Common Core: Costs versus education performance in Kentucky

Thanks to a presentation on Common Core State Standards I did on Thursday, I’ve been looking at some financial information that relates to the cost changes for public education in the Common Core era in Kentucky.

I have further expanded this analysis, now comparing education revenue during the last five years before Kentucky adopted Common Core to the revenue figures during the first five year of the state’s implementation of Common Core. I also added some interesting test result information covering the same period.

The results don’t look encouraging.

As you look at the information below, keep in mind that Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards – sight unseen – in February 2010.

Table 1 below compares how public school per pupil revenue changed in Kentucky during the 5-year period prior to Common Core and the initial 5-year period when the state transitioned to the new standards.

Table 1

Per Pupil Costs Before and During CCSS Era in KY

The blue shaded area shows total per pupil spending figures covering the last five school years before Kentucky adopted the Common Core (2004-2005 to 2009-2010) and the first five school years of Common Core transition (2009-2010 to 2014-2015).

The first column of spending data in the blue shaded part of Table 1 shows total per pupil revenue in Kentucky for the listed school years without any adjustment for inflation. The last column shows spending converted to inflation adjusted, constant 2005 dollars.

Below the rows listing the revenue figures I show the changes in revenue for each 5-year period, shaded in yellow.

As you can see, spending in the five years preceding Kentucky’s adoption of Common Core increased notably more slowly than in the early Common Core transition years. From 2005 to 2010, spending in unadjusted dollars only increased by $1,951, an increase of 23.9 percent. Meanwhile, during the first five years of the state’s Common Core era, spending rose by $2,815, or 27.9%.

The real spending increase is much more dramatic. From 2005 to 2010 the spending increase in real dollars was only $739, just a 9.1 percent rise. In the Common Core transition period from 2010 to 2015, the rise was $1,650, an increase of 18.6 percent, more than double the rise in the pre-Common Core period.

So, spending rates on public education in Kentucky notably accelerated in the Common Core era.

But, how did educational performance trend? For the answer to that, click the “Read more” link.

[Read more…]

What happens when your school accountability program misses important problems

This week the Kentucky Board of Education considers ending state assistance to the Robertson County Public School District. The situation provides a good example of how important decisions about education can be seriously hampered when a state school accountability system hides problems.

[Read more…]

Valley High School exits Priority Status????

Last week the media in Louisville trumpeted the announcement that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt had declared the Valley High School in the Jefferson County Public School District was no longer in Priority School Status (see WDRB’s coverage here).

That sounded interesting, so I decided to take a quick look at the latest performance in this school for math and reading testing. I looked at math and reading because performing in the lowest five percent of all schools for these two subjects was supposed to be the primary cause to enter Priority Status back in 2010 when these low performing schools, which originally were called “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools,” first started to be identified.

Well, my quick look turned up a puzzle.

This first table shows the lowest 20 performing standard (Class A1) high schools on KPREP End-of-Course testing in Algebra II and English II. These two KPREP tests are used to gauge reading and math for federal reporting purposes. The table shows the combined percentage of students who were rated either Proficient or Distinguished in Algebra II in the first data column and then lists the combined percentage of Proficient and Distinguished students in English II in the middle data column. The next column, on which the table is ranked, shows the average of these two percentages.

Table 1

Valley High KPREP Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

As you can see, Valley High School ranked in the bottom five percent of all high schools in Kentucky that had data reported, ranking at 218 out of 227 reporting high schools.

But, the original testing that got Valley High in trouble (it was named a Persistently Low-Achieving School in the spring of 2010) was the now defunct CATS Kentucky Core Content Tests. Since those tests don’t even exist in 2016, I decided to give Valley another chance by looking at its performance on math and reading in the 2016 ACT testing of Kentucky’s 11th grade students. Table 2 shows how that turned out.

