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.

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Will Kentucky’s education system be standards driven or test driven?

When the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) came to the Bluegrass State, Kentuckians were told their state’s education system would be built around those standards.

Well, perhaps not.

There was a presentation about the pending revision to the state’s science assessments during today’s meeting the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAAC). The presenter was asked if all science areas would be covered in the assessments for elementary, middle and high schools. The answer, to my considerable surprise, was “Yes.”

Not certain I heard this correctly, I questioned the presenter during a break and confirmed that all science areas would be fair game in the new science assessments at all school levels. That included chemistry and physics for high schools.

The reason this surprised me, and the reason this is a problem, is because the generally vague NGSS essentially cut off completely after high school biology. Topics from high school chemistry and physics are basically absent even though some at the Kentucky Department of Education don’t seem to understand that.

Furthermore, a well-established legal principal known as “Notice or “Fair Notice” says you can’t give tests that have consequences if you don’t provide advance notice of what is fair game on the tests. The way you provide notice is with the state’s education standards. NGSS can’t give adequate notice for things it doesn’t include.

So, is Kentucky sailing into really troubled waters with its new science assessments? Unless some changes are made, I think so.

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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.

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Do Kentucky’s KPREP school assessments do what they are supposed to do?

If so, why is the evidence not available after five years of KPREP testing?

The Bluegrass Institute has discovered a rather extraordinary January 6, 2017 letter from the US Department of Education to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.

This letter says evidence provided by the Kentucky Department of Education only shows that the state’s public school assessments just partially meet requirements of federal education legislation.

The letter lists the following general comments:

  • Reading/ language arts (R/LA) and mathematics general assessments in grades 3-8 (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP)): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics general assessments in high school (ACT QualityCore EOC for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in grades 3-8 and high school (Alternate K-PREP for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements

The letter continues:

“The partially meets requirements designation for a component means that it does not meet a number of the requirements of the statute and regulations, and Kentucky will need to provide substantial additional information to demonstrate it meets the requirements. The Department expects that Kentucky may not be able to submit all of the required information within one year (underlined emphasis added).”

Keeping in mind that the Kentucky KPREP and End-of-Course tests have been in place since the 2011-12 school term, the letter’s expanded details about the missing evidence are very disturbing.

For example, Under Critical Element 1.2, the US Department of Education says Kentucky needs to provide:

“A description of State stakeholders involved in the development and/or adoption process for the R/LA, mathematics, and science content standards that includes detail on subject-matter expertise, individuals representing English learners (ELs) and students with disabilities.”

This might be really hard to do. Kentucky basically just adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) at a high level. State stakeholders really had no say in the final decisions about what went into the CCSS. The adoption was made by the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Subject matter experts were not involved in this widely televised, media event joint meeting of these three boards.

In fact, the adoption of Common Core took place about 3-1/2 months before the final version of the Common Core was even published. It is hard for experts to have looked at something that didn’t even exist at the time of adoption. In fact, the public comment draft of the Common Core didn’t even come out until March 2010, weeks after the three Kentucky boards had already adopted the Common Core, sight unseen.

Under Critical Element 1.5, Kentucky still needs to provide:

“Evidence that the State has procedures in place for ensuring that each student is tested and counted in the calculation of participation rates on each required assessment.”

How’s that? Kentucky can’t provide evidence it really is testing all students with KPREP? Not even after the test has been in used for five testing cycles? That is a real problem.

And, the letter doesn’t stop there. To learn still more, click on the “Read more” link.

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Kentucky’s real “progress” under Common Core

With the Kentucky legislature coming back into session, a number of education issues are heating up. One of the more hotly debated topics will be whether the state continues to use the Common Core State Standards for its English language arts and math standards.

Because Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core and has more experience with it than any other state, the coming battle is likely to get considerable attention outside the borders of the Bluegrass State.

Already, lines are forming, and shots 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. Unfortunately, as typically happens with an advocacy piece, 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 the Op-Eds.

But, our readers deserve to know the rest of the story, so let’s take a more informed look at Common Core.

