News Release: Report: New K-PREP testing shows Louisville’s black students still falling through gaps

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – A new report by the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free market think tank, reveals that the commonwealth’s largest school district continues to fail its black students.

An update to the institute’s “Blacks Falling Through Gaps” report from the Summer of 2012 shows dramatic proficiency rate gaps between black and white students continue to exist in many Jefferson County Public Schools.

The updated report – based on results from the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests – also reveals that the highest gaps still tend to be found in schools east of Interstate 65.

Norton and Brandeis Elementary Schools both posted astonishingly large white-black math proficiency rate gaps of more than 51 percentage points. Kentucky’s new Unbridled Learning school accountability program rated both schools in the highest classification as “Schools of Distinction” while failing to identify their achievement-gap problems.

Large gaps also continue at Dunn Elementary School.

“Dunn has a very large K-PREP math achievement gap of nearly 49 percentage points, but Unbridled Learning provides no clue about the problem,” said Richard G. Innes, Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst and author of the new report. “Unbridled Learning tells Kentuckians that Dunn is a ‘Proficient’ school, which indicates this school performs better than at least 70 percent of all the schools in Kentucky.

“Dunn may perform for its whites, but blacks in this school didn’t even reach district wide black proficiency rate for Jefferson County schools and really got left behind.”

More details can be found in the report, which is available online at


  1. Thanks for an interesting report. but the results are not surprising. Unfortunately, your report ignores the huge differences in socioeconomic backgrounds of JCPS students. I quickly pulled together some stats on 3 west end census tracts (9, 11, 12) that are 98%, 96% and 99% African American. The estimated unemployment in these tracts was 26%, 19% and 26%, respectively. The percentage of households with children that are “married-couple” households was 16%, 13%, and 16% (ACS, 2007-2011 5-year estimates). As you can imagine, poverty rates and median household income are reflective of these situations.

    I also pulled the same data on a tract in the Highlands (75.01), Northeastern Jefferson County (89), and Southeastern Jefferson County (107.06). African Americans make up 1%, 2% and 4% of the population in these tracts, respectively. Unemployment estimates were 3.9%, 7%, and 3.7%. For households with children, 85%, 85% and 71% lived in married-coupled households. Is that the public school system’s fault?

    These data matter. The children arrive at school with large performance gaps that are often exacerbated during every summer break. Social class matters tremendously when it comes to cognitive development.

    Granted, the public school system is a MESS. But, it is irresponsible to point out the racial achievement gaps and blame it solely on the school system. It’s much more complex than that.

    • RE: Curmedgeon

      All the statistical work you went to doesn’t make your case.

      We heard the same sort of “stuff” from Dr. Sheldon Berman when he headed Louisville’s schools.

      If we didn’t have the great example of the performance of charter schools in inner city locations like New York City and Boston to examine, I’d be more inclined to fall for the poverty excuse.

      But, we do have those charter school examples. And, the list is growing in other places like Chicago and especially in New Orleans, which is rebuilding its Katrina-shattered public school system around charters and also showing notable progress.

      I have also seen what can happen in Louisville in inner-city J.B. Atkinson Elementary when a sharp and motivated principal like Dewey Hensley takes the reins.

      Yes, kids from disadvantaged environments are harder to teach. They require more assistance, longer school days, and more after-hours help. But, that does not mean it can’t be done. It is being done, elsewhere. We’ve even seen examples of the possibilities right in Louisville.

      But, to make this happen, most schools have to do a lot more, and think a lot differently, from the way they do now. And, people have to get over the quaint notion that kids in poverty can’t learn.

      So, forget trying to push the poverty excuse. There simply are too many examples of the possibilities to overcome poverty.

      • Curmedgeon says:

        It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. I said “The public school system is a mess.” I agree with you on that point. BUT, it is irresponsible to point out racial achievement gaps without acknowledging racial socioeconomic gaps. All the research I’ve read supports my contention that socioeconomic background is the best predictor of student outcomes. Refute that if you can (I can provide plenty of links on this subject).

        You then jump to the false conclusion that I’m saying poor kids can’t learn. I never said that and I don’t believe it. I have not major problems with charter schools, but you cherry pick the charter school results and generalize them to all charter schools. Like public schools, some charters are good and some are bad. We need more radical solutions than just charter schools.

        • RE: Curmedgeon on December 14, 2012 at 9:52 am

          Curmedgeon’s comment that “socioeconomic background is the best predictor of student outcomes” trips over a common error. Every freshman statistics textbook I have seen discusses this fallacy. That logical error: just because two sets of data are correlated does provide evidence of causation.

          My favorite example of this well-known statistical fallacy is the ‘stunning’ correlation between the proportion of people who drink water and number of people who die. That correlation is perfect. Still, our readers are smart enough to understand that it would be a very bad idea to fall for the error of assuming that drinking water is going to kill you.

          Returning to the school issue, while there is a high correlation between high poverty students and schools that perform poorly, this is not proof that high student poverty is an almost inevitable predictor of low academic performance. This does not provide proof that schools in high poverty areas can do little or nothing about low academic performance and should be excused from trying to do so.