The first data column in Table 2 shows the percentage of students in each school that reached or exceeded the Benchmark Score set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) for ACT testing that indicates students will not have to take remedial courses in math. The next column shows the percentage of students that met the CPE’s ACT Benchmark for reading, which also avoids a requirement for college remediation in that area. The two Benchmark percentages are then averaged together in the next column and the table is ranked on this combined average column.

Table 2

Valley High ACT Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

Incredibly, if we look at the average of the percentages of students meeting the CPE’s College Readiness Benchmark Scores for the ACT, Valley High ranks even lower than on KPREP!

So, this is a real puzzle. I know the actual method used to determine Priority Status uses a more complex approach than just looking at a single year of data, but when we see Valley High’s latest performance in both Tables 1 and 2, something just doesn’t feel right.

Should Valley High be off the hook?

In any event, based on its latest year’s performances on both KPREP and ACT math and reading, Valley High remains a very low-performing school. I think the public deserves to know that even if our educators are letting Valley off the hook.

[Read more…]

Kentucky schools, where an “A” might not really be an “A”

I wrote a few days ago about new research from the Kentucky Department of Education that compares average mathematics letter grades to performance on Kentucky’s math assessments.

That initial blog discusses the fact that Kentucky’s children of color are generally getting higher letter grades for math than white students receive for similar test score performance.

Today, I expand on that with another graph from the recently released “The State of P-12 Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” This new graph compares the overall average math grades for all high school students to the probability the students are really ready for college math. The test measure is the ACT college entrance test, and the ACT readiness score has been set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) as a rather undemanding low of 19.

The Kentucky Department of Education says the figures used to generate the graph are for average performances across 2012 to 2016 data.

High School Grades Vs CPE ACT Benchmarks for All Students

There are some disturbing things in this graph.

The far right side of the graph provides evidence that even consistently scoring an “A” in Kentucky public high school math courses provides no guarantee of real math readiness. Less than 75 percent of the students who averaged an “A” in their high school math courses were also able to pass muster against the undemanding ACT target set by the CPE.

Things get more bothersome quickly as we move down the grade scale. Even for those students averaging a “B” in math, the picture is pretty grim. Fewer than one in two of those students are likely to meet the low requirement set by the CPE. For students with still lower math grades, the odds of surviving college math look pretty gruesome.

By the way, while the CPE says an ACT math score of 19 is good enough to avoid remedial coursework in college, the ACT says that a notably higher math score of 22 is actually needed to have at least a 75 percent chance of getting at least a “C” in the lower-level college math course of algebra.

In Kentucky’s public postsecondary system, a grade point average below 2.0 (generally a “C” average) will not allow graduation.

We often hear that high school grade point averages are better predictors of college performance than other factors like ACT scores. That correlation might have been true in the past, but when grading in Kentucky’s public school system today seems in too many cases to vary widely from real performances needed to succeed, this old rule of thumb might not be true anymore.

In any event, parents beware. Just because your kid gets an “A,” don’t think you are home free. There are plenty of stories of “A” students arriving on campus only to discover that they are not ready for college level math. Sometimes, that shock is more than our kids today can handle. And, based on this new research from the Kentucky Department of Education, it looks like there is plenty of room for even “A” students to get some very unpleasant surprises upon college entry.

KY State of Education shows serious grading discrepancies by race

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt delivered his second annual “The State of P-12 Public Education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky” report today, making extensive and very candid comments about the serious achievement gap situation in the state.

I’ll be spending some time in this report, but I think many at the press conference were particularly struck by results of a new analysis of course grade awards versus performance on Kentucky’s various mathematics assessments. So, I am going to delve into that new research now.

To put it mildly, this new research was a major eye-opener. Aside from showing some very disturbing trends regarding differential course grading by race, the data undermines a long-held notion that course grades are likely to be the best predictor of college performance.

Let’s look at two of the eye-watering graphs in the new report.

