A possible clue about big achievement gaps in some Jefferson County schools?

Over the years the Bluegrass Institute has issued several reports on the white minus black achievement gaps in the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) (Click here for the latest edition). We found a number of surprises in this report series, including the fact that the largest white minus black math achievement gaps in JCPS are predominantly found in schools in the upper-scale East side of the district. In our latest report, the Dunn Elementary school stands out for its enormous 50.5 percentage point white minus black achievement gap in 2015 KPREP math testing and some other JCPS schools don’t do much better. These gaps are particularly surprising given the massive busing for equity program in JCPS.

So, the test results indicate there is a problem in Jefferson County. Why this is happening is beyond our ability to investigate.

Nevertheless, we had suspicions. For one thing, just because the ratios of whites and blacks look good at the school level doesn’t mean those ratios hold at the classroom level. It certainly seemed possible that kids of color were being shuttled into less demanding classes. No one in authority seemed to be looking at that.

There the matter sat until yesterday, when the Courier-Journal published a rather amazing Op-Ed, “Black students feel voiceless at Manual High School, so I staged a sit-in.” It was authored by Quintez Brown, a clearly very sharp young man from duPont Manual High School, a highly competitive magnet school in JCPS.

Writes Brown:

“I had the opportunity to go to elementary schools such as Fern Creek and Norton (which was very far from my home), where not only was the majority of the school white, but I was usually one of the few black students in my advanced classes. Despite being integrated into a suburban school in a predominantly white neighborhood, there were still signs of segregation inside classrooms (emphasis added).


  • Note: In the research for our latest gap report we found that Norton Elementary School had a math achievement gap of 43.8 percentage points in 2015, the seventh worst white minus black math achievement gap among the 89 JCPS elementary schools with data. Fern Creek also ranked rather low with the 27th worst gap of 27.0 percentage points.

Brown continues:

“Black students are placed in lower-level classes, have higher suspension rates, and are viewed as ‘troublemakers’ within the school system. Black students who do get placed in advanced courses with a majority of white students now face the challenges of microaggressions, implicit biases and other verbal and nonverbal behaviors that enforce their marginalization in the educational system.”

So, here is possible insight into what we found in our reports about JCPS achievement gaps. And, this raises VERY serious questions about the real impact of massive busing in Louisville, too.

People leading the JCPS and the Kentucky Department of Education need to investigate this situation. At the very least, if busing really isn’t working, we can save a ton of money and diesel in Louisville.

But, most importantly, as Brown so nicely sums this up:

“Diversity in education is extremely important. But it is not enough. Diversity without equity leads to exclusion.”

For those who think schools can’t overcome achievement gaps

I have been looking at the 2016-17 white minus black math proficiency rates in Kentucky’s schools and decided to see if there were any examples of schools where the achievement gap was less than five percentage points while at the same time both white and black students in the school outscored the statewide average proficiency rates for their racial groups.

As things turned out, some schools do indeed meet this rather demanding set of criteria.

I even threw in a comparison of the eligibility rate for free or reduced cost school lunches to see if these schools had abnormally low poverty rates.

The table below shows what I found for elementary, middle and high schools.

Low Gap Schools in 2015-16 KPREP for Math

As you can see, not very many schools met this demanding set of gap requirements, but Kentucky does have schools that produced higher than average math proficiency rates for both whites and blacks and except for the high school in the table, all had above state average school lunch eligibility rates, as well. In fact, the high school’s lunch rate wasn’t much lower than the state average, either.

In a real eye-popper, school lunch eligibility rates at the Glenn O Swing Elementary School and Foust Elementary School are so astronomically high that these schools just about obliterate often heard excuses that schools cannot overcome poverty problems to get better performance for racial minority kids. And, neither school is posting very low gaps just by performing poorly for white students. Both have win-win situations for both races in comparison to average performance in Kentucky.

I hope folks at the Kentucky Board of Education and in the Kentucky Legislature take a look at this and invite the school staff from these schools to come in and tell everyone what they are doing that works so dramatically well. Then we might be able to get more of Kentucky’s schools to start turning in similar performances.

After all, it would be nice to see some real progress in our schools instead of just hearing excuses that the schools can’t be held responsible for low student performance due to poverty, etc.

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Quote of the day


“When children perform near the bottom of the distribution of scores on standardized assessments in the early grades, there is minimal likelihood that they will ever make up enough academic ground to perform at significantly higher levels in later years. Put succinctly, Kentucky students who in early grades perform in the Bottom Third in reading and mathematics are less likely to perform above the Bottom Third in either reading or mathematics in later years.”

Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics
Exploring the Student Performance Gap

White Minus Black Achievement Gap Hidden While School Council Claims Progress

More evidence that averaging test results can hide serious gap problems

As the Kentucky Board of Education works through trying to revise Kentucky’s public-school assessment and accountability system following the demise of Unbridled Learning, a new example from the Dunn Elementary School in Jefferson County shows that just averaging scores for groups of students can hide serious achievement gap problems.

Until now, the only gap accountability in Kentucky has been for a composite group of all special students averaged together. This composite group, known as the “Gap Group,” included all the racial minorities, learning disabled students, poor students eligible for school lunches and English language learners. That tended to bury problems for racial minorities.

In fact, a school could correctly claim it was making progress for its Gap Group while it continued to post white minus black achievement gap in math of more than 50 percentage points!

That’s just not right.

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WaPo: U.S. schoolchildren tumble in international reading exam rankings, worrying educators

There was lots of hand-wringing going on in Washington on Tuesday following the release of new scores from the 2016 administration of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

Some takeaways from the Washington Post’s coverage include:


  • “The United States tumbled in international rankings released Tuesday of reading skills among fourth-graders, raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.”
  • “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system.”
  • “The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins.”

The Post quotes Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner for the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, as saying:

“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment. This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”

Another educator quoted by the Post is Martin West, an education professor at Harvard University. He said, “the results are disappointing, particularly because they may show that efforts to improve educational outcomes for the most challenged students are not paying off.”

That isn’t a surprise to those who know that research going all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson era shows that Progressive Education fad ideas are least effective with less advantaged students. The adoption of Common Core was accompanied by many schools adopting Progressive Education programs, unfortunately, and PIRLS seems to indicate that Johnson era research on education still rings true today.

By the way, one country that moved ahead of the United States was Latvia, which the Post says is “one of the poorest countries in the European Union.”

There are always concerns with international testing that other countries don’t test all their students, and so forth. Still, it doesn’t seem very likely that other countries would change their policies a lot from administration to administration of PIRLS, so the United States’ decline does provide cause to worry.

Thus, while we are still waiting for the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for the nation and the states to give us more insight, the new 2016 PIRLS data already provides more indications that Common Core might not be getting the job done for our kids.

Inequity continues in Kentucky’s schools

This is no surprise to our regular readers, but LEX18 in Lexington just posed “Kentucky Schools Becoming Less White, But Inequities Persist,” which further substantiates what we’ve been saying for years.

However, there is a warning buried in the news item’s title that everyone in Kentucky needs to heed.

With the state slowly becoming less white, our failure to adequately educate our minority students becomes an increasing challenge for the overall well being of everyone. Given the facts of life in the global world economy where education is essential to higher wages, having more students who don’t have a competitive education is clearly of major concern.

KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – High Schools

Over the past few days I’ve blogged about the problems with white minus black reading and math achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary and middle schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the high school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black proficiency rate gaps over time from the KPREP English II End-of-Course exams used in Kentucky’s high schools. The English II End-of-Course exam scores are also used for reading accountability in Kentucky’s high schools.

As we saw in the lower grades, things don’t look very good during the time these tests, which are part of the ACT’s Quality Core series, have been in use.

Figure 1

High School KPREP EOC Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the white reading proficiency rate has been jumping up and down slightly since 2014. The new 2017 white reading proficiency rate of 59.6 percent is actually lower than previously posted rates for 2015 and 2016 and really isn’t much different from the 2014 rate, either.

For all intents and purposes, the white high school level reading performance in Kentucky hasn’t really changed in half a decade.

The rate of progress for black reading performance looks just about the same, except that the scores are much lower. With the 2013 and 2015 black reading scores both higher than the latest 2017 results, about the best you can say is black high school reading performance in Kentucky has also been flat for half a decade.

The achievement gaps are also problematic. While the 2017 white minus black high school reading proficiency rate gap is smaller than in 2015 and 2016, it is larger than the gaps for 2012, 2013 and 2014. That isn’t progress.

Basically, after six years of Unbridled Learning testing, the English II End-of-Course exams indicate there has been scant progress in reading in Kentucky’s high schools since the Common Core State Standards came along either for whites or blacks.

Figure 2 shows the high school math situation.

Figure 2

High School KPREP EOC Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

This math picture is far more sobering than the flat reading situation.

For starters, the white math proficiency rate in 2017 is not only lower than it was last year, but it is more than a percentage point lower than it was back in 2012. That is a bit less than just flat performance.

The math situation for blacks as of 2017 is far worse. In fact, the drop in the black Algebra II End-of-Course exam proficiency was so severe in 2017 that I double-checked with the Kentucky Department of education to insure there wasn’t a typographical error. There was no typo, unfortunately. That 9.4 point math proficiency rate drop from 2016 to 2017 is apparently real.