          The facts are that high performing schools can be found in high poverty situations. I cited some examples in my earlier comments. These schools show that poverty does not inevitably need to lead to poor performance.

          To be sure, there are not nearly enough of these high poverty, high performance schools. But, when you look into some of the reasons why this is so, you find some of the restraints include a host of people who don’t want to change and will do just about anything to maintain the status quo.

          Curmedgeon should talk to Dewey Hensley, now at the central office in the Jefferson County Public Schools, or to someone like Buddy Barry, the superintendent in Eminence Independent Schools, to learn how significant poverty can be overcome by educators who really want to make a difference for kids. These educators don’t buy into the sort of excuses that Curmedgeon’s comments support.

          One other point in the interests of reader education: A name can be spelled anyway you want. However, I want our readers to know that if this is supposed to be the term “curmudgeon,” it isn’t spelled the way Curmedgeon spells it. A curmudgeon is a “crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man” who is often “stingy.” So far, I have not found a dictionary on line or in my home print library that lists “curmedgeon” as a proper word. The spell check in my version of Microsoft Word doesn’t like that spelling, either.

          In any event, I hope doubters for school improvement in high poverty areas will develop a less curmudgeonly attitude towards the idea that we really can do better for these children. We need to push these schools to perform better. Excuses are not acceptable.

  2. Curmedgeon says:

    In fairness, reexamine that Stats book. You claim that charter schools are better than traditional public schools, but the evidence is NOT there. Some are better and some are not. Please post the study if there is definitive proof that Charters are always better than publics. Now, pay attention to this part: I agree with you that JCPS has MAJOR problems and I agree with you that low income kids CAN learn. AND, JCPS could be doing a MUCH better job of teaching low income students.

    Now, let’s look at Atkinson. The school is a great model of high expectations, hard work and incredible dedication by teachers and school leaders. What were the scores on the Accountability profile? A quick glance at the data show that Atkinson is in the 12th percentile and it is a “focus school.” Granted, 91% of the kids there qualify for free and reduced lunches. At Norton, 44% of the kids get free and reduced lunches and the school is in the 96th percentile. At Greathouse, 53% of the kids get free and reduced price lunches and the school is in the 99th percentile. At Brandeis, 36% of the kids get free and reduced price lunches and the school scored in the 99th percentile. When do you predict that Atkinson will reach the 99th percentile? The point of this is not to demean Atkinson. It’s to point out that overcoming intergenerational poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage cannot be overcome solely by a pedagogical fix. We need policies that get folks out of poverty–that will ease the burden on the education system to fix al of society’s ills.


    • RE: Curmedgeon’s latest on December 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Curmedgeon needs to reread what I said.

      First, I never said all charter schools were better. I merely pointed out that some charter schools in some places are notably better. That shows a good charter school law plus good implementation can lead to very good results. A bad law or poor implementation won’t, of course. The key point is that there are examples out there of schools that succeed despite poverty.

      Regarding J.B. Atkinson, I was careful to note that the progress occurred while Dewey Hensley was there as principal. Hensley had been gone for some time before the 2012 K-PREP was administered. During Hensley’s tenure, the school made very good progress.

      As Curmedgeon points out, the new K-PREP scores for Atkinson are indeed disappointing, but there is more to the story. I am told that after the school year started, the powers that be in Jefferson County suddenly transferred a lot of lower-performing students into Atkinson. I’m told that helped drive down the scores there (apparently the new students arrived with enough time left in the school year to meet the 100-day rule to count their scores). I need to learn more about this situation, but I suspect it might have been less likely for those transfers to take place if Hensley had still been in place.

      In any event, Curmedgeon seems determined to ignore and misinterpret my main point. Schools do exist out there that show that poverty, while a real challenge, need not automatically guarantee that poor kids cannot learn.

      BUT — it takes well trained and highly dedicated educators to make that happen. Charter schools in some areas tend to draw such educators, and while he was there, Hensley was also able to create such a team even in an inner-city school right here in Kentucky. We need more educators like Hensley and those who are drawn by the creative freedom they find in charter schools. We don’t need more excuses. Our kids cannot wait.

      We definitely cannot stand for excuses like, “overcoming intergenerational poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage cannot be overcome solely by a pedagogical fix.” In fact, it’s likely these problems can only be fixed through education (what other social program shows any real promise in this area?). We need pressure on schools to change, not easy outs that say schools really cannot be held accountable.

      • Curmedgeon says:

        Thanks for the discussion. I never said that there should be “easy outs” or that schools should not be held accountable.

        Let’s pay educators like Hensley higher wages to attract better qualitiy folks to the teaching profession. Let’s increase standards and entry-level pay. Keep in mind, this will require higher taxes.

        Food for thought:

        • Richard Innes says:

          RE: Curmedgeon on December 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

          Curmedgeon says, “Let’s pay educators like Hensley higher wages to attract better qualitiy (sic) folks to the teaching profession. Let’s increase standards and entry-level pay. Keep in mind, this will require higher taxes.”

          I agree with this, but not the typical nonsense that this will require higher taxes. We showed in our recent Bang for the Buck 2012 report that districts are doing a much better job than expected despite high poverty students and below state average funding.

          The key is efficiency, a word most educators don’t want to understand.