How is Kentucky’s education system really performing?

Kentuckians hear it all the time. The state supposedly has made dramatic improvement on things like “National Tests” since KERA began. For example, the Prichard Committee proclaims that Kentucky ranks “8th in fourth-grade reading,” which is actually where the state ranks if you only look at overall 2015 scores for fourth grade reading from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). A Prichard representative made similar claims on the February 5, 2018 Kentucky Tonight show.

But, is this an accurate picture? As the late Paul Harvey used to put it, there is a “Rest of the Story” here, and the rest of Kentucky’s education performance picture is important.

Want to see “Page 2” in this story? Just click the “Read more” link.

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Attempts to test new science standards crash in DC schools

Along with Kentucky, Washington, DC was one of the first school systems to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards and then move to create a new test to measure those standards.

Unlike Kentucky, which has delayed its implementation of new science tests due to various challenges, students in DC began taking their new science tests two years ago and might be the first school system that did that.

But, being first can be a problem. Education Week now reports that the District of Columbia schools will invalidate two years of its new generation science tests after “serious errors” surfaced. The school system has cancelled its testing contract with the prime contractor for the assessments, WestEd, and there is even speculation that the district might file a lawsuit over the fiasco.

Per EdWeek, some major issues involve, “’psychometric services’—making sure that the test meets validity and reliability standards and is fair for different groups of students.” Those are major concerns, especially when testing involves new areas that don’t have much precedent to guide test creators.

So, it’s back to the drawing boards for a new science test in DC.

Meanwhile, here in Kentucky we have yet to see any results from our pending replacement science test. Based on the problems now surfaced in DC, our educators need to proceed with considerable caution.

International tests for babies?

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests for 15-year olds have been around for a long time, comparing results for teens in different nations around the world on tests of math, reading, and science. Usually, US results are less than stellar.

But…Baby PISA! According to Helge Wasmuth, an associate professor of early childhood and childhood education at New York’s Mercy College, Baby PISA is coming, and hardly anyone knows it.

More importantly, Prof. Wasmuth raises some serious questions about how this program is being developed and how babies are going to be evaluated. Certainly, with many educators reluctant to start doing evaluations of children even in the lower elementary grades (hence Kentucky’s current KPREP tests don’t start until the third grade), whether a meaningful evaluation of 3-year olds is even possible seems very much in question.

Wasmuth isn’t alone with concerns about this new program. Truth in American Education has weighed in, and they are not pleased.

If your toddler is selected for this dubious program, I would strongly suggest parental caution.

That’s assuming someone is even informing parents that their toddlers are being used in some sort of international comparison study.

Year one of Summit Learning in two Kentucky schools

Two middle schools in Kentucky’s Boone County Public School District adopted the Summit Learning program – one of the more frequently discussed digital learning programs – in the 2016-17 school year. We now have the first year of KPREP test results for those schools to examine, and I’ll be doing that in a couple of blogs over the next few weeks.

For a little background, Summit originated in California’s Summit Charter Schools around six years ago and was made available to the Boone County system by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, who operates a foundation that finances programs to help teachers get up to speed on how Summit works and to supply the digital support needed.

At least, that is what should happen. But, the implementation of Summit Learning in Boone County has been problematic, as you can learn by clicking the “Read more” link below.

For those already up to speed on Summit, let’s look at some actual KPREP results after Summit Learning’s first year in Boone County’s Camp Ernst Middle School and Conner Middle School. I’ll start with math, because this is where the picture seems clearest, and most problematic.

These tables and graphs compare the KPREP results for different student groups in Camp Ernst and Connor to the Kentucky statewide middle school average results (click on graphic to enlarge if necessary). The far-right column in each table shows the change in KPREP math proficiency rates between 2015-16 and 2016-17 for each of the listed student groups. When the proficiency rates went down for a student group in a school, the change is shaded in salmon color.

Camp Ernst - Conner - KY - KPREP Math to 2017

There are obvious reasons for concern here. Most student groups, and the student body as a whole (All Students) in both middle schools saw a reduction in their proficiency rate in middle school math between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

In Camp Ernst, only the African-American students saw math improvement at the end of year one of Summit Learning. In Conner, only African-Americans and Hispanics saw improvement. However, while the Hispanic improvement was quite substantially improved in Conner, that performance stands in very sharp contrast to the Hispanic performance in Camp Ernst, where Hispanic math proficiency dropped even more substantially.

When we examine the statewide average middle school trends, all student groups either saw their math proficiency remain essentially stable (the African-American drop was very small) or increase across the entire state of Kentucky between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Several student groups in particular had problems in Summit’s year one. Students with learning disabilities and those eligible for the federal school lunch program both saw drops in proficiency in both Boone County schools.

Even worse, the students with learning disabilities in both schools performed notably below the math proficiency rate for their counterparts across Kentucky. That is particularly problematic because Boone County is an upscale system by Kentucky’s standards.

The below statewide average math performance for students in the school lunch program in Camp Ernst and the not-much-better-than-statewide average in Conner are also problematic.

White students also saw math proficiency decay in both schools. Of special concern is that drop in white scores in 2016-17 in Camp Ernst that brought that proficiency rate below the statewide average for white students.

So, at the end of year one of Summit Learning in these two Boone County schools, you could say the program might help African-Americans a bit in math, but lots of other student groups paying a penalty for that.

Still, this is only year one of the program, which Boone County educators have admitted suffered some implementation headaches. So, while Summit Learning certainly isn’t an instantaneous silver bullet, it’s too soon to declare failure, as well.

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WaPo: U.S. schoolchildren tumble in international reading exam rankings, worrying educators

There was lots of hand-wringing going on in Washington on Tuesday following the release of new scores from the 2016 administration of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

Some takeaways from the Washington Post’s coverage include:


  • “The United States tumbled in international rankings released Tuesday of reading skills among fourth-graders, raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.”
  • “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system.”
  • “The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins.”

The Post quotes Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner for the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, as saying:

“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment. This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”

Another educator quoted by the Post is Martin West, an education professor at Harvard University. He said, “the results are disappointing, particularly because they may show that efforts to improve educational outcomes for the most challenged students are not paying off.”

That isn’t a surprise to those who know that research going all the way back to the Lyndon Johnson era shows that Progressive Education fad ideas are least effective with less advantaged students. The adoption of Common Core was accompanied by many schools adopting Progressive Education programs, unfortunately, and PIRLS seems to indicate that Johnson era research on education still rings true today.

By the way, one country that moved ahead of the United States was Latvia, which the Post says is “one of the poorest countries in the European Union.”

There are always concerns with international testing that other countries don’t test all their students, and so forth. Still, it doesn’t seem very likely that other countries would change their policies a lot from administration to administration of PIRLS, so the United States’ decline does provide cause to worry.

Thus, while we are still waiting for the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results for the nation and the states to give us more insight, the new 2016 PIRLS data already provides more indications that Common Core might not be getting the job done for our kids.

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.

AP test taking rises in Kentucky

But, minority opportunity remains an issue

AdvanceKentucky remains important motivator for improvement in AP statistics

New performance results for Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been released by the Kentucky Department of Education, and there is some good news tempered by some continuing questions about equity and access in these numbers.

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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.

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