Former Kentucky National Guard Commander: ‘Lack of educational success national security issue’

ASVAB Ineligibility Rates for Whites from EdTrust
Former Kentucky National Guard Commander Major General Allen Youngman (Retired) just posted a disturbing letter in the Bowling Green Daily News, claiming the serious under-education of our nation’s students poses a real problem for the nation’s continued security.

Youngman cites some disturbing statistics to back up his concerns, claiming:

“An astounding 73 percent of young Kentuckians are ineligible for military service.”

That does not just include those who cannot qualify for the more demanding technical jobs in today’s military. This includes those ineligible for what Youngman says are “even the most basic military jobs.”

The general points out that right off the top, 12 percent of Kentucky’s students don’t graduate from our public high schools, which essentially eliminates their chance for success. So, out of every entering 100 ninth grade students, 12 don’t even begin to qualify for our military.

Among the remainder of those entering ninth grade students who do get a Kentucky high school diploma, he says 23 percent cannot get sufficiently high scores on the qualification tests to even be considered more closely for admission. That’s another 20 students knocked out right away for academically related reasons.

So, right away, 32 percent of Kentucky’s students are knocked out of the running for military enlistment directly due to education-related deficiencies.

The general doesn’t detail why the rest of the 73 percent of Kentucky’s young adults can’t qualify for military service, but similar total numbers have been discussed elsewhere. Aside from the academically disqualifying problems, obesity, drug issues (including medication for ADHD) and physical disfigurement apparently play a role. While many factors play into these other problems, it would appear that schools were not successful in educating students about the dangers of some of these militarily disqualifying activities.

By the way, in 2010 the Education Trust did an analysis of the percentage of students ineligible for the military based on Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) scores. The table on the right, extracted from information in Appendix A of the EdTrust report, shows how Kentucky’s white military applicants (who made up 84% of all Kentucky applicants) stacked up against their counterparts in other states for military readiness. As you can see, our white kids didn’t fare well, which is particularly disappointing because Kentucky traditionally has sent many excellent citizens into the armed forces.

Clearly, Kentucky has a problem.

Will Kentucky’s education system be standards driven or test driven?

When the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) came to the Bluegrass State, Kentuckians were told their state’s education system would be built around those standards.

Well, perhaps not.

There was a presentation about the pending revision to the state’s science assessments during today’s meeting the Kentucky School Curriculum and Assessment Committee (SCAAC). The presenter was asked if all science areas would be covered in the assessments for elementary, middle and high schools. The answer, to my considerable surprise, was “Yes.”

Not certain I heard this correctly, I questioned the presenter during a break and confirmed that all science areas would be fair game in the new science assessments at all school levels. That included chemistry and physics for high schools.

The reason this surprised me, and the reason this is a problem, is because the generally vague NGSS essentially cut off completely after high school biology. Topics from high school chemistry and physics are basically absent even though some at the Kentucky Department of Education don’t seem to understand that.

Furthermore, a well-established legal principal known as “Notice or “Fair Notice” says you can’t give tests that have consequences if you don’t provide advance notice of what is fair game on the tests. The way you provide notice is with the state’s education standards. NGSS can’t give adequate notice for things it doesn’t include.

So, is Kentucky sailing into really troubled waters with its new science assessments? Unless some changes are made, I think so.

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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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Senate Bill 1: Reservations and recommendations

The media is exploding with coverage of the passage of Senate Bill 1 out of the Kentucky Senate. But the coverage, including some of the headlines, leaves important questions unanswered.

For example, the Herald-Leader reports: “Kentucky Senate approves repeal of Common Core standards in schools.” That might not be true.

SB 1 does vaguely state, “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.” But there’s no clear and outright mandate for such a repeal.

The bill does require a new process to review all standards and make recommendations for changes as deemed necessary. However, there’s nothing in the bill that directly repeals Common Core.

There also is no guarantee that the standards-review teams established by the bill will recommend any substantial changes to the existing cut-and-paste adoptions of Common Core in Kentucky’s current public school standards. The review process might lead to materially changed standards, or it might not.

