Charter School Stories: They DO help kids with disabilities

Even though a Kentucky charter school law is now on the books, we continue to hear vehement attacks from opponents like Kentucky Representative Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. The State Journal reported on April 4, 2017 in “Kentucky lawmakers say negative impacts of session will be felt across the state” that Graham agreed another legislator’s assertion that “the impact of charter schools will be devastating.”

Though not specifically mentioned in the State Journal article, one thing charter opponents frequently claim is that these public schools of choice don’t help kids with disabilities.

That assertion would be a real surprise to Carmen Ward, whose son Paul has benefitted greatly from his attendance at a KIPP charter school in Missouri. But, I’ll let You Tube help tell you this story about how a student with Asperger’s didn’t get the support he needed until he entered a charter school.

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NAEP refutes another charter-school myth

With the discussion about charter schools heating up during the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, I decided to examine a frequently raised question: Do these public schools of choice discriminate against students with learning disabilities?

To investigate this, I used the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which happens to be one of the more stable national surveys of our public education system.

What I found:*

2015 NAEP, Charter Schools Versus Non-Charter Schools, Population Percentages of Students with Learning Disabilities, National Public Schools

The first rows in the table show that in the 2015 NAEP Grade 4 Reading Assessment, the proportion of students with learning disabilities in the NAEP’s charter school random testing sample was 12 percent. Statistically speaking, that isn’t significantly different from the 13 percent of students who had disabilities in the non-charter school sample for this assessment.

As you read through the table for other subject and grade level test data, you will see that the differences are all essentially the same from a statistical point of view.

The percentages also exactly matched when I examined the NAEP charter-versus-non-charter statistics from 2011 Grade 8 Reading results.

Similar results are found in Atlanta, the nation’s 39th-largest city, where, as I recently addressed, charter schools significantly outperformed traditional public schools on the 2015 NAEP in reading and math for black students.

The NAEP Grade 8 Reading sample shows the proportion of learning disabled students in Atlanta’s charters amounted to 14 percent of total enrollment while the proportion of disabled student enrollment in Atlanta’s traditional system was only 10 percent. For math, the proportions were 13 percent in charters and 11 percent in the traditional schools. Again, sampling error can explain these differences, but they are ties and most definitely are not weighted in favor of traditional public schools.

Thus, within the sampling error of the NAEP, even if there might have been a difference in enrollment patterns for charter and non-charter public schools for students with disabilities at some time in the past, any such differences apparently disappeared by 2015.

(*Using the NAEP Data Explorer web tool, I generated a set of tables for students with disabilities from the all the 2015 NAEP national public school reading and math samples. I did this by applying the NAEP Data Explorer’s cross tab feature to the 2015 reading and math assessments for the fourth and eighth grades. This allowed me to compare the percentages of students with disabilities, including those with a 504 [IEP] education plan, in charter and non-charter schools across the nation.)


Dr. Vicki Alger briefs Kentucky Legislators on Education Savings Accounts

Don’t know what Education Savings Accounts are or how they are opening up great education opportunities for students in other states who are not thriving in the one-size-must-fit-all traditional public education system? Now you have an easy way to find out.

Dr. Vicki Alger is a real expert on school choice issues such as Education Savings Accounts and the benefits to children. She is a research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland California, but she knows how to explain things in simple language we all can understand.

Check out Dr. Alger’s informative presentation on October 12, 2015 to the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education in this first of a two-part YouTube series. Part II will cover her answers to questions from legislators.

You can learn still more from Dr. Alger’s new report, which was prepared for the Bluegrass Institute and from her answers to questions in a soon to be posted Part 2 to this YouTube series.

To read, or not (Part 2)

In yesterday’s Part 1 of this blog, I pointed out that high proportions of Kentucky’s students with learning disabilities are getting all tests, including the state’s reading tests read to them. As a consequence, we have no way to know if any effort is being expended to teach these students to really read.

Why are some Kentucky teachers fighting hard to maintain such a policy?

The facts are that the score inflating impacts of reading students the reading assessment are also very evident.

While common sense tells us that students who have the reading assessment read to them are obviously very poor to totally non-readers, this next graph shows that the average 2011 “reading” proficiency rates reported for these students were notably higher than the reading scores for the students with disabilities who did not have a reader on the KCCT.

Even though students who need to have the reading test read to them are clearly very weak readers, at best, the claimed “reading” proficiency rates for the students who got readers are higher in every grade up until the 10th grade, a time when dropout issues may impact the results.

For example, in the third grade, the red bar shows students who got a reader for the reading assessment were reported to be 65 percent proficient or more in reading. For the other learning disabled students who had to read the reading assessment for themselves, the blue bar shows only 63 percent scored proficient at reading.

Does that really make sense? How can kids who need the very big crutch of having someone read them what is supposed to be a reading assessment possibly outscore kids who are strong enough readers to handle the test all on their own? Common!

There is more. As you look at this graph, you will see that the gap in proficiency rates generally increases as you go up the grades. In the third grade, the gap in proficiency for the read-to versus the non-read-to students with disabilities is only two points. By the eighth grade, the gap grows to nine points in favor of the students who get the reading test read to them.

Again I must ask, is it reasonable for students who have the reading test read to them to get higher “reading” scores than other students with disabilities who have to read the test for themselves? In fact, could this actually be considered an extremely unfair and biased testing policy for those non-read-to learning disabled students?

One thing is certain: the score inflation message in this graph creates an extremely powerful inducement for our educators to want to keep on using lots of readers for the reading assessments.

And, as events unfolding in the legislature show, our educators are fighting hard to keep things just the way they are (more on that tomorrow in part 2 of this multi-blog article).

Still, while many educators claim they have the best interests of the disabled students at heart when they push to keep on reading the “reading” tests, I can’t overcome a very disturbing feeling that Kentucky’s current testing practices may be doing tremendous damage to the students receiving the reading accommodation. At the very least, we don’t have a shred of evidence from our testing program to show that any continuing effort is being made in many schools to try and help these students overcome their reading problem. And, that may be a very sad mistake, as I will discuss tomorrow in Part 3 of this blog series.

Here is a closing thought. I don’t think non-reading adults have a particularly good life in front of them. And, it is no secret that a high proportion of our prison population can’t read, either. I want our schools to make strong efforts to teach all of our kids to read. Right now, I don’t have evidence to show that is happening, and neither do you.

More next time in Part 3.

Fighting over how to test students with learning disabilities spills out of Kentucky to the federal arena

The current fight in Kentucky about trying to get a handle on the apparently excessive number of students with learning disabilities who get reading tests read to them has now spilled over into the federal arena.

Education Week reports that there is a dispute between two agencies that control the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) about what to do with states like Kentucky that exclude large numbers of students from that federal testing program.

In one corner, the National Assessment Governing Board wants to test these kids. The board points out that these students don’t ever get scores from the assessment and cannot be harmed by those scores. However, the board is concerned about whether these students have much reading ability what so ever.

In the other corner, the National Center for Educational Statistics doesn’t want to penalize states like Kentucky even if they have excessive exclusion rates on the NAEP. The center argues that exclusion doesn’t much matter.

I’m on the side of the governing board on this issue. Kentucky’s nation-leading exclusion in 2011 of students with disabilities from both the fourth and eighth grade student samples the NAEP wanted to test for reading provides very disturbing evidence that we are way out of line with educational practice in other states.

How can it be that Kentucky had to exclude a whopping eight percent of all the fourth grade students NAEP wanted to test (both students with and those without disabilities combined) while in Mississippi they only excluded one percent of their raw sample?

Can it really be that Mississippi is eight times better than Kentucky at getting learning disabled students to the point where they can at least sit for a true printed text reading test?

A different look at how well Kentucky teaches reading

There is a contentious battle under way about how Kentucky teaches students with learning disabilities to read – or not. This includes sharp dissention over what seems to be excessive use of readers on the state’s so-called reading assessments for these special students.

Believe it or not, each year thousands of Kentucky students have the state’s reading assessment read to them, 17,310 of them in 2011 state testing, for example (Reference, Kentucky Department of Education handout to Kentucky Board of Education, “Test Accommodations for Readers,” dated November 30, 2011 – not on line).

The reading fight certainly boiled during the August 14, 2012 meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS), although press coverage has been limited.

Unfortunately, Kentuckians have absolutely no idea about how well – or if – thousands of students with learning disabilities in Kentucky can read printed material, because many of those students don’t ever take a true, printed text reading test.

The excessive use of readers also biases the overall average scores for all students, creating excessively favorable pictures both in state-run testing and federal testing with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

However, while I cannot tell you about the true overall average reading ability of Kentucky’s students with learning disabilities, we can take a look at the reading performance of Kentucky’s students who are not disabled and compare that to other states. Using the NAEP Data Explorer, I conducted a comparison of the NAEP fourth grade reading scale scores for Kentucky’s white non-learning disabled students against their counterparts in other states across the country. I looked only at white scores because overall scores for all students in Kentucky in the NAEP are also biased upward by very different student racial demographics in other states, a subject I have written about extensively in the past such as here, here and here, to cite just a few examples.

