More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 1

We posted a press release yesterday about disturbing evidence the Bluegrass Institute has collected that the quality control for Kentucky’s high school diploma is very inconsistent across the state’s school districts. Today, we dig deeper into a portion of the data in one of the Excel spreadsheets included with that press release.

We are going to discuss the top 10 and bottom 10 districts in our listing of the discrepancies between each district’s reported Four-Year Adjusted Cohort High School Graduation Rate for 2015 (ACGR) for all students and the district’s proficiency rate for all students during Algebra II End-of-Course Exams (EOC) in the 2013-14 school year. We look at Algebra II performance because Kentucky regulations stipulate competency in that subject is a graduation requirement.

Note that Reg Requires Algebra II Competency

We use the Algebra results from 2013-14, one school year earlier, for our comparison because Kentucky Department of Education staff indicate that most of our students take Algebra II in the 11th grade.

Now, check out the table below. If you are a parent or an employer, you want your local school system to rank low on this table, below the red shaded bar. School districts listed near the top raise the most questions about diploma quality.

For example, the top-listed district, Washington County, had a reported on time graduation rate, a 4-Year ACGR, of 98.6 percent. That looks really great until you check our estimate for the Algebra II proficiency rate in the district, which is only 6.7 percent. That creates a huge credibility gap between the reported graduation rate and a very strong indicator of what the real proficiency rate in a required graduation subject, Algebra II, actually is.

Algebra II Grad Rate Comparison

While a case might be made that not every student needs to pass the final exam to qualify as competent, the fact is that other districts, those shown in the bottom half of the table, clearly get the graduation rate to Algebra II proficiency rate a lot better, so this does raise quality concerns.

For example, in Caverna Independent, the match is nearly identical, and Caverna also shows it is possible for a large proportion of students to qualify as proficient on the Algebra II exam. Just above Caverna, the Hazard Independent School District also shows close agreement between its rather high, above state average graduation rate and Algebra II proficiency.

Unfortunately, just above Hazard, the disagreement between graduation rates and Algebra II proficiency rates starts to increase quickly. Murray Independent posts a very high graduation rate, but its Algebra II proficiency does not match pace. The discrepancies continue to climb as we work our way further up in the table.

So, if Algebra II really is supposed to be a graduation requirement, why do we find very high graduation rates in most Kentucky school districts when their Algebra II EOC proficiency rates are so much lower?

How could this not raise strong concerns that there needs to be a lot more quality control over the state’s high school diploma awards?

Here is more information about how the table works.

As discussed earlier, the districts with the worst agreement between their graduation rates and their Algebra II proficiency rates are listed above the red bar, with Washington County leading the pack. Washington County had a district-wide 2015 ACGR of 98.6 percent, which is virtually identical to the rate of 98.2 percent posted in this district’s lone regular high school.

However, Washington County also has a very small special high school with fewer than 10 graduates in 2015. Because of this special school, Washington County didn’t get a publicly released district-wide Algebra II score. The district’s overall score was suppressed in order to protect student privacy in the special school (If a district-wide true score were publicly available, it would be possible to calculate the average for the special school, which would violate federal student privacy laws).

Thus, we have estimated Washington County’s Algebra II proficiency rate using the published proficiency rate for the course for its lone regular high school, which was 91.9 percent. Because we had to use an estimate for Washington County, we show the estimate-based data in bold italics. Since the district’s special school has only very few students, this estimate should be very close to the true district-wide figure.

You can see several other school districts’ data are in italics, as well.

Three school districts found in our full Excel spreadsheet for all districts, Knox, Mercer and Wayne counties, also have suppressed Algebra II proficiency rates in KDE reports and additionally have more than one high school that did get an Algebra II score report. In these cases a weighted average proficiency rate was computed across the schools with available data in each district. Again, this accounted for all but a very small number of students in each of these districts, so these estimates should be fairly close to the actual figures.

In closing, all of our estimates should closely approximate the true proficiency rate in each district where we had to use an estimate. Thus, the fact that Algebra II is a graduation requirement makes the many notable disagreements between the graduation rates and EOC proficiency rates for many Kentucky school districts a very problematic indication of serious quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas.