algebra II test add more ammunition to my earlier arguments that use other evidence that the state’s education system is just socially promoting lots of kids all the way to a diploma.
Kentucky might have Algebra II standards on paper, but the state’s own assessment program says we are not coming close to meeting them. Meanwhile, the state just provided the public with graduation rate numbers that indicate all is well.
Well, when it comes to claimed graduation rates in Kentucky, all isn’t well.
So, here is an obvious place where the State of Education report, and the numbers behind its claims, need a much closer examination.
Let’s do this better, next time.