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.

Update on what US Census shows about changes in education funding in Kentucky since KERA began – 2017

Out in the Twitter world I was recently challenged about Kentucky throwing more money at the education system since KERA began, so I thought an update on exactly how much education funding has increased in Kentucky would be worth adding to the blog.

One of the better, long-running sources of state education funding data is the US Census Bureau’s annual report series called Public Education Finances. The latest in the series is “Public Education Finances: 2015

Thanks to the fact that Public Education Finances has been issued for decades, we can look at how funding for education has changed since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was enacted.

This table shows that story.

Table 1

Kentucky Education Expenditures 1989 and 2015 Compared

As you can see in the far right column of the table, real spending on education nearly doubled in Kentucky during the past two and a half decades.

In terms of dollars out of your tax-paying wallet, you are now paying 363.8 percent of what you paid in 1990.

It’s a sizable increase in education ‘bucks’ no matter how you look at it.

Still, despite all this increase in funding, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested proficient or more in the 2015 NAEP Grade 4 math and reading assessments. In Grade 8, NAEP said only 36 percent read proficiently and just 28 percent did math proficiently.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Given that KERA was a quarter of a century old in 2015, I think there is reason to question the education bang Kentuckians are getting for our many bucks.

And, Tweeters who don’t get these data-based facts are probably in a small minority.

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How much do taxpayers really spend on education in Kentucky?

And, how does Kentucky’s education spending rank against other states?

We hear it all the time. Kentucky’s educators frequently complain that they are not getting enough resources (think dollars) to do their job well. And, we’ve often heard that per pupil funding for education in Kentucky ranks low compared to what other states spend.

But now, a report from a very surprising source indicates our educators have not been giving us the correct picture. According to this source, not only does Kentucky’s education funding rank a whole lot higher than our educators have been telling us, but in 2015 the total taxpayer support for education in Kentucky actually ranked above the national average.

Based on this new ranking information, the Kentucky taxpayer now has cause to take issue with educators’ complaints because it looks like financial support for education in Kentucky – especially considering the state’s relatively low income levels – is actually rather remarkable.

By the way, if our educators want to complain about this surprising new information, they will have to take it to their own union. You see, the state funding rankings I refer to come from none other than the National Education Association. If that catches your attention, click the “Read more” link to learn still more.

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Jumping on a report before reading it (Revised)

Chatter on social media started up several days ago from several Kentucky educators about a news report that Kentucky’s education system had been ranked by a group called WalletHub as the 5th best in the nation.

Based on the tweets starting on July 28th linking to the LEX18 article, I initially thought the WalletHub report was for 2017, but I could not find it online on July 28th.

Things got more confused when WalletHub actually issued its 2017 report just a few days later on July 31. The 2017 report indicated Kentucky only ranked 27th. So, I called LEX18 to find out what was going on. The person I contacted there was not able to explain the difference between the figures for Kentucky in the LEX18 report and the 2017 WalletHub report.

Yesterday I determined that’s article was from July 28, 2015 and apparently covered another WalletHub report from two years ago.

In any event, WalletHub’s 2017 report does not rank Kentucky in 5th place. We are listed in the 27th slot for our total score. That is quite a drop from 5th place just two years ago although it must be considered that WalletHub uses more metrics in its 2017 report.

By the way, despite the previous mystery, one solid outcome from all of this is there clearly are no problems with the security of WalletHub’s e-mails. So, that issue can be put to bed.

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.

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KY Board of Ed gets bad news about projected math proficiency to 2030

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) was heavily engaged in discussions about the state’s new school accountability system today, and one slide, shown in Figure 1, which didn’t make anyone happy, is shown below.

Figure 1

Kentucky Actual and Projected Elementary - Middle School Math Achievement to 2030

This slide shows actual average math scores from Kentucky KPREP testing in 2014 (blue bars) and 2016 (red bars) along with projected scores for 2018 (green bars) and a full school generation of kids out in 2030. Each section of the graph covers a different group of students:

ALL = All Students
W = White Students Only
AA = African-American Students Only
FR = Free or Reduced Cost School Lunch Eligible Students Only
SWD-IEP = Students with Learning Disabilities Who Have an Individual Education Plan

As you can see, even for the highest performing group, the white students, even 13 years from now the Kentucky Department of Education projects only 73 percent will be proficient. That would be an increase of 24 points from the 49 percent that KDE says were actually proficient in 2014. That works out to a proficiency rate growth rate of 1.8 points per year.