Explicit, outright repeal and replacement with other existing, high quality standards – such as being contemplated in West Virginia – is not a feature of SB-1.

Whatever is being said about SB 1, it’s clear from this segment of Scott Sloan’s talk show about Common Core-based math instruction on Cincinnati’s 700 WLW-AM, which aired Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, that the war over Common Core continues.

There are other features of SB 1 that warrant attention:


  • It mandates a multi-team, multi-tier standards-review process heavily populated by experienced Kentucky public school teachers with appropriate subject matter expertise. This is a good stipulation, one notoriously absent in Common Core, which was totally developed by non-Kentuckians in work groups populated with very few teachers.
  • On the other hand, the required presence of Kentucky postsecondary educators on the review teams seems rather thin, especially so for those with specific subject matter expertise. This review process in SB 1 departs from the general outlines for standards panels that were established by an older Senate Bill 1 from the 2009 Regular Legislative Session.

That older bill required extensive, high-level coordination between the Kentucky Department of Education and the Council on Postsecondary Education to formulate the state’s new standards. Fortunately, the rather thin presence of postsecondary expertise in this year’s SB 1 is easy to fix. Hopefully, the Kentucky House will add more postsecondary subject-matter expertise to the standards-review teams.

  • The House should enhance review-team participation by business and industry experts and possibly other groups, as well. At present, this is only vaguely defined in the bill.
  • The House also should clarify that as legislatively established committees, the standards teams must comply with the state’s open-meetings and open-records laws. The Common Core process was completely opaque and that could have hidden problems that might have been handled better in an open forum.

Concerning the host of other changes contained in SB 1, including significant revisions to the commonwealth’s assessment and accountability program, it will take more time to determine how well this bill addresses key policy provisions.

However, one thing is certain: while some are cheering the current SB 1 as perhaps the greatest piece of education legislation since the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, history shows us it’s premature to make such judgements.

Similar joyous claims were made following the passage of the SB 1 from 2009, but history tells us that act suffered in actual implementation in many ways:


  • The standards-review teams never operated as the law intended. In fact, the law never sanctioned the entire process of adoption of out-of-state standards created in ways not subject to Kentucky’s open-meetings and open-records statutes. This is undoubtedly why the new SB 1 requires a review of the processes actually used to create the new standards by a legislatively appointed team. Clearly, legislators have no intention of being blindsided by another non-transparent Common-Core-like series of events.
  • The standards as well as the assessment and accountability process implemented following SB 1 in 2009 proved disappointing. Thus, the entire process is now undergoing changes, which will be directed in part by the SB 1 passed by the Kentucky Senate on Friday.

While we’re hopeful extra eyes in the Kentucky House will make this bill stronger, it’s way too early to pat ourselves on the back. After all, Kentucky is currently witnessing the demise of its third assessment and accountability program to come down the pike since KERA’s passage in 1990.

Based on the commonwealth’s education history to date, we clearly need to stay eyes open and alert as Kentucky prepares to launch its fourth attempt to get education right.

The time for cheering is several years down the road, at least.

Do Kentucky’s KPREP school assessments do what they are supposed to do?

If so, why is the evidence not available after five years of KPREP testing?

The Bluegrass Institute has discovered a rather extraordinary January 6, 2017 letter from the US Department of Education to Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt.

This letter says evidence provided by the Kentucky Department of Education only shows that the state’s public school assessments just partially meet requirements of federal education legislation.

The letter lists the following general comments:

  • Reading/ language arts (R/LA) and mathematics general assessments in grades 3-8 (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP)): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics general assessments in high school (ACT QualityCore EOC for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements
  • R/LA and mathematics alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in grades 3-8 and high school (Alternate K-PREP for R/LA and math): Partially meets requirements

The letter continues:

“The partially meets requirements designation for a component means that it does not meet a number of the requirements of the statute and regulations, and Kentucky will need to provide substantial additional information to demonstrate it meets the requirements. The Department expects that Kentucky may not be able to submit all of the required information within one year (underlined emphasis added).”

Keeping in mind that the Kentucky KPREP and End-of-Course tests have been in place since the 2011-12 school term, the letter’s expanded details about the missing evidence are very disturbing.

