SB-158 has now been passed by the Kentucky Senate and heads to the Kentucky House, where it will probably first go to the House Education Committee. That allows time for more improvements to the bill, which is good, because there are still two major concerns.
Let’s not abandon all quality control for high school diplomas
One major disappointment in the bill passed out of the Senate includes provisions to forbid an already-enacted attempt to improve the quality control over the state’s too often watered-down high school diplomas. Those “big-step-backward” provisions in the bill need to go away.
We’ve written many times (see here and here for just two examples) over the years about the problem with promotion to graduation that is clearly going on in Kentucky. While the state’s current high school graduation rates are quite high – most recently over 90% – the grim reality is that evidence from Kentucky’s “Transition Ready” statistics for those graduates shows many earned a rather hollow diploma. The student got a piece of paper, but they didn’t get the skills they need to hold a living wage job or go on to succeed in postsecondary education.
Evidence from the 2019 high school graduation class provides very current examples of how getting a diploma can bear virtually no relationship to getting an education.
The table below shows a portion from one worksheet in an Excel spreadsheet I assembled that shows each high school’s on time graduation rate (Technically the 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, or ACGR) along with the percentage of the graduates in each school that were able to meet at least one of a nearly a dozen different ways those graduates could establish they really had gotten value from their education and were considered Transition Ready.
Note first in the table that all the high schools listed had a 4-Year high school graduation rate of 100%, a remarkable accomplishment, it would seem. But, then note the extremely wide variation in the Transition Ready rates for those high schools.
At the top of the stack, the Burgin Independent School not only posted a 100% graduation rate, but it also posted a very large Transition Ready rate of 93.5%. Almost all of the graduates at this school met a Transition Ready criterion, as well. There wasn’t much, if any, social promotion going on in this school in 2019.
Now look at the East Ridge High School’s data. Again, this is officially reported as a 100% graduation rate school for 2019. But, look at the truly dismal Transition Ready rate for East Ridge’s graduates – just 39.1 percent of those graduates were able to meet any of the Transition Ready indicators. That’s all.
Clearly, on average a high school diploma from Burgin is a much different proposition from a diploma from East Ridge. And, this shouldn’t be the case.
So, a year or so ago the Kentucky Board of Education approved the first-ever set of minimum requirements for high school graduation to include more than just nominally completing a minimum number of courses. For the first time, students also had to show some capability with the Transition Ready indicators and meet a minimal test requirement in math to graduate. It’s these minimum requirements that are now under attack in SB-158. That is a wrong thing to do and will just set Kentucky back while we continue to delude ourselves with graduation statistics that show nothing more than our willingness to ignore the truth about education quality.
Redefining Achievement Gap statistics will hide real problems
SB-158 has another section that also takes the state back in time when things were not better. Under current rules, the Achievement Gaps being considered in the state’s accountability system compare various sub-group scores in each school to the scores for the leading group in each school. The most commonly know example is the white minus black achievement gap calculation, but there are other gaps as well such as the not-learning-disabled to learning disabled student score gap. The reporting from this gap calculation has provided important pointers to schools where education equity is clearly a big problem.
SB-158 would change this.
SB-158 essentially reverts the achievement gap definition to something formerly called the “Gap-to-Goal” calculation which was used in the now defunct Unbridled Learning school accountability program. Instead of comparing student subgroups to the highest scoring student group in a school, the Gap-to-Goal approach compares each student group in a school to an overall statewide average score goal for that same student group. With Gap-to-Goal, you can have really big white minus black achievement gaps in a school but never know it, which is a huge equity issue. That is why Gap-to-Goal was ended. Now, it seems that forces in the state education establishment don’t want the equity issue to be front and center anymore, so they are pushing a return to a program we know didn’t work well. That isn’t progress, and it isn’t right for Kentucky, either.
Let’s hope the Kentucky House bails the Senate out on this one and removes both the provision to kill diploma quality and the unsuitable Gap-to-Goal approach to achievement gap considerations. As it stands, SB-158 takes some giant steps backwards, and it’s our kids who will ultimately suffer if problems in our diploma awards and achievement gaps get hidden, again.
It’s important to understand that the Transition Ready requirement can be met in a number of different ways. The Transition Ready indicators include ways to qualify academically and with career-based options:
The academic options to be Transition Ready include:
- College Admissions Examination – The ACT – Score high enough to avoid college remediation
- College Placement Examination –KYOTE – Obtain suitable scores
- Dual Credit – Score “C” or above on total of 6 credit hours of high school/college dual credit courses
- Advance Placement (AP) – Score of 3 or higher on at least 2 AP course exams
- International Baccalaureate (IB) – Score 5 or more on 2 IB course exams
- Cambridge Advanced International (CAI) – Meet benchmarks on 2 CAI exams
The career/workforce options include:
- Receiving an Industry Certification (Approved by the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board on an annual basis);
- Scoring at or above the benchmark on the Career and Technical Education End-of-Program Assessment for articulated credit;
- A grade of C or higher in each course on 6 hours of KDE-approved Career and Technical Education dual credit;
- Completing a KDE/Labor Cabinet approved apprenticeship;
- Completing a KDE-approved alternate process to verify exceptional work experience.
As you can see, there are lots of different ways a student can qualify as Transition Ready. If a student cannot meet ANY of these criteria, one has to question that student’s preparation in Kentucky’s K to 12 school system.