Figure 1

Grade 8 Course Grades Vs. KPREP by Race

The graph in Figure 1 is based on a study of Grade 8 math course letter grades and KPREP math scores from 2012 to 2016, and is found on Page 6 in the report. It shows some pretty disappointing things are happening in Kentucky’s public school system.

Looking vertically up from the “A” grade point on the right side of the horizontal axis, we see an example of why the report says:

“For African American students whose average letter grade in their middle school math courses was an A, the chance of scoring proficient on state math tests was 25 percentage points lower than that of white students who also earned an A average.”

Clearly, less is being demanded of Kentucky’s blacks to earn an “A” grade in math class. Across Kentucky, teachers are setting a lower standard for these children of color to earn an “A.” Examination of the graph for other letter grades shows blacks are held to lower standards for every other grade from “B” even down to a “D” score, though the amount of performance difference for whites versus blacks does decline a bit as we move down the grading scale.

[Read more…]

There’s still more to “The rest of the story” as folks try to defend Common Core

I’ve been writing about how lines are already forming in the fight to end Kentucky’s use of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts. Poorly-aimed shots already were fired last week in an Op-Ed that appeared under the title “Column: Common Core: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” in the Community Recorder newspaper in Northern Kentucky and under a different title in the Courier-Journal. As often happens in advocacy writing, there is a very large amount of what the late Paul Harvey used to call “The rest of the story” that didn’t make it into those Op-Eds. I already discussed some of the problems here and here.

Another claim in the Op-Ed warrants comment. That claim: “ACT scores have improved by almost 1 whole point.”

The author provides no further explanation for this assertion, so I don’t know what time frame is being considered or whether we are talking about results for Kentucky’s high school graduates or the separate results from Kentucky’s testing of all 11th grade public school students with the ACT, which started back in the 2007-08 school term.

In any event, there are complex issues involved if we try to judge Common Core’s performance in Kentucky to date using the available ACT results. I’m not sure that even as of 2015-16 it is fair to say Common Core can claim to have made notable impacts because high school students in that year still had spent the majority of their school years in pre-Common Core classrooms. It might be that the available ACT data is really more reflective of what was happening before Common Core came along.

This is a somewhat involved subject, but if you want to learn more, click the “Read more” link. Otherwise, just keep in mind that the jury is still out on how well available ACT results really reflect impacts from Common Core versus other education reforms. Those pre-Common Core reforms include the introduction of 100 percent testing of all Kentucky 11th grade students with the ACT, a program that started way back in 2007-08 school year, focusing Kentucky’s schools on college readiness long before Common Core ever came on the books.

[Read more…]

ACT results show Kentucky’s achievement gaps continue all through school

Provides more evidence that blacks get left behind/Need other options

Since the founding days of the Bluegrass Institute about 14 years ago, we have pushed the need for more school choice in Kentucky. That evidence includes our extensive discussions of the chronic achievement gaps for whites and blacks in Kentucky’s public school system in many past blogs and reports. However, today we take a quick look at some different scores – those from Kentucky’s statewide administration of the ACT college entrance test to all the public school 11th grade students.

This table shows what we found after examining the proportions of white and black Kentucky students who scored at or above the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) “Benchmark Scores” from the ACT. These score levels allow students to enter the state’s postsecondary education system without having to take remedial courses.

Kentucky White and Black G11 ACT CPE Benchmark Performance in 2012 and 2016 with gaps

We look at data from 2012, the first year that Kentucky used Common Core aligned testing in English language arts areas and math, and the latest results from 2016.

The top part of the table shows data for the 2016 ACT administration and the bottom section covers the results from 2012 testing. The gaps by subject are also listed for each year.

As you can see, the gaps for all three subjects are substantial for both years.

Even more troubling, during the entire time that Kentucky has been heavily invested in Common Core to the point of actually testing these standards, the English white minus black achievement gap remained unchanged and the math gap actually increased from 22.8 in 2012 to 23.6 in 2016, a rise of 0.8 percentage point.