We will start with the most important issue, one related to assertions in the Op-Ed that Common Core is working. Well, you certainly can’t see that in reading and mathematics scores for Kentucky from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Let’s take a look.

Figure 1 shows the overall average score for “all students” in Kentucky from the 2011, 2013 and 2015 administrations of the NAEP eighth grade math assessment. This covers a period from one school term before Kentucky started KPREP Common Core aligned testing in math and reading through the latest available NAEP data.

As you can see, Kentucky’s scores on this 500-point scale NAEP assessment don’t show Common Core working at all. In fact, as indicated by the asterisks by the scores for 2011 and 2013, the scores in both of those years were statistically significantly higher than the latest available score for 2015. To make this crystal clear, NAEP shows Kentucky experienced a definite decline in eighth grade math performance after Common Core came on line.

Figure 1

G8 NAEP Math for KY 2011 to 2015

This isn’t looking at results for Advanced Placement tests (which cover material far more advanced than anything in Common Core) or a Harvard study that looks at changes over a two-decade long period as the Op-Eds did. Those can’t provide very precise information about what happened as a result of Common Core.

This is looking directly at students in grades that are fully under the influence of Common Core in Kentucky, and the obvious result isn’t encouraging.

The bad news for progress under Common Core doesn’t end with eighth grade math, either. To see still more of “The rest of the story,” just click the “Read more” link.

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Author says: ‘I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems’

Here’s a Huffington Post article worth your read.

Poet Sara Holbrook discovered some of her poems were being used as seventh grade test items in Texas STAAR test. To her dismay, she couldn’t figure out what the answers to the questions really were! And, Ms. Holbrook wrote the poems!

By the way, Kentucky, don’t act smug just because this issue surfaced in Texas. Holbrook says the Texas tests are created by Pearson, the same company that creates the Grade 3 through Grade 8 KPREP tests for the Bluegrass State. For all we know, the same test questions might even be on the KPREP.

Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation program shows: Not much interest in innovating

During Monday’s Kentucky Tonight show about charter schools, some comments were made about Kentucky’s Districts of Innovation (DOI) program. Some anti-charter folks have tried to claim DOIs eliminate the need for charter schools, but secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Hal Heiner quickly challenged that notion on the show.

Most tellingly, Sec. Heiner pointed out that the DOI program has been around since 2012, but after four years a whopping total of only 10 school districts among the 173 in Kentucky have ever entered the program.

Interestingly, some of those 10 DOIs were already known for better programs and innovation before the program ever started (see listing of all DOIs here).

For example, the Bluegrass Institute highlighted the Eminence Independent School District back in 2012 before the DOI program was really up and running. Eminence already was making amazing innovations for students. Perhaps the program has helped Eminence a bit more (hopefully), but this district mastered the art of seeking out better ways to educate long before DOI ever started.

Taylor County is another example of innovating before it was deemed cool by the DOI law.

BIPPS also highlighted strong performance in the Corbin Independent School District that preceded the DOI program, too.

On the other hand, the Jefferson County Public School District’s foray into the DOI program to date has to be summarized as something along the lines of a disaster.

First of all, it took Jefferson County forever to even launch its first two schools as supposed innovators.

Then, those first two JCPS innovation schools, Maupin Elementary and the Atkinson Academy, landed at and near the bottom, respectively, in the district in recent KPREP testing (see their math results here).

Both wound up as “Focus Schools” as well.

The situation is so bad that JCPS tried to quietly revamp its innovation program, but their attempted secrecy got busted by alert reporters in Louisville.

In any event, as of late 2016, with only 10 out of 173 school districts participating in DOI – less than six percent – there’s not much interest in innovating in Kentucky’s traditional public school system, at least as far as this program goes. Charter schools can’t help but do this better.

How’s that? Major Common Core supporter faults Kentucky’s honesty in reporting student proficiency

I didn’t make this up. The Collaborative for Student Success recently posted “The Results Are In: High Standards Are Leading to Better Outcomes.”

It includes a national map showing states that supposedly are doing a more honest job of reporting student proficiency rates and annual testing.

