Latest on Common Core in Kentucky: college professors report entering college freshmen are not ready

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) got a lot of bad news during its meeting on Wednesday, December 9, 2015. This news isn’t just bad for Kentucky. It has rather serious implications for the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for math and English language arts, as well.

Very simply, scores are flat or in decline on just about all the tests given in Kentucky including college entrance tests and even the state’s own, Common Core aligned tests, too.

And now, we are getting word that college professors in Kentucky are seeing a decline in the preparation of incoming students, too. That does not bode well for Common Core or the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky was the first state to adopt the CCSS and now has completed four years of Common Core aligned testing. Given its nation-leading history with Common Core, a discussion that took place during the “Strategic Plan Update” part of the KBE’s meeting is very significant.

Without question, the board’s update is loaded with bad news. While discussing test scores from both the state’s own assessments, known as the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress (KPREP) tests, and also from the ACT college readiness tests, terms like “Decreased,” “Declined” and “Flat” came up again and again. In the few cases where some progress could be cited, scores were not improving nearly fast enough to meet the board’s own growth targets.

Notable performance increases were only mentioned for two items, the “Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate” and the state’s “College and/or Career Ready Rate” (CCR), as this should properly be labeled.

I have already raised strong concerns about the graduation rates (Here and Here) but, to my surprise, even the limited good news about the CCR was questioned.

After receiving extensive bad news about almost all of the state’s education indicators, including the information on briefing Slide 5 (below) that Kentucky’s 11th grade testing with the ACT college entrance test in 2015 produced lower scores in both English and math – especially so in math – board chair Roger Marcum raised yet another concern about the credibility of the state’s reported College and/or Career Ready Rates.

ACT Benchmarks_Page_05

After all, if ACT scores are sliding, can college readiness really be improving in Kentucky? But, Marcum had more than ACT scores on his mind. Marcum had heard something disturbing before the start of the board’s meeting.

Bob King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) said that he is starting to hear from college professors in Kentucky that “students aren’t ready” for college even if they meet the ACT Benchmark Scores set by the CPE. Those CPE Benchmark Scores are supposed to indicate such readiness, and the College and/or Career Ready numbers are based in large measure on the proportion of students that meet those CPE-set scores. However, Marcum pointed out that the CPE Benchmark Scores for math and reading are lower than those set by the ACT, itself. How can that be if the ACT bases its Benchmark Scores on an average of what colleges around the nation report are the minimum ACT scores related to freshman achieving successful grades in their first college courses?

Concerns about the CCR data won’t surprise our readers. Over the past year we have been talking about a well-conducted, data-based report from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability that raises strong concerns that the college ready calculations from the Kentucky Department of Education do appear inflated.

In any event, don’t forget that Common Core is supposed to improve readiness for college and careers. So, the news that Kentucky’s college professors are beginning to say that the readiness of incoming students is actually dropping after four years of Common Core is a very important deal.

Furthermore, the fact that the Kentucky Board of Education seems to finally be getting the message about the dubious validity of their CCR statistics, which adds to concerns already expressed by state legislators, is a big development, too.

To be sure, aside from the ACT scores already mentioned, the most recent news about Kentucky’s education system generally isn’t good. Except for two statistics, the College and/or Career Ready Rate and the High School Graduation Rate, the numbers are flat or even in decline.

Even the Kentucky Department of Education is admitting that.

For example, Slide 11 in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Strategic Plan Update briefing to the KBE on December 9, 2015 shows things don’t look so hot for KPREP performance in a grade-by-grade comparison. Except for Grade 3, the elementary and middle school math performance dropped between 2014 and 2015 for all the other tested elementary and middle school grades, four to eight. Reading performance was scarcely much better, overall characterized as “flat” by the department of education’s briefer.

ACT Benchmarks_Page_11

Performance for student subgroups that historically have had achievement gap problems generally mirrored the overall results, as well. The Department’s briefing slide 14 characterizes the performance for these student groups as “flat or decreasing.” Furthermore, it is obvious from current trends that these groups will not meet the performance “Delivery Targets” the KBE has set.

ACT Benchmarks_Page_14

Decoding the Educationese:
FRPL is Free and Reduced Price Lunch
LEP is Limited English Proficiency
SWD is Students with Disabilities

The KBE didn’t review other testing data, but we have already discussed in previous blogs that:

Kentucky’s performance on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) wasn’t a success story, and

Kentucky’s performance on the ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE (Grade 8) and PLAN (Grade 10) college readiness tests over the past four years was mostly a decline situation for the state’s black students and even white scores sank in some cases. Furthermore, the white minus black achievement gaps on both EXPLORE and PLAN grew in every area tested: English, math, reading and science.

The bottom line: Common Core had a bad test year in Kentucky in the 2014-15 school term, and that bad news seems to be migrating to our colleges in the 2015-16 term. These facts are not good news for either Kentucky or the Common Core State Standards in general.

See for yourself

The board’s remarkable discussion about the disappointing test scores and the validity of the CCR statistics started during the “Strategic Plan Update” part of the meeting about 1 hour, four minutes and 20 seconds into the afternoon session, which was videoed and is online.


  1. Too bad equal attention isn’t paid to curriculum reform so that kids will actually meet and exceed standards and enjoy school. No kid ever got educated by a standard or a plan. They got educated by great teachers supervised by competent administrators who created an environment where people could excel, be creative and feel proud of their work. Yet today’s teachers are hamstrung by a curriculum, school structure and suffocating bureaucracy that has become progressively less relevant since the traditional design was conceived over 100 years ago, especially in our high schools. Time to try something else! I describe a template for secondary school curricular reform in the following article.

    • Richard Innes says:

      Barry, you make a number of on-target points. Standards, or testing for that matter, won’t do much for students without really great teaching. How to get there is a problem that seems unsolved, so I will look at your paper with interest.

  2. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our teaching tactics with real life projects.

    Alan Cook

    • Richard Innes says:

      Alan, it really isn’t quite that easy.

      I agree that teachers need to do a good job of motivating students and explaining why math is important to them. That is true regardless of whether the approach in actual instruction is classical or more Progressive Education oriented like those you suggest.

      However, we’ve been hearing ideas such as those you express for years in Kentucky ever since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. It hasn’t worked. The fact is that after trying your approaches, or at least attempting to try them, Kentucky’s NAEP math performance remains very close to the bottom in the nation if you do a proper analysis and analyze the scores by race, as NAEP reports suggest is necessary to overcome something called Simpson’s Paradox.

      You also make me a bit nervous with your summary dismissal of students learning formulas. Properly instructed so they are understood, formulas are an important part of math and should not be ignored.

  3. Thank you Sir for your excellent reporting. Common Core and its tests are a complete corporate scam. I’m from Washington state and have been studying the economy and common core and testing since 2008… It seems to me that just like corporations with the help of government leaders have taken over health care, energy, technology, food, banking… now they want our schools. We are far from freedom and common sense. My husband and I wrote this book. We both are teachers and he worked as an educational researcher at the University of Washington. We are being scammed every day to Sunday by ed-reform.


  1. […] students for college and for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Instead, we see a drop in college readiness as visible on ACT and SAT, and that Smarter-Balanced college-readiness is a meaningless measure. […]