The reading gap did decline a smidgeon, but only by a rather trivial 0.3 of a percentage point. Even as of 2016, the percentage of whites reaching the CPE’s reading benchmark is about double the black percentage.

This ACT information isn’t a surprise, of course. It is consistent with other testing results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, ACT’s recently cancelled EXPLORE and PLAN tests (both victims of Common Core, by the way), and even the state’s still to be fully proven KPREP tests.

No matter what testing series is examined, the Bluegrass State always shows serious achievement gap problems.

Clearly, it is time to adopt an education policy – charter schools – that is showing especial progress with minority students, the very same students that continue to founder under Kentucky’s current, one-size-must-fit-all education system.

[Read more…]

Where have all the school tests gone?

As Kentucky and other states continue using the Common Core State Standards for K to 12 education, it has never been more important to have accurate trend information from valid and reliable assessments to evaluate whether these controversial standards are really working for our kids.

But, almost all testing trend lines of use in Kentucky from ACT, Inc.’s EXPLORE, PLAN and COMPASS to even the nationwide data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ (NAEP) “Long Term Trend” assessments (LTT) have been severed.

How convenient for Common Core supporters who might be worried about what those discontinued tests might reveal.

How BAD for our kids.

[Read more…]

Collapse of school accountability credibility in Kentucky – Again!

New Unbridled Learning school accountability results clearly inflated

Well, it looks like a third “Out” is richly deserved for the credibility of Kentucky education’s ability to self-grade its performance. Following the same, troubled trail of Kentucky’s former KIRIS and CATS public school accountability programs, Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning public school assessment and accountability system is now producing inflated pictures of performance.

How inflated are the school classifications in the 2016 Unbridled Learning report? Table 1 tells the story for high schools, by far the worst situation.

Table 1


Back in 2012, the first year of Unbridled Learning school accountability, my analysis of data in the “Number of Schools and Districts by Classification” table on Page 5 in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Media Advisory 16-115 indicates that only 30.4 percent of the state’s high schools were classified as Proficient or Distinguished by the Unbridled Learning program. That classification percentage was lower than the percentages of students scoring at or above Proficient in five of the six academic subject areas reported and virtually tied with the proficiency rate for the sixth subject, science.

In 2012 I calculate that the average proficiency across all six academic subjects was 42.8 percent. That was notably higher than the overall percentage of high schools that reached the Proficient or better classification.

Now, look at the 2016 data. In 2016 an incredibly high 83.8 percent of our high schools received an overall classification of Proficient or Distinguished from Unbridled Learning.

However, the all-subject average proficiency rate was still way down in the 40-percent range at only 48.8 percent.

Still worse, in no case did individual subject area proficiency rates even begin to approach the overall classification figure of 83.8 percent proficient or more reported for 2016.

That’s just not credible.

But, it gets worse.

The media advisory also shows how Kentucky’s Juniors performed on the ACT college entrance test in recent years after the ACT changed its score reporting to include some students who got extra time to take the test. Table 2 shows the percentages of students who scored high enough on the ACT to reach the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) benchmark scores. Those CPE benchmarks allow students to avoid taking remedial courses in the related subjects as college freshmen at Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions.

Table 2


As you can see, the benchmark results show there hasn’t been much change in college readiness over this four-year period. In fact, the math performance is essentially flat between 2012-13 and 2015-16. Furthermore, the math performance is notably lower than it was in 2013-14.

CPE English benchmark performance also dropped between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Clearly, all of the benchmark percentages in Table 2 are far below the percentage of high schools rated proficient or more in the 2016 Unbridled Learning.

Referring back to Table 1, between 2013-14 and 2015-16, the percentage of Kentucky’s high schools that were classified as Proficient or above skyrocketed by more than 22 points. The CPE benchmark performance indicates no improvement anywhere near that magnitude occurred.

By the way, I’m not the only one concerned about the obvious inflation in the new Unbridled Learning results. Bluegrass Institute Scholar Gary Houchens, speaking on his own behalf and not for his college or the state board of education, says:

“The so called accountability system masks the real story of lackluster student achievement.”

