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.

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.

[Read more…]

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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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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Is there a backlash growing over Kentucky’s proposed school accountability system?

Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s current public-school assessment and accountability system, is on the way out, and Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the Kentucky Department of Education have been working on an as-yet unnamed replacement accountability system for some time. Pruitt and his team have held two sets of public hearings seeking Kentuckians’ input into the new program and he formed several advisory committees to further develop ideas for the new system.

Now, a proposed system is starting to take form. The Kentucky Board of Education took its first formal look at the proposal in June, and a follow-up discussion is expected during the board’s August meeting.

Surprisingly, amid this movement toward finalizing Kentucky’s new accountability program – which, by law, must be submitted to Washington, DC for approval by mid-September – a curious letter appeared last week, co-signed by leaders of several organizations including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who were members of one of Pruitt’s key advisory committees.

It almost seems like the letter is, to use technical lingo, a minority dissenting report.

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Union chief’s example of public school innovation flunks

On July fourth the National Public Radio affiliate at Western Kentucky University published a highly ironic article, “Charter School Concerns Voiced by KEA President.” Hopefully, our students are learning better ways of providing supporting examples than the one Stephanie Winkler, the head of the Kentucky Education Association, stumbled over in her interview.

Trying to counter the pressing need for charter schools in Kentucky, the article says Winkler claims that “public schools have the ability to get creative and tackle difficult education issues.” Winkler then offered Jefferson County schools as an example.

How ridiculous!

Only very recently, Jefferson County Public Schools gave up on its “School of Innovation” project in the Maupin Elementary School. The dysfunction in this school, which was supposed to be a high model of reform, was so severe that it is now listed as a “Priority School.” The crash of innovation was so loud at Maupin that even its School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) lost its governance authority. By the way, the SBDM undoubtedly was controlled by some of Winkler’s union members because, by law, teachers hold the controlling vote in every one of the state’s school councils.

Even the chair of the Jefferson County Board of Education admitted that poor district leadership was a key player in the Maupin fiasco.

[Read more…]

What education accountability can (and cannot) do, Part II

Once again, Prof. Gary Houchens, a Bluegrass Institute Scholar and Kentucky Board of Education member as well as a professor at Western Kentucky University, has posted a great blog about the goals and limitations of education accountability.

I highly recommend reading Dr. Houchens’ blog.

By the way, at the risk of oversimplification, an education accountability program is somewhat like the speedometer in your car. Without question, a speedometer provides valuable information for the safe operation of the car, but your speedometer won’t make your car go faster or slower. It is only a performance instrument.

Still, it is dangerous to ignore a speedometer and consequences for doing so can be very high.

Thus, the idea that we would want to rip an accountability program out of the education machine is just about as dangerous as the idea of ripping out the speedometer in our vehicles. The key is that we want a speedometer with accurate calibration and easy to read indications. I think our education speedometer needs more work in the accuracy and readability area, but the notion that we could get along without such a performance gauge is not good for our kids.