Here’s the map.


Kentucky’s light gray shading doesn’t look like a good thing when it comes to reporting honesty.

So, maybe we need to take those claims about education progress in Kentucky with a grain of salt. Per the Collaborative for Student Success, that might be more due to inflated test results rather than real improvement.

Prichard Committee now using our Effective High School Graduation Rate

In their new report, “2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report,” the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence now recognizes the value of a high school performance metric we introduced over a year ago.

The Bluegrass Institute’s “Effective High School Graduation Rate,” has real value for helping to determine the performance of education systems in Kentucky. It shows the proportion of entering ninth grade students who graduate four years later with the skills needed to qualify as either college or career ready using Kentucky’s official methods for determining such readiness.

As we showed in our February 2016 report about “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update,” the Effective High School Graduation Rate is useful to identify which schools (and school districts) excessively promote students to a high school diploma without providing the education those diplomas need to represent if students are to be ready for life.

Prichard uses this metric extensively in their new report although they call it the “Ready Graduate” indicator. Prichard doesn’t go into the more detailed explanation we provide about why the formula works (or that the Bluegrass Institute has been using this statistic for some time).

But, whether called the Effective High School Graduation Rate or the Ready Graduate indicator, it is the same statistic and is actually calculated in the same way (though Prichard leaves out a few math details in their description about dividing the product of the four-year graduation rate and the percent college and/or career ready by 100 to actually develop the percentage-like numbers they show).

In any event, the really important message here is that Prichard now joins the Bluegrass Institute in pointing to this new measure of the proportion of ninth graders who graduate ready for life as an important indicator. Folks putting the new assessment and accountability system together for Kentucky need to take note, because only paying attention to the four-year graduation rate is creating pressure for schools to socially promote students to diplomas who really are not ready. That makes some schools look good when they really are not so hot.

And, making schools look good when they obviously are not so hot has been a major failing of Unbridled Learning. That is something I am sure neither the Bluegrass Institute nor Prichard want repeated in the state’s new assessment and accountability program.

Common Core fans get criticism, graph wrong

Hot: Update #1

It appears the Collaborative has heard from us. They already posted a correction for their error about the PARCC test being used in Kentucky. So far, however, they are mum about the other concerns I raise in this blog. This is a very strange situation!

(Begin my original blog)

My recent blog, “Where have all the school tests gone?” apparently hit some nerves at the Collaborative for Student Success, a well-known Common Core State Standards (CCSS) cheerleader. They just had to respond, apparently.

But, the Collaborative gets its comments wrong, starting with the article’s graph, which I annotated in the graphic below to make the deficiencies easier to understand.


The Collaborative’s graph starts right out with “Novice” performance (bottom possible score in Kentucky’s assessment programs), including neither a title nor a vertical axis label. The year labels for the KPREP tests in the legend are also inconsistent.

After doing some research that included digging up the real scores, it turns out the graph shows the percentage of Kentucky students who scored Proficient or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 4 Reading and Grade 8 Math Assessments in 2015. The graph also includes proficiency rate results (the combined percentage of students scoring Proficient and Distinguished) from Kentucky’s KPREP tests in 2013-14 and 2014-15 for those same grades and subjects.

But, aside from the labeling deficiencies, there is another interesting problem: the KPREP scores are listed backwards. While a casual examination of the graph would make you think the scores increased between 2013-14 and 2014-15, in fact the opposite is true. Kentucky’s KPREP scores for both Grade 4 reading and Grade 8 math DECLINED between those years. That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Common Core.

I don’t know and won’t speculate about whether this was a conscious attempt to mislead, but it certainly isn’t good data presentation.

The graph does highlight something else that the Collaborative would probably not want to admit: Kentucky’s KPREP scores do look inflated compared to the NAEP. That doesn’t agree with the Collaborative blog’s closing comment that:

“States like Kentucky are headed in the right direction by setting expectations high and evaluating progress toward those goals.”

Data the Collaborative cares to share shows Kentucky headed in the opposite direction.

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