BROKEN PROMISE? Common Core tests were supposed to usher in a new era of comparing America’s schools

Back in 2010 one of the major reasons we heard for adopting the Common Core State Standards was that the results from new Common Core-aligned tests would be comparable across states.

It’s now 2017, and as Chalkbeat points out, this is yet another promise from the education community that hasn’t been kept.

Kentucky, of course, uses its own, self-created Common Core-aligned Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (KPREP) tests, which don’t compare to tests used in any other state.

But, even for those states that joined one of the two Common Core test consortia and are nominally using the same tests, Chalkbeat’s article points out that no one is calling the results comparable.

It makes you wonder if the underlying education in each state is even close to comparable.

Which brings up another problem.

We normally could answer that question about cross-state education performance with results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, there was a change in the way this federal test was administered in 2017. Right now, we won’t see the 2017 NAEP results for several more months, at least. Even then, it is possible the 2017 results might have problems because of those changes in administration procedures. So, even the NAEP might not be useful to analyze the Common Core and cross-state education performance as of 2017.

In any event, right now, that Common Core promise about comparing cross-state testing remains unfulfilled. With seven years under its belt since enactment, that doesn’t speak well for Common Core.

An Open Letter To: All Individuals Involved with Reworking Kentucky’s Academic Standards

Thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 1 during the 2017 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session, Kentucky’s current education standards for English language arts and mathematics, which are currently cut-and-paste adoptions of the Common Core State Standards, are going through a change. However, it remains to be seen how dramatic a change will actually occur.

Part one of the review and development of Kentucky’s new reading, writing and math standards – an online public comment effort – has already been completed. As I discussed back in May, I have reservations about how this process, which was conducted online using Survey Monkey, seemed likely to produce few changes to the existing Common Core-based standards in Kentucky. People using the Survey Monkey had to shoehorn their suggestions around the existing standards. There was no practical way to suggest major changes with this limiting approach.

In any event, the next step in Kentucky’s standards reworking process is for new Standards And Assessments Review and Development Committees supported by several grade level specific (K to Grade 5, Grade 6 to 8, Grade 9 to 12) Advisory Panels to be formed and to start the detailed work of examining the academics our students really need to be successful in the ever more technically involved world economy. One of the new committees and its support panels will cover the English language arts areas and another group will handle the math standards.

So far, there has been no announcement about who will serve on these committees and panels or what their working sessions will look like. As statutorily created agencies, these committees should be subject to Kentucky’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws, but again we have no details at this time.

Because I don’t think the Common Core has the right elements presented with the right timing to meet students’ needs, and because of my concerns about the Survey Monkey process and its almost inevitable outcomes, I put together an open letter that discusses what truly high quality standards look like in a high performance education system. I hope this letter eventually reaches all of the committee and panel members who will do the tough work to create the new standards called for in Senate Bill 1. However, since I think many others in Kentucky – and in other states as well – would benefit from this, I am making the open letter available online here: Standards Review Open Letter Sep17

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.

Elementary School KPREP achievement gaps for white minus black scores getting worse

The new KPREP results for the 2017 test administration are now loaded in the Kentucky School Report Cards Database, so I took a look at how the latest elementary school level achievement gaps for white minus black proficiency rates in math and reading look.

The simple answer to my question is: very disappointing.

In fact, for elementary school blacks, their reading proficiency rate as of 2017 has now sunk below the level for the state’s students with learning disabilities. That’s just not acceptable.

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

As I blogged earlier, Kentucky’s new test scores are out. However, the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability system is dead, so this year, as the Kentucky Enquirer’s Hannah Sparling laments:

“There are no state rankings or overall scores – the numbers that used to rank schools from best to worst.

There are no labels marking schools as Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement.”

The Enquirer points out that this makes it tough for parents to figure out how their school is doing.

Still, test scores, graduation rates and some other data are available, and the Enquirer echoes comments we mentioned in our earlier blog that the picture doesn’t look so good.

