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

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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ACT scores are out – Kentucky’s white minus black achievement gaps continue to be a problem

The new ACT reports for the high school graduating class of 2017 have been publicly released, and there will be a lot to talk about concerning these important college readiness test results in 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 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).”

The department’s News Release emphasizes that racial achievement gaps are currently a hot concern in Kentucky. So, let’s look at the trends in the white minus black ACT achievement gaps from 2013 to the present. I only look back to 2013 because ACT changed its reporting format in that year, including for the first time scores for students who got more than the standard time to complete this college entrance test. As a result, the current data isn’t strictly comparable to years prior to 2013. Still, this covers the major portion of time that Common Core was really impacting Kentucky’s classrooms, as the state began Common Core-aligned testing in reading, writing and mathematics just one year prior in the 2011-12 school term.

Figure 1 shows how the overall ACT Composite Score trends look for all of Kentucky’s whites and blacks for high school graduates from public, private and home schools in the years of 2013 through 2017.

Figure 1

ACT Composite Gaps in Kentucky to 2017

As you can see, scores for both white and black students slowly increased over the past five years, but the achievement gap in 2017 has been basically flat, no better than it was back in 2014 (I highlighted the 2014 gap for emphasis).

Essentially, the ACT Composite Score achievement gap for whites versus blacks in the Bluegrass State hasn’t changed appreciably in half a decade of Common Core impacts in Kentucky.

Also note that the white scores look like they indeed are going flat. If that had not happened, the black gap trend would look even worse. We don’t want gaps closing only because white scores are staying stagnant.

I have similar graphs for the individual subjects tested by ACT, as well (English, Math, Reading and Science). Click the “Read more” link to see those.

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Where does California’s STEM workforce come from? Not US schools

California is the land of high tech innovation, but according to the San Francisco area based Mercury News, “Immigrants are 42 percent of California’s STEM workforce.”

If you have not kept up with education fad acronyms, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in other words, all the “stuff” that high tech comes from. And, the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area is the techiest place in the country.

This has some very disturbing implications for K to 12 education in the US. How come such a high percentage of our nation’s STEM innovators don’t come from our own school systems? Why do our colleges and high tech industries have to search overseas to find employees with the math and science skills needed to get the work done?

And, when our current education system says it is all about increasing STEM preparedness and then goes and adopts less than world class standards like Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (which don’t even teach kids about electric circuits, for goodness sakes!), is it likely the low numbers of US native born citizens in STEM careers is likely to improve soon?

Electrocution Cartoon

By the way, in Singapore they start teaching electric circuits as early as preschool! Here, our education science folks don’t think electric circuits are worth coverage at any school level.

No wonder so many STEM folks in the US don’t come from here.

So, Common Core was supposed to increase student desire for tech?

As Kentucky begins the debate about how to change its current Common Core State Standards-based Kentucky Education Standards into something better, I came across a very interesting report from the ACT, Inc. concerning Kentucky student interest in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – the so-called “STEM Careers.”

ACT’s “The Condition of STEM Careers 2016, Kentucky” report contains a lot of interesting information about interest in STEM careers among the state’s recent high school graduates. This data is collected during ACT testing, and since Kentucky tests 100 percent of its graduates with the ACT, the data is particularly important.

To be sure, this first table extract from the report, shown in Figure 1, shows some bothersome things.

Figure 1
(From: “The Condition of STEM Careers 2016, Kentucky”)

ACT STEM Report 2016 Kentucky - Percent of Students Interested in STEM

While interest in STEM careers has slipped in Kentucky since 2012, the first year Common Core testing was conducted in the state, nationally STEM interest hasn’t changed much and is still the same as it was back in 2012.

There is more bad news, which you can access by clicking the “Read more” link.

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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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Common Core bait and switch in Kentucky???

The final version of Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session (SB-1/2017) is now awaiting the governor’s signature, and a very interesting statement from the original version of the act remains in the final.

On Page 99 of the Engrossed Version of the act (which goes to the governor), it says:

“Section 18. In adopting the amendments to KRS 158.6453 contained in Section 3 of this Act, the General Assembly intends, among other actions, to repeal the common core standards.”

Assuming Governor Bevin signs SB-1/2017 as is with no line item veto, it would seem that the Common Core State Standards are officially on the way out in Kentucky.

But, looks might be deceiving.

You see, SB-1/2017 also outlines in considerable detail a process to review all of Kentucky’s academic standards beginning in 2017-18. In fact, the core teams that will actually write the standards are called “Standards and Assessments Review and Development Committees.” However, nowhere in the discussion of how the many committees and panels are to operate does it clearly direct those panels to start with a clean slate – a slate without a Common Core State Standards basis.

In fact, including the term “Review” in the base groups’ titles clearly does not mandate either revision or replacement. A “Review” could leave the standards EXACTLY as they are, for example. If these teams were clearly charged with replacing Common Core, they would be called something like “Standards and Assessments Development Committees.”

Because teacher members predominate on the major committees and panels that will actually write the new standards, it is highly likely that the Common Core will be the basis for whatever comes next.

It seems likely that this new standards process will result in some changes from the current Common Core based standards used in Kentucky today, but will those changes be very substantial? Will those changes incorporate some rather recent research that shows some basic ideas in Common Core are not optimal for real classrooms? Will the changes actually amount to something most would call a “repeal?”

Only time will tell.

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