Is there a backlash growing over Kentucky’s proposed school accountability system?

Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s current public-school assessment and accountability system, is on the way out, and Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and the Kentucky Department of Education have been working on an as-yet unnamed replacement accountability system for some time. Pruitt and his team have held two sets of public hearings seeking Kentuckians’ input into the new program and he formed several advisory committees to further develop ideas for the new system.

Now, a proposed system is starting to take form. The Kentucky Board of Education took its first formal look at the proposal in June, and a follow-up discussion is expected during the board’s August meeting.

Surprisingly, amid this movement toward finalizing Kentucky’s new accountability program – which, by law, must be submitted to Washington, DC for approval by mid-September – a curious letter appeared last week, co-signed by leaders of several organizations including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, who were members of one of Pruitt’s key advisory committees.

It almost seems like the letter is, to use technical lingo, a minority dissenting report.

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Commissioner Pruitt: What happens now that Unbridled Learning is ending?

During yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt made it very clear that Unbridled Learning, Kentucky’s Common Core era assessment and accountability program, has been ended by Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

So, what comes next? The new assessment and accountability program won’t be online until the 2018-19 school term.

Pruitt indicated that for the coming school term, school test scores will still be reported, but schools won’t get accountability “labels” like Distinguished or Proficient. There won’t be any additions to the Priority Schools roster, either.

Hear exactly what the commissioner said in this recording.

Of particular note, the demise of Unbridled Learning marks the third time since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was passed that attempts to create a vibrant and credible school assessment and accountability program has foundered in Kentucky.

The big question: Will the attempt under way now to come up with a fourth program work much better?

Don’t forget, while Kentucky’s educators have continually been unable to create a lasting system, thousands of our students have continued to be left behind. We don’t need more experiments – we need a real, working program.

Education reform: Beware of experts

As Kentucky gets ready to launch yet another assessment and accountability system worked around yet another major education law from Washington, the Every Student Succeeds Act, we are hearing hearing once more about how “Research Shows” this or that education idea works.

But, we can’t help thinking – again – that there is a TON of research on education out there; however, a great deal of it doesn’t pass even minimal requirements for rigor.

Certainly, as we have discussed before, the generally dubious nature of education research is a message found in Arthur Levine’s very interesting reports about Educating School Teachers and, most especially, Educating Researchers. As a past president of Columbia Teachers College in New York, Levine has enjoyed a better vantage point than most to make such observations.

And, Levine isn’t alone with his concerns, either.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess just provided his timely cautions about education experts in this short, 1-minute video. It’s worth a viewing.

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

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

Figure 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What happens when your school accountability program misses important problems

This week the Kentucky Board of Education considers ending state assistance to the Robertson County Public School District. The situation provides a good example of how important decisions about education can be seriously hampered when a state school accountability system hides problems.

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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.

Will Congress throw a major monkey wrench at pending Kentucky laws and school accountability programs?

As the Kentucky Board of Education prepares to hear proposals for a major revision to the state’s assessment and accountability program this Tuesday, and as the Kentucky legislature mulls Senate Bill 1, which is in part a reaction to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Education Week reports that the major enabling regulation for ESSA is in trouble in Congress.

Education Week says:

“If these regulations are overturned, President Donald Trump’s administration would be prohibited from issuing ‘substantially similar’ regulations on these two issues if there isn’t a new law signed.”

Apparently, not only the regulation supporting ESSA but also another federal regulation regarding teacher preparation are under review in Washington.

If these regulations are overturned, EdWeek says:

“Without any regulations at all, states will be in limbo and uncertain how exactly to craft state plans that pass muster with a Trump Education Department.”

Kentucky’s own Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., the chairman of the House education subcommittee on higher education and the workforce, is spearheading the attack on the teacher preparation rules, which were actually created by the Obama administration before the former president left office.

Guthrie is quoted as saying:

“[T]he rules finalized by the Department of Education ignore the principles guiding recent bipartisan education reforms and would actually make it more difficult for state and local leaders to help ensure teachers are ready to succeed.”

Incredibly, the liberally oriented National Governors Association has come out in support of Guthrie’s actions, complaining of excessive federal interference with the states’ rights to govern education programs.

So, standby on pending education action in Kentucky. Very shortly, we might be back at square one, yet again.

Maybe the best course of action would be for Kentucky’s legislators and the board of education to just do what they think is in the best interests of Kentucky’s children and largely ignore the problematic material in the federal law and regulations. Since it sounds like Congress intends to turn more authority back to the states, anyway, that do-what-is-best-for-students approach could save us time and trouble later.

And, if the feds do interfere, it might be time to drag them into federal court and ask what part of the US Constitution allows Washington to interfere with state education rights in the first place. It might just be that even the National Governors Association would join that lawsuit.

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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More on the quality control problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas – Part 3

If it did nothing else, a recently released, rather disappointing report about For All Kids, How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students did focus attention on how Kentucky’s low-income students are faring. So, for Part 3 of our blogs about the problems with Kentucky’s high school diplomas in 2016, let’s take a look at an Algebra II versus graduation rate analysis for Kentucky’s low-income kids.

As we have seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series, Kentucky’s high school diploma has some really serious credibility issues.

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Kentucky’s high school diploma quality control problems continue in 2016 – Part 1

I’ve been writing about obvious quality control problems with the award of high school diplomas in Kentucky for several years. Now, I am updating that work with results from the 2016 Unbridled Learning reports, and the situation remains very serious.

Quite simply, there continues to be extensive evidence that Kentucky schools are handing out a lot of diplomas to students who cannot meet any of the official College and/or Career Ready (CCR) criteria and who probably don’t meet the state’s regulatory requirement that graduates are to be competent in math through Algebra II.

Even worse, the quality control in diploma awards varies widely by school district in Kentucky. For example, in the worst example from the new, 2016 CCR-based analysis, one school district officially reported an “on time” high school graduation rate of 91.7 percent although little more than one in four of that district’s 2016 graduates could pass muster under at least one of the official CCR criteria. The rest apparently got a somewhat hollow diploma that didn’t meet the state’s promise that our graduates will be ready for college and/or a career.

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