Quote of the day

“It is time for Kentucky to end the continued self-congratulations about how much progress we have made educationally since the days of KERA. We must acknowledge that student learning and performance across our state is far from what it needs to be if our children are to have a chance at success in the 21st-century economy, and to compete in future job markets with students from other states.”

Hal Heiner, Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
Lexington Herald-Leader Op-Ed

New schools data shows social promotion to high school diplomas remains a problem

The new Kentucky School Report Card for the 2016-17 school term has been issued, and we’ve already made some initial observations about test scores. Now it’s time to examine one of the rather few supposedly bright areas in the data – the high school graduation rates in Kentucky.

The officially released data on high school graduation rates are based on a federally required calculation called the “Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.” The calculation supposedly tells us the proportion of first time entering ninth grade students who graduate on time after a standard four years in high school. This formula is supposed to be more accurate than any other alternative.

However, the cohort rate formula tells us nothing about whether students receiving diplomas actually got a minimally acceptable education. Worse, there is evidence that the public school systems across the nation and in Kentucky are passing out more educationally thin diplomas than they should. Let’s look at the new evidence for Kentucky.

Table 1 first shows the officially reported College and/or Career Ready Rates (CCR) for Kentucky’s high school graduates over time. This rate shows the proportion of new high school graduates who were able to meet at least one of the readiness requirements formally established in Kentucky for either college readiness or career readiness. The CCR criteria include such things as obtaining sufficiently high scores on college readiness tests such as the ACT or scoring adequately on a career oriented test such as the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery plus completing a minimum number of courses in skilled trades areas.

Table 1

CCR, ACGR and Effective Grad Rates 2013 to 2017 Statewide

Table 1 next shows the officially reported 4-Year Averaged Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR) for Kentucky from 2012-13 through 2016-17.

The table also shows a calculation I developed for the Bluegrass Institute called the “Effective High School Graduation Rate.” The Effective High School Graduation Rate shows the percentage of entering ninth graders who graduate on time after four years in high school with the skills required to meet at least one of Kentucky’s official measures for college and/or career readiness. In other words, this rate only includes kids who get an education that effectively prepares them for what will come next after high school. By the way, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence also adopted the formula for our Effective High School Graduation Rate about a year after we created it, calling this a “Ready Graduates” statistic.

As you can see in the far right hand column of Table 1, the difference between the official high school graduation rate and the effective rate is very large in Kentucky.

For example, in 2016-17 we are told the official high school graduation rate is 89.8 percent. But, the Effective High School Graduation Rate is far lower – only an astonishingly disappointing 58.5 percent. It appears that another 31.3 percent of the entering ninth grade class got a piece of paper, but they could not meet true graduation readiness requirements.

Still worse, the improving discrepancy between the official and effective rates reversed direction in 2017 for the first time even though the official ACGR rate continued to climb. That points to the likelihood that the increase is mostly, or even exclusively, due to schools simply awarding more watered down diplomas to students who don’t meet state standards.

There is yet another way to look at this problem. Kentucky regulation 704 KAR 3:305, Minimum requirements for high school graduation, requires students to be competent in math through Algebra II to graduate.

Now, the Kentucky state testing program includes an Algebra II End-of-Course Exam, which the Kentucky Department of Education says is taken by most students in the 11th grade. Thus, you would expect a fairly close agreement between the Algebra II End-of-Course Exam’s proficiency rate and the graduation rate in the following school year.

Well, guess again.

Table 2 shows the very large discrepancies between Algebra II testing and those getting a high school diploma.

Algebra II P Rate, ACGR 2017 Statewide

As you can see, the discrepancies here are considerably larger than those found in Table 1 for the comparison of CCR to graduation rates. Because not every student takes Algebra II as an 11th grader, I don’t expect a perfect match in Table 2, but the discrepancies between Algebra II proficiency and the graduation rate are simply far too large to excuse away. Here again we see important evidence that supposed requirements for high school graduates are simply being ignored in many Kentucky school districts. That totally undermines the credibility of Kentucky’s high school diploma (something employers tell us they well understand already). This also makes the small improvement in the high school graduation rate uncompelling evidence of real education system improvement.

By the way, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt is aware of this diploma quality control problem and is promising to address it soon.

One more point – do not use the Algebra II numbers shown in Table 2 by themselves to evaluate Kentucky’s trend in this subject. Recall again those numbers are for a year earlier than the listed graduation year. For graduation year 2016-17, the Algebra II End-of-Course proficiency rate was only 38.1 percent, notably lower than the 42.3 percent figure you find at the bottom of Table 2, which is actually the Algebra II proficiency rate for 2015-16. So, this is another area where the 2017 scores release is a disappointment.