Even if we were to consider the 2016 score as abnormally high, the 2017 score is still well below the initial 2012 score of 24.4 percent proficiency and is well below the rate for all other years, as well. When you consider that well under one in five Kentucky black high school students met muster in Algebra II in 2017, this is a very sobering situation indeed.

Arguably, Kentucky’s blacks have gone backwards in math since Common Core came along.

The high school math gap situation is also problematic. The most recent white minus black high school math gap is by far the largest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either. What makes the gap growth particularly troubling is that even though the white math proficiency rate dumped by more than three points between 2016 and 2017, the white minus black math gap still managed to increase dramatically.

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KPREP achievement gaps for whites minus blacks – Middle Schools

A few days ago I blogged about the problems with white minus black achievement gaps in Kentucky’s elementary schools since KPREP testing started in 2011-12. Today, let’s look at the middle school gaps.

Figure 1 shows you the white minus black gaps in KPREP reading over the time this Common Core-aligned testing program has been in use.

Figure 1

Middle School KPREP Reading for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

As you can see, the proficiency rates in reading for both whites and blacks have improved, but the whites have made more progress. As a result, Kentucky’s 2017 middle school reading achievement gap is larger than for any earlier year.

Furthermore, fewer than one in three black middle school students is reading at the proficient level as of 2017, which I must remind some is 27 years after the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) was passed with promises to deal with this problem.

Now, Figure 2 shows the middle school math situation.

Figure 2

Middle School KPREP Math for Whites and Blacks w Gaps to 2017

Figure 2 clearly tells a much more sobering picture for math than the rather somber gap story in Figure 1 for reading. First, both white and black scores either went stagnant or into decline in 2017. That isn’t what Common Core promised us.

The gap situation is also problematic. The most recent gap is the highest ever since KPREP math testing began in the 2011-12 school term. That for sure isn’t what Common Core and KERA promised, either.

Given that scarcely more than one out of two white middle schoolers in Kentucky is proficient in math and less than one out of four black students passed muster on the KPREP, these faltering results for 2017 are particularly unsatisfactory. With foreign competition lining up to swamp our kids if we don’t get them much better educated, Kentucky cannot afford to allow such meager performance and slow rates of progress to continue.

Technical Information:

All scores in Figures 1 and 2 came from the Kentucky School Report Cards for the state for the years listed. The specific data came from the Data Sets section, ASSESSMENT_KPREP_LEVEL link.

Quote of the day

“It is time for Kentucky to end the continued self-congratulations about how much progress we have made educationally since the days of KERA. We must acknowledge that student learning and performance across our state is far from what it needs to be if our children are to have a chance at success in the 21st-century economy, and to compete in future job markets with students from other states.”

Hal Heiner, Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
Lexington Herald-Leader Op-Ed

Kentucky’s disappointing new test results – other voices – Louisville

WDRB in Louisville has looked at the new public school testing results and declares:

JCPS test scores show small regression in reading and math, but improvements among middle school students.”

However, when you dig past the article’s headline, things appear even less rosy.

A few example comments from the article:

  • Only 44.5 percent of students scored proficient in reading and math, a decrease from last year and well below the state average.
  • College and career readiness also took a hit.
  • The achievement gap continues to widen among minorities.


Saying Jefferson County took a hit for its College and/or Career Readiness Rate is certainly correct. In 2015-16 the Kentucky School Report Card’s DELIVERY_TARGET, CCR tab shows the rate was 63.4 percent. It dropped by more than six points to 57.0 in 2016-17.

Regarding the achievement gap, I took a quick look at the district’s elementary schools’ combined math and reading proficiency rates over the past two school terms. Table 1 shows the results.

Table 1

Combined math and reading P rates Elementary Schools 2017

As you can see, the elementary school level white minus black proficiency rate on KPREP math and reading combined in Jefferson County, already very large, increased by a full additional point between 2015-16 and 2016-17 even though the white proficiency rate dropped by 2.1 points. The gap in 2016-17 of 31.0 points is considerably larger than the statewide average of 26.1 percent, by the way. The black combined proficiency rate is also 1.6 points behind the statewide average.

There is a big problem with gaps here. Currently, scarcely more than one in four black elementary school students in the district is proficient across these two critically important subjects.

At the present time the Kentucky Department of Education is conducting a massive audit of management in Jefferson County and it is clear that the district’s performance is very much on Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt’s mind. Reacting to the new scores, Pruitt told WDRB:

“My hope is that they’re going to have a real hard conversation about, ‘Why did our numbers go down? What did we do differently? Are we really paying attention to instruction or are we simply buying more books for us to practice tests?'”

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