For African-American students, fewer that one in two, just 46 percent, will be proficient in 2030. In 2014, 30 percent were proficient, for a growth rate of only 1.2 points per year

Of course, this is based on Kentucky’s somewhat unproved KPREP test results. For an even more disturbing look at the state’s slow rate of progress, click the “Read more” link.

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Bold new evidence: Kentucky does not lead the nation for education improvement

Claim especially misleading for state’s black students

Truth supports need for charter schools in Kentucky

As arguments swirled the past few months over charter schools, Kentuckians have been hearing claims that their state already leads the nation for the most educational improvement since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). As a consequence, that argument goes, this means Kentucky doesn’t need charters.

The latest example of this “leads the nation” claim is found in a March 10, 2017 Herald-Leader Op-Ed by David Hornbeck, one of the major architects of KERA. Hornbeck asserts:

“Kentucky children have made more progress than any other state in the nation.”

It’s a bold statement, but is it true?

And, is it true for all Kentucky’s children?

To explore these questions, we fired up the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ Main NAEP Data Explorer web tool. We used data from the NAEP Data Explorer to assemble the two tables below, which show how Kentucky’s eighth-grade blacks stack up against other states that also had scores for these children of color reported for both the earliest and latest years of NAEP state testing.

Table 1 shows the NAEP Grade 8 math results black students in the listed states received back in 1990, the year KERA was enacted, and 2015 scores – the latest available. The table is sorted by the change in the NAEP Scale Score for math in each state across the 1990 to 2015 period.

Table 1

Grade 8 Math Improvement for Blacks for 1990 and 2015 Ranked

As you can see, Hornbeck’s assertion isn’t just wrong, it’s very wrong when we talk about improvements for Kentucky’s largest racial minority group compared to other states with usable NAEP data for black students.

Kentucky lands nearly at the bottom of the stack when we rank each state’s increase in NAEP Grade 8 Math Scale Scores for black students over time. Only four of the 28 states with data available progressed even less than Kentucky.

If we only consider southern states listed in Table 1, we find that North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Arkansas all matched or exceeded the national average increase in black students’ math scores between 1990 and 2015. Kentucky never came close to any of them.

By the way, all of those five Southern states have charter schools. At present, aside from Kentucky, only Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia don’t have charters. Thus, except for West Virginia, all the states listed above Kentucky in Table 1 have charter school laws. That is something to think about.

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Kentucky’s Real Progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

On Friday, March 3, 2016 the Kentucky House made history when it voted for the first time in favor of a charter school bill and sent it on for Kentucky Senate approval.

The vote was contentious.

Debates in the morning meeting of the House Education Committee and during the eventual deliberation and adoption of the bill by the full Kentucky House sometimes were bitter – even tear filled. And, there were lots of inaccurate statements along the way.

One entirely too prevalent assertion mentioned by many legislators was that Kentucky has made great education progress since passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). Sadly, while the state’s public education system has made some progress in the past quarter of a century, it’s a real stretch to say “great” progress has been made. Let’s examine why inflated claims of great progress are out of order.

Figure 1 shows the NAEP Grades 4 and 8 reading and math proficiency rates for all Kentucky students from the earliest available year of testing and the most recent, 2015 results. There obviously has been progress, more in Grade 4 than Grade 8, but calling this a “great” accomplishment just isn’t right.

For example, only 40 percent of Kentucky’s fourth graders tested at or above NAEP’s Proficient level in 2015 in both fourth grade math and reading. That means that after a quarter of a century of KERA, 60 percent of our fourth graders – well over half – still don’t meet muster in either subject. After a quarter of a century, with so far yet to go, does it seem right to talk about “great progress?”

In the eighth grade NAEP, results were even worse. Only 36 percent of the state’s eighth graders scored at or above the NAEP Proficient level in reading. Far more disturbing, only a truly disappointing 28 percent of Kentucky’s eighth graders met muster in NAEP math. That means 72 percent of the state’s eighth grade students – as of 2015, a full quarter century after the launch of KERA – still don’t perform adequately in math.