For example, the Enquirer quotes Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt admitting:

“Math is a mess across the state and across the country, so what are we going to do differently with math going forward?”

So even the commissioner admits that math, a major part of Common Core, is in trouble both here in Kentucky, which has the most experience with these standards, and around the nation, as well. Considering that Kentucky has more experience with Common Core (state Common Core-aligned math and reading testing began in the 2011-12 school year), that should give pause to even the most enthusiastic member of the dwindling Common Core cheerleaders.

The new data cover more than math. The Enquirer also correctly reports that “Kentucky’s college and career readiness score dropped, from 68.5 percent this past year to 65.1 percent this year.” I’ll have more to say about these data shortly, but a decay in readiness is a serious trip up for Common Core, which promised to increase readiness.

Returning to the Enquirer’s main theme about parent confusion due to the lack of accountability scores, the paper quotes Jay Brewer, Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent saying:

“People like to compare schools, and at this point, there really isn’t that information available.”

What are parents supposed to do? The Enquirer says state education folks are hoping that parents will dig into the school report cards for more detailed data. Well, having taught a few parents about how get into the report cards, I don’t think many parents will take the time to learn how.

So, stay tuned here. We have a lot more to cover, and you won’t have to dig through a fairly extensive, but commensurately somewhat complex, online system to get that.

New Kentucky Testing Scores – Looks like trouble for Common Core and a lot more

The 2016-17 Kentucky School Report Cards were released early today, and my first impression is that the results don’t look good.

To begin, here is a quick overview of the trend in combined math and reading proficiency rate results by school level based on target goals and actual proficiency rates achieved.

Combined Math and Reading Goals by Year - State

On this table, the baseline scores are an average of the proficiency rates for the 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, as computed by the Kentucky Department of Education.

The Delivery Target scores are computed by the Kentucky Department of Education with the intention that the state would at least meet these scores for the given year to be considered to have made adequate annual progress.

The Actual Score data in this table come from the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) test results for elementary and middle schools and K-PREP End-of-Course Tests for high schools.

As you can see, the state failed to make any target in any listed year, including the new 2016-17 year.

But, the picture is much worse than that for elementary and high schools. For both of these school levels the overall state proficiency rate for reading and math combined dropped between 2015-16 and 2016-17. In fact, the high school combined math and reading average is lower than the average posted two years ago, as well.

Given that this is Kentucky’s sixth set of scores since it started Common Core State Standards-aligned KPREP testing in 2011-12, this isn’t a happy message for the dwindling fans of Common Core.

My very quick look at the state report indicates a lot more problems when we examine things like college and/or career readiness (looks like the lowest rate in the past three years) and scores for minority students (African-American high school science proficiency is only 18.4 percent this year, below the rate in 2014-15), so stay tuned. I think a lot of individual schools are getting some pretty sobering news.

By the way, there are no Unbridled Learning school accountability ratings this year. That assessment program wore out its credibility and has been cancelled. The state’s new accountability system isn’t going to be on line for at least another year.

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New ACT results show Common Core not meeting promises to many Kentucky’s students

New reports came out last week on the performance of 2017’s high school graduates across the country on the ACT college entrance test. A lot of folks are especially interested in the results for Kentucky because Common Core has been in place in the Bluegrass State longer than anywhere else. Thus, Kentucky has the longest trend line of relevant ACT scores in the country regarding how well Common Core has kept a major, frequently-heard promise (see for example here, here and here) that these standards would improve preparation for college. After all, if we are talking about college readiness, what more pertinent trend lines could there be? The ACT is designed to serve colleges first (not state educators) and the ACT explicitly reports about college readiness.

So, how do Kentucky’s ACT college readiness trends look?

To begin, keep in mind that Kentucky adopted Common Core – sight unseen – in February of 2010. Shortly thereafter, the state implemented Common Core-aligned testing in the 2011-12 school term. Thus, Common Core has been the classroom standard in Kentucky for more than half a decade. The state’s 2017 public high school graduates spent at least six years in classrooms impacted by the Common Core.