Concerning Kentucky’s non-learning disabled student’s reading performance, what I found is sobering. The map below tells the tale.

Even after allowing for the statistical sampling errors in the NAEP, fourth grade whites in a solid majority of other states – 29 of them – and even whites in the educationally troubled District of Columbia – got NAEP fourth grade reading scores that were statistically significantly higher than Kentucky’s whites in 2011. These states are shaded green on the map. Notice there are a number of Southern states with green shading.

Kentucky’s non-learning disabled white fourth graders tied those in 17 states. The state’s shaded in tan on the map tied Kentucky.

Shockingly, Kentucky’s non-learning disabled fourth grade whites only outscored their counterparts in just three states for NAEP reading in 2011 – that’s all, just THREE! These three states are salmon-colored on the map.

Once you consider that whites in Kentucky make up the vast majority of our public school population, about 84 percent of it, the map above becomes even more startling.

So, we now know the state isn’t doing even an average job of teaching reading to the vast majority of our non-disabled students.

We also know that we simply don’t know if most learning disabled students in Kentucky are receiving any reading instruction what so ever, let alone how effective that instruction might actually be.

I don’t feel very comfortable about this, either for our students without learning disabilities or for those who do have learning disabilities. My gut feeling is we can do a lot more for these students – if we develop the will to do so.

Is Kentucky handing out ‘hollow’ diplomas?

Non-readers are getting regular high school diplomas

A disturbing issue inadvertently came to light during a contentious August 14, 2012 meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS).

The news spilled out during a sharp discussion about a regulation that would end reading of the state’s reading assessment to many students with learning disabilities.

In the process of that discussion, multiple comments from educators and legislators revealed that students with learning disabilities in Kentucky who basically cannot read are being given regular – not alternative – high school diplomas.

That’s the same class of diploma now awarded to all the students who successfully complete the normal, full course of study – which certainly includes learning to read (Note: the Commonwealth Diploma was recently discontinued).

As a consequence of this policy for learning disabled students, an employer may not be able to tell if a student can read just by checking for a high school diploma.

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Educators tap dance as legislators call the tune

Greater transparency and accountability may have exposed padded student counts

Kentucky Department of Education briefers unsuccessfully tried to tap dance today around a firestorm that has blown up over the next school year’s funding for preschools. Their two-step involved one of the most confusing presentations I have ever heard in a state legislative meeting (for an example of that confusion, read this article, which tries to explain what is going on).

The dance routine failed to mollify legislators, who are hot about this situation for several reasons.

The preschool funding issue blew up several weeks ago when the Kentucky Department of Education notified each school system about how much money would be provided for each district’s preschool program next year. About half the districts in the state found out they would see less money, triggering incorrect charges against the legislature, including the untrue allegation that lawmakers had cut preschool funding.

In fact, state preschool funding has not been cut. What actually happened is that a very complex and deficient formula for distributing the funding – one that some legislators charge violates state law – was the root cause of the problem.

Coupled with this deficient formula, which was developed many years ago by the department of education – not the legislature – was something else; for the first time this year the department got much more accurate reports on the real number of learning disabled and disadvantaged preschool students in each district. Those more accurate numbers, often lower than figures reported in previous years, resulted in the funding changes.

This revelation led some legislators to rather directly suggest that in prior years (when the counts of special preschool students were harder to audit), some districts may have ‘padded the enrollment books’ to get more money.

Pressed today by legislators, state educators admitted the funding formula in question has actually been in place for several decades. Local school districts should not have been surprised by the resulting calculations. The only thing new was the requirement to report student counts accurately, something that should have created no problems for districts that had been doing an honest job in the past.

Another issue added still more to educator-legislator tension. That was an e-mail that got sent out from the department of education in response to complaints from at least one school district. That e-mail blamed the Kentucky Senate for the funding declines because the Senate didn’t pass House Bill 329.

Obviously miffed legislators shot holes in that e-mail today. Some pointed out that department of education never indicated that HB 329 was critical. Others said the bill would not have taken effect in time to fix the coming school term funding in any event. It was also carefully pointed out that the bill only addressed learning disabled student funding and said nothing about funding for preschool for disadvantaged students.

In the end, legislators demanded to know that the correct message had been sent out to the school districts, and the department of education personnel said that had occurred.