Tech. Data

Sources for Data in Table 1:
2012-13 to 2014-15 Data Sources: 2014-15 Kentucky School Report Card, State, DELIVERY_TARGETS, CCR tab and DELIVERY_TARGETS, GRADUATION_RATE tab
2015 to 2017 Data Source: 2016-17 Kentucky School Report Card, State, DELIVERY_TARGETS, CCR tab and DELIVERY_TARGETS, GRADUATION_RATE tab

Sources for Data in Table 2:
2013-14 and 2014-15 (actually for years 2011-12 and 2012-13) from each year’s Excel spreadsheet for ASSESSMENT, K-PREP END-OF-COURSE area from Kentucky School Report Cards.
2014-15 to 2016-17 Algebra II End-of-Course Proficiency Rates (actually for years 2013-14 to 2015-16) from each year’s Kentucky School Report Card ASSESSMENT, STATE_REQUIRED_TESTS, K-PREP_END_OF_COURSE tab
The source of graduation rates is the same as listed for Table 1.

Update October 29 2017 makes minor grammatical corrections

Kentucky’s disappointing new test results – other voices – Northern Kentucky

As I blogged earlier, Kentucky’s new test scores are out. However, the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability system is dead, so this year, as the Kentucky Enquirer’s Hannah Sparling laments:

“There are no state rankings or overall scores – the numbers that used to rank schools from best to worst.

There are no labels marking schools as Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement.”

The Enquirer points out that this makes it tough for parents to figure out how their school is doing.

Still, test scores, graduation rates and some other data are available, and the Enquirer echoes comments we mentioned in our earlier blog that the picture doesn’t look so good.

For example, the Enquirer quotes Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt admitting:

“Math is a mess across the state and across the country, so what are we going to do differently with math going forward?”

So even the commissioner admits that math, a major part of Common Core, is in trouble both here in Kentucky, which has the most experience with these standards, and around the nation, as well. Considering that Kentucky has more experience with Common Core (state Common Core-aligned math and reading testing began in the 2011-12 school year), that should give pause to even the most enthusiastic member of the dwindling Common Core cheerleaders.

The new data cover more than math. The Enquirer also correctly reports that “Kentucky’s college and career readiness score dropped, from 68.5 percent this past year to 65.1 percent this year.” I’ll have more to say about these data shortly, but a decay in readiness is a serious trip up for Common Core, which promised to increase readiness.

Returning to the Enquirer’s main theme about parent confusion due to the lack of accountability scores, the paper quotes Jay Brewer, Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent saying:

“People like to compare schools, and at this point, there really isn’t that information available.”

What are parents supposed to do? The Enquirer says state education folks are hoping that parents will dig into the school report cards for more detailed data. Well, having taught a few parents about how get into the report cards, I don’t think many parents will take the time to learn how.

So, stay tuned here. We have a lot more to cover, and you won’t have to dig through a fairly extensive, but commensurately somewhat complex, online system to get that.

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.

[Read more…]

Accountability puzzle

Over at the Prichard Blog, Susan Perkins Weston discusses some puzzling material that is part of the Kentucky Board of Education’s agenda package for its meeting tomorrow. This material is called the “Kentucky Accountability System, Long Term and Interim Goals for Public Reporting,” and it includes a series of tables like the one below that show projected, year-by-year score goals for different student groups in different school levels and subjects for the period from 2018-19 to 2029-30.

KY Long Term and Interim Goals Table for HS Math

Strangely, there is no explanation offered for these tables, and while they might seem straight-forward at first, as Ms. Weston points out, that simplicity fades away quickly once you examine the tables more closely. Then, as Weston points out, all sorts of issues arise.

Weston covers the problems nicely, but I’ll just add one key additional point. The tables start out with “Baseline” scores for 2018-19. The problem here, of course, is we have not even seen the test results from 2016-17 at this time. Where did the Kentucky Department of Education come up with those baseline scores for tests that are still two years away?

Also, given the strange way some of the numbers work, do these tables make any sense? As Weston points out for the table above, the Kentucky Department of Education says that it will be just fine if our high school math proficiency rate way out in 2029-30 is only 49.7 percent! Really?

There are plenty of other issues concerning the state’s new school accountability system that have yet to be resolved, which we and other groups have mentioned before.

I don’t really think anyone will know how the new system works until we get real data from the 2018-19 school year to examine, and that is, of course, still two years away. Meanwhile, while the state board certainly can vote to continue the progress, I don’t see how they will be able to adopt an enforceable regulation for the accountability system anytime soon.

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]