Figure 1, derived from data in the 2015 Kentucky Department of Education News Release 15-091 and the department’s 2017 News Release 17-114 shows the percentages of Kentucky’s public school graduates meeting the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) ACT Benchmark Scores for College Readiness in English, math and reading from 2013 to 2017. Students meting those CPE ACT Benchmark Scores are admitted to credit bearing courses in Kentucky’s public postsecondary system in the related subjects without a requirement to take remedial courses. In other words, those students are deemed ready for college in that subject area, at least according to Kentucky’s educators.

Figure 1

Percent of 2013 to 2017 KY Grads Meeting CPE's ACT Benchmarks

A quick visual examination of Figure 1 shows Kentucky’s students initially made some progress in college readiness based on the ACT in the early years of Common Core. However, the small gains in both English and math actually started decay after 2015. For both English and math, the 2017 CPE Benchmark performances are lower than in 2015 and both are scarcely better than they were in 2013.

Reading appears to have trended somewhat better, but a careful inspection of the graph shows that even in this subject the rate of progress has slowed in more recent years. So, even in reading performance increases have come only very slowly. Worse, even the reading curve is starting to flatten.

For sure, the percentages of students meeting the CPE’s College Readiness Benchmarks in 2017 are disappointingly low in all three areas. When scarcely more than half of the state’s 2017 high school graduates read well enough to attempt college work without extra remedial training, the state obviously has a major problem that doesn’t seem to be improving much in the Common Core era.

When far fewer than one in two Kentucky high school graduates is ready for even the very lowest level credit bearing college math courses, the problem becomes much more severe.

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How does Kentucky rank against other states on the ACT?

This is a question we get asked frequently. Before we can intelligently answer, we first have to explain why it is misleading to rank Kentucky’s overall average scores for all students against other states. Frequent blog readers already know the answer, but it bears repeating for new readers.

Table 1 shows a comparison of Kentucky’s and Louisiana’s 2017 ACT composite scores by race with some related demographic data for the numbers of graduates in each racial group and the percentage of all graduates represented by each racial group.

Note that 100 percent of their graduates in both states took the ACT in 2017, so this is a reasonable comparison.

Table 1

Kentucky Vs. Louisiana for ACT Composite by Race 2017

The top line of data in Table 1 for “All Students” shows the overall average ACT Composite Score for both states for all 2017 high school graduates. Since this covers all students, the related percentage figure for both states is 100 percent, of course.

Notice that the Average ACT Composite Score for all students for Kentucky was 20.0 and for Louisiana it was only 19.5.

So, Kentucky’s education system performs better, right?

WRONG!

Notice that the relative performance picture changes rather dramatically when we look at the scores broken out by race. Except for blacks and Asian students, Kentucky trails ACT Composite Score performance in Louisiana, often by a rather large amount considering the ACT is a 36-point test.

In particular, note that Louisiana’s whites outscored Kentucky’s whites by 0.6 point, which is a notable difference on this test.

While you look at the data for white students, notice that even as of 2017 Kentucky’s school population remains heavily white, with 71 percent of all the Bluegrass State’s students coming from this one racial group. In Louisiana, by sharp comparison, whites don’t even make up the majority of graduates, totaling only 48 percent in 2017.

Also note that with the exception of the relatively small number of Asian graduates in both states, whites in both states score much higher than the other minority groups. Therein lies the key to this paradox of how Kentucky can look better when we only consider overall average scores but then that picture falls apart when we break the data out by race. Due to the demographic differences, when we look only at overall scores, we are comparing many whites in Kentucky to lower-scoring racial minority graduates in Louisiana. That artificially biases the results in Kentucky’s favor.

By the way, Kentucky’s racial mix is also very different from the overall national group of ACT-tested graduates in 2017, as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1

Kentucky and National ACT Racial Demographics in 2017

If we only compare Kentucky’s overall average scores to those across the nation, we are matching a notable number of Kentucky white scores, 19 percent of them, to racial minority scores elsewhere. Since achievement gaps like those we see in Table 1 are a problem everywhere, that winds up giving Kentucky an unfair advantage in those comparisons.