When Unbridled Learning says 83.8 percent of our high schools meet muster while far lower percentages of our students do, Dr. Houchens is obviously right.

By the way, Kentucky education’s self-scoring game started in 1992 with the introduction of the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS). KIRIS struck out in 1998 after becoming grossly inflated.

Kentucky education’s second “batter” in this game was the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, the CATS as everyone called it. CATS struck out in 2009. Again, the strikeout call was based on obvious inflation in scores.

Now, the third batter in Kentucky public education’s attempt to field an accurate and credible school accountability program – the Unbridled Learning system – richly deserves being called out. Once again, inflation is now rampant in the Bluegrass State’s school classifications, especially so for the state’s high schools.

Clearly, the Unbridled Learning high school classifications for 2016 are nonsense.

So, here is a serious question going forward. Is it fair to our kids to expect the same people who run the school system to also judge its performance? Should evaluation of our public schools be conducted by a separate, neutral organization that doesn’t have to self-judge its performance with the sort of model we have been using without success since the early 1990s?

We know the Kentucky Department of Education is hard at work on a replacement for Unbridled Learning, but is this the right agency to create that performance assessment system when a part of that performance is clearly the responsibility of the department itself?

Should legislators consider another model for school accountability, one where an independent evaluation agency conducts the assessment and accountability program?

Unfortunately, Kentucky has already struck out three times trying to get this right. The problem is that the ones who really lose in this game aren’t educators, they are our kids.

(Updated at 9:10 am to change “News Release” to “Media Advisory” and at 12:55 pm to correct data source pages in Table 1)

Does Kentucky’s postsecondary education system believe all graduates are competent in Algebra II?

I have been writing a lot about some obvious indications that quality control for Kentucky’s public high school diploma needs serious work. Whether we are talking about an analysis of college and career ready indicators or another analysis based on the fact that Kentucky regulation 704 KAR 3:305, Minimum requirements for high school graduation, requires students to be competent in math through Algebra II, we have seen that what it really takes to get a high school diploma in Kentucky varies widely by school district.

In the case of the Algebra II requirement, it looks like Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) knows a lot of the state’s high school graduates really are not competent in Algebra II. Here is how I know that.

The CPE has established its own set of Benchmark Scores for the ACT college entrance test to determine if students are ready for credit-bearing college courses in subject areas of English, math and reading.

In a short CPE paper titled “College and Career Readiness in Kentucky,” there is a section titled “What ACT scores determine college readiness for Kentucky students?” It says:

“The Kentucky systemwide standards of college readiness are ACT scores of 18 for English, a score of 20 for reading, and a mathematics score of 19 for some introductory courses in mathematics (often statistics or an applied mathematics course), a 22 for college algebra, and a 27 for calculus (Underline added for emphasis). The Kentucky systemwide standards of readiness guarantee students access to credit-bearing coursework without the need for developmental education or supplemental courses.”

So, here’s the deal.

If a student were really competent in Algebra II, shouldn’t he or she be ready for college algebra?

But, if ALL Kentucky high school graduates really were competent in math through Algebra II, shouldn’t any graduate be able to meet that ACT score requirement of 22?

Why does CPE even need to bother with lower ACT score thresholds for non-remedial math course entry?

Obviously, a lot of high school graduates in Kentucky can’t meet the ACT Math Benchmark Score of 22, and the CPE knows it. In order to fill its classrooms, the CPE is apparently willing to admit students into some lower level math courses that don’t require competency in Algebra II even though Kentucky regulations supposedly require this level of math ability from any high school graduate.

The bottom line is that a promise about high school graduate math ability made to Kentucky through regulation 704 KAR 3:305 isn’t being kept. A whole lot of kids are getting Kentucky high school diplomas even though they really are not competent in Algebra II. And, even the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education knows it.