For example, Under Critical Element 1.2, the US Department of Education says Kentucky needs to provide:

“A description of State stakeholders involved in the development and/or adoption process for the R/LA, mathematics, and science content standards that includes detail on subject-matter expertise, individuals representing English learners (ELs) and students with disabilities.”

This might be really hard to do. Kentucky basically just adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics (CCSS) at a high level. State stakeholders really had no say in the final decisions about what went into the CCSS. The adoption was made by the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Subject matter experts were not involved in this widely televised, media event joint meeting of these three boards.

In fact, the adoption of Common Core took place about 3-1/2 months before the final version of the Common Core was even published. It is hard for experts to have looked at something that didn’t even exist at the time of adoption. In fact, the public comment draft of the Common Core didn’t even come out until March 2010, weeks after the three Kentucky boards had already adopted the Common Core, sight unseen.

Under Critical Element 1.5, Kentucky still needs to provide:

“Evidence that the State has procedures in place for ensuring that each student is tested and counted in the calculation of participation rates on each required assessment.”

How’s that? Kentucky can’t provide evidence it really is testing all students with KPREP? Not even after the test has been in used for five testing cycles? That is a real problem.

And, the letter doesn’t stop there. To learn still more, click on the “Read more” link.

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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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Author says: ‘I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems’

Here’s a Huffington Post article worth your read.

Poet Sara Holbrook discovered some of her poems were being used as seventh grade test items in Texas STAAR test. To her dismay, she couldn’t figure out what the answers to the questions really were! And, Ms. Holbrook wrote the poems!

By the way, Kentucky, don’t act smug just because this issue surfaced in Texas. Holbrook says the Texas tests are created by Pearson, the same company that creates the Grade 3 through Grade 8 KPREP tests for the Bluegrass State. For all we know, the same test questions might even be on the KPREP.

Will the nation’s “gold standard” test turn to dross?

As the Huffington Post just reported, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which often is billed as the “gold standard” for education testing, is making a major transition from its former paper-and-pencil testing format to a new, digital administration. However, the NAEP’s transition to digital testing has many thoughtful observers holding their breath. Click the “Read more” link to see why.

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Misleading us again

The Prichard Committee is at it again with a new edition of their Top 20 by 2020 report series.

Once more Prichard is improperly ranking National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) white students in Kentucky against lower performing racial minorities in other states, trying to make the Bluegrass State’s educational performance look better than it really is.

Prichard probably won’t ever stop their apples to oranges NAEP rankings, but it does give me a chance to point to better pictures of what is really happening.

In fact, I posted a pretty good blog about this nonsense only about a week and a half ago, so I am not going to waste a lot of time on the new, really same-old, same-old, nonsense that came out today.

But, one area I haven’t really discussed is the eighth grade science picture. I just fired up the NAEP Data Explorer to see how Kentucky’s whites stacked up against their white counterparts in other states in 2015 NAEP science testing.

The answer doesn’t look so good.

g8-science-for-whites-ranked

There we are, way down in the 41st listing in the table. Only two states with scores reported had science performance for their white students that was statistically significantly worse. Even Mississippi’s whites tied with us once you consider the statistical sampling errors in the NAEP scores. Those pesky folks from Tennessee outclassed us, too.

By the way, even Prichard had to admit Kentucky’s eighth grade NAEP math performance looks “disturbing.” But, after you look at the table above and my blog from a week-and-a-half ago, you will know that’s only part of the “disturbing” picture.

‘Nuff said.

How’s that? Major Common Core supporter faults Kentucky’s honesty in reporting student proficiency

I didn’t make this up. The Collaborative for Student Success recently posted “The Results Are In: High Standards Are Leading to Better Outcomes.”

It includes a national map showing states that supposedly are doing a more honest job of reporting student proficiency rates and annual testing.

Here’s the map.

honesty-gap-map

Kentucky’s light gray shading doesn’t look like a good thing when it comes to reporting honesty.

So, maybe we need to take those claims about education progress in Kentucky with a grain of salt. Per the Collaborative for Student Success, that might be more due to inflated test results rather than real improvement.