So, to get a better idea about how Kentucky’s education system really compares to other states, we need to break the scores out by race. Because Kentucky is predominantly white, and all states have enough whites to report scores for this racial group, we focus on white scores.

When we talk about state comparisons using the ACT, there is another consideration, as well. Unlike in Kentucky, most states still don’t require all students to take the ACT. For example, in Maine in 2017 the ACT reports that only 8 percent of the graduates took the ACT. This isn’t a valid random sample of Maine students, either. We have no way to know if the Maine results represent mostly the very strongest or the weakest students. There is no way to tell.

Thus, we cannot intelligently compare a state like Kentucky, where 100 percent of the graduates were tested in 2017, to a state like Maine. In fact, the ACT, Inc. itself told us several years ago that they recommend not doing so, and ACT spokesperson Ed Colby provided similar cautions in a Courier-Journal article about ACT scores in 2015.

So, how does Kentucky compare? Click the “Read more” link to find out.

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ACT scores are out – Kentucky’s public school gaps also are problem

As I wrote earlier today, new ACT reports for the high school graduating class of 2017 are now publicly released. There should be a lot of interest because this is the seventh year after Kentucky adopted the Common Core State Standards, which were supposed to dramatically improve college preparation.

Certainly, progress towards college readiness seems to have gone flat in Kentucky. Even the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) News Release about the new ACT scores says:

“(Kentucky Commissioner of Education Steven) Pruitt said this year’s flat ACT scores reinforce that the timing is right for Kentucky to take a serious look at its graduation requirements and move forward with a new accountability system that is designed to promote and hold schools and districts accountable for student achievement and significantly reduce achievement gaps (Underline for emphasis added).”

My earlier post looked at the white minus black achievement gaps for all Kentucky 2017 high school graduates combined: public, private and home school. Because there are not a lot of non-public school graduates in Kentucky, those overall scores pretty closely, but not perfectly, mirror what is happening in the public schools.

Unfortunately, public school only ACT results don’t come directly from the ACT, Inc. Public school only data is only found in the KDE’s News Release and that release does not include nearly as much information as can be found in the ACT, Inc.’s materials.

Still, we can look at the public school only white minus black achievement gap for the ACT Composite Score, which is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1

ACT Composite Gaps in Kentucky to 2017 Public School Only

For comparison, the graph of the ACT Composite Scores for all students is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

ACT Composite Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

As you can see, since ACT changed its reporting system in 2013 (more on that is in the first blog), the gaps are somewhat smaller when we only look at the public school results, but this is mostly because the whites in public schools score notably lower than the whites in Kentucky’s non-public schools.

For example, in 2017 Figure 1 shows that whites in the state’s public schools scored only 20.3 on the ACT Composite but Figure 2 shows the overall white average was higher at 20.7.

Thus, the score for the non-public whites had to be higher, probably several points higher, than 20.7.

Unfortunately, counts of white and black graduates are not listed in KDE’s News Release 17-114 (ACT’s report does list that information for the overall student group); so, I can’t accurately calculate the actual non-public white scores for you.

Also note that the scores for the black public school graduates are slightly lower than the state’s overall ACT Composite Scores for blacks. Thus, for example, the score for black non-public school graduates in 2017 has to be higher than the overall average score of 17.0 for blacks shown in Figure 2.

Do notice that whether we look at Figure 1 or Figure 2, the trend in the white minus black ACT Composite Score achievement gap is pretty much the same. In both cases, the gap in 2017 is no better than in 2014.

So, while I can’t show you any breakouts of public school only gaps for the specific ACT academic areas of English, math, reading and science, I am pretty confident that the all student results shown in my earlier blog give a pretty good idea about what is happening in Kentucky’s public schools.

Also, note that the public school white ACT Composite scores have flat lined for three years now. That is a real problem, too.

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