Figure 1

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, All Students

Based on the known rates of progress that can be calculated using the data shown in Figure 1, the Bluegrass Institute projected the number of years following 2015 that remain before Kentucky can anticipate that at least 80 percent of its students will score proficient or above on the NAEP. You can see those projections in the table inserted in the upper right side of Figure 1. Those time estimates to reach 80 percent proficiency rates on the NAEP range from at least 34 more years required in Grade 4 math to an astonishing 126 more years for Grade 8 Reading.

With so much left to do, it is obviously inappropriate to crow about already making “great” progress. A large amount of progress simply hasn’t happened.

By the way, the situation looks MUCH worse when we examine the NAEP performance of Kentucky’s black students. Claiming “great progress” once this actual data is examined is simply unacceptable.

As Figure 2 shows, even as 2015, the NAEP reports only depressingly low percentages of Kentucky’s black students scored proficient or above in both Grade 4 and Grade 8 reading and mathematics.

Figure 2

Kentucky's NAEP Proficiency Rates on 4th and 8th Grade Reading and Math Assessments, Earliest Year Tested and 2015, Black Students Only

In two cases shown in the table insert in Figure 2, the trends on NAEP tell us Kentucky is nearly a century away from seeing a desirable math proficiency rate for its black students. In eighth grade math, the goal is the better part of two centuries away. In the case of Grade 8 Reading, the 80 percent proficiency rate goal is more than 2-1/2 centuries away!

This is simply unacceptable.

Clearly, Kentucky’s actual NAEP performance renders claims of great progress to be greatly exaggerated.

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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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NAEP tells more about why Kentucky needs charter schools

Kentucky has a major problem with white minus black achievement gaps and it is especially apparent in the state’s results over time from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Grade 8 Reading Assessment.

The NAEP didn’t start to collect state level eighth grade reading data until 1998, but by now we still have a rather long trend line to examine.

And, the gap trend isn’t good.

The figure below shows the percentages of Kentucky’s white and black students that scored at or above the performance level NAEP defines as Proficient for eighth grade reading.

KY White Vs Black Gap for G8 NAEP Reading 1998 to 2015

Below the white and black score lines is a table that shows the gap in the proficiency rates for each year. The asterisk next to the 2007 figure in the table shows that this particular gap is statistically significantly different from the 2015 gap.

For example, in 2007 Kentucky’s white eighth grade students scored only 30 percent proficient for reading following a decay in their performance that began after 2003.

In 2007 only 14 percent of Kentucky’s blacks scored proficient or more for eighth grade reading.

However, when we consider the gaps, due to the rather pronounced white reading drop in proficiency in 2007, the gap that year was the lowest ever posted. As a consequence the 2007 gap is statistically significantly lower than the gap of 24 points for 2015. Actually, due to statistical sampling errors in the NAEP, none of the gaps for any other year shown in the graphic’s table are notably different from the 2015 gap.

So, as far as the NAEP can tell us, essentially the white minus black eighth grade reading gap in Kentucky is the same as it was in 1998. And, that gap is far too large.

We can see something else that is very disturbing in this graphic. Essentially, black reading proficiency in Kentucky has not changed notably since 2002. In fact, the 2015 black proficiency rate isn’t statistically significantly different from any previous score all the way back to 1998.

To be very clear: Kentucky’s eighth grade blacks are not making reading progress according to the NAEP – NONE!

This isn’t news to us at the Bluegrass Institute. Since we became the first Bluegrass State organization to start pushing charter schools and other school choice options 14 years ago, blacks in our state have not fared well, and that is particularly true for the massively important area of reading.

Clearly, it is past time for Kentucky to move beyond a blind faith that somehow – despite 25 years of failing to do so – the state’s traditional school system will fix this problem on its own. An education lesson now lasting a quarter of a century, one confirmed by the NAEP, says this problem isn’t going to be fixed without some new and different approaches for Kentucky. Since charter schools are showing particular positive impacts for black students, charters are clearly an education tool the Bluegrass State should offer its students.

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