Aside from the fact that the department needs to be careful about taking incorrectly aimed pot shots at legislators, there is another message here.

Increased transparency and accountability for our school system is badly needed. In this case, what looks like possible prior padding of special students head counts to improperly get more money may be coming to a close now that a more powerful and auditable student tracking program is in place. It’s about time.

NAEP Exclusion Rates: What Prichard didn’t say – Part 2

The Prichard Committee’s Blog weighed in on March 11, 2012 about Kentucky’s nation-leading levels of exclusion of students with learning disabilities in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessments.

Sadly, Prichard’s blog glossed over the exclusion problem, claiming, “Kentucky’s recent record of relative NAEP success does not, in fact, evaporate when exclusion rates are considered.”

Well, that’s just not so. In Part 1 I discussed some very important testing policies, which Prichard ignored, that led to Kentucky’s NAEP exclusion problem. Now, I’ll discuss technical deficiencies in Prichard’s analysis of NAEP scores for those students who do not have learning disabilities.

To begin, I need to point out, again, that you have to look at NAEP data in the right way. You cannot get a fair picture of what is happening with state education programs using simplistic state to state comparisons only of “all student” NAEP test scores. The reason is student demographics now vary dramatically from state to state. In many other states high minority populations drag down the overall state average scores. Thanks to shifting racial demographics, it is actually possible for a state to make progress for each of its student racial groups but still fail to improve its overall average “all student” scores. There is even a name for this phenomenon: Simpson’s Paradox.

Because of this well-known problem, the most recent guidance from the NAEP 2011 Reading Report Card (See page 24) says:

“Differences in states’ demographic makeup should be taken into consideration when interpreting state results” (emphasis added).

Prichard’s simplistic analysis doesn’t do that.

Take a look at what happens as soon as we disaggregate the data by race to see how non-learning disabled white fourth grade students in Kentucky match up to the national average reading scores for their counterparts in other states.

Kentucky’s white, non-learning disabled fourth grade students score statistically significantly LOWER than the national average today, as they did over a decade ago.

That is exactly opposite of what the “all student” analysis used by Prichard shows.

Proving the wisdom in the NAEP guidance about doing state to state comparisons, Prichard’s assertions regarding Kentucky’s reading performance for students who are not learning disabled start to fall apart as soon as the disaggregated data is examined. It isn’t appropriate to only conduct a simplistic analysis and then claim Kentucky’s reading performance is better than the national averages. In fact, Kentucky’s reading performance for the state’s dominant population of students is worse than elsewhere.

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NAEP Exclusion Rates: What Prichard didn’t say – Part 1

On Sunday, March 11, 2012, the Prichard Committee’s Blog weighed in about Kentucky’s nation-leading exclusion of students with learning disabilities in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessments.

Unfortunately, Prichard’s blog glossed over the exclusion problem, claiming, “Kentucky’s recent record of relative NAEP success does not, in fact, evaporate when exclusion rates are considered.”

I hoped Prichard would add more to their story. I even contacted them by phone on March 14th to encourage that. You see, they won’t post my comments in their blog.

So far – no updates.

So, I’ll add the rest of the story here, starting with the well-known reason why Kentucky excludes so many kids from NAEP reading. This involves a long-time Kentucky testing policy that allowed the state’s reading assessments to be read to a surprisingly large proportion of our students with learning disabilities. That’s right – many Kentucky kids had the so-called CATS and earlier KIRIS ‘reading assessments’ read to them. It was all ‘legal’ so long as the learning disabled student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) called for this testing accommodation.

Over the past two decades, Kentucky’s policy probably led to some very unfortunate consequences for many special education students. We don’t know if these special students can read. There simply is no evidence from the state assessment program to show if their schools expended any effort to try to teach them to read, either.

This testing policy also is the major reason why Kentucky’s exclusion rates on both the fourth and eighth grade NAEP reading assessments were the highest in the nation in 2011. You see, the NAEP tests real reading skills. When learning disabled kids had conflicting IEPs that would not allow a real test of reading, those students got excluded from the NAEP reading assessments.

Sadly, Prichard’s blog doesn’t tell you why Kentucky has nation-leading rates of exclusion of learning disabled children on the NAEP reading assessments. The blog merely says Kentucky is doing something different from other states in reading. Prichard does not admit that the major difference between Kentucky and other states with much lower NAEP exclusion rates is that the Bluegrass State has not been testing many of its learning disabled students for reading skills at all.

There is still more to the story. Click the “Read more” link to see that.

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