I’ve been writing about how lines are already forming in the fight to end Kentucky’s use of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts. Poorly-aimed shots already 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. As often happens in advocacy writing, 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 those Op-Eds. I already discussed some of the problems here and here.
Another claim in the Op-Ed warrants comment. That claim: “ACT scores have improved by almost 1 whole point.”
The author provides no further explanation for this assertion, so I don’t know what time frame is being considered or whether we are talking about results for Kentucky’s high school graduates or the separate results from Kentucky’s testing of all 11th grade public school students with the ACT, which started back in the 2007-08 school term.
In any event, there are complex issues involved if we try to judge Common Core’s performance in Kentucky to date using the available ACT results. I’m not sure that even as of 2015-16 it is fair to say Common Core can claim to have made notable impacts because high school students in that year still had spent the majority of their school years in pre-Common Core classrooms. It might be that the available ACT data is really more reflective of what was happening before Common Core came along.
This is a somewhat involved subject, but if you want to learn more, click the “Read more” link. Otherwise, just keep in mind that the jury is still out on how well available ACT results really reflect impacts from Common Core versus other education reforms. Those pre-Common Core reforms include the introduction of 100 percent testing of all Kentucky 11th grade students with the ACT, a program that started way back in 2007-08 school year, focusing Kentucky’s schools on college readiness long before Common Core ever came on the books.
Analyzing Common Core performance with the ACT is problematic.
If we are talking about the high school graduates’ scores, there is a notable technical problem because ACT changed the way it reported scores for Kentucky’s public high school graduates after Common Core began. Prior to 2013, ACT only reported an average set of scores for students who took the assessment under standard time limits. Beginning in 2013, ACT started primary reporting of Kentucky’s public high school graduates’ scores to include students who got extra time to test but met ACT’s requirements to allow passing the resulting scores along to colleges and universities.
For several years, both standard time only and standard plus extended time scores were available for Kentucky’s public high school graduates. However, in 2016 only standard plus extended time scores were released by the Kentucky Department of Education. This makes it inappropriate to include the latest 2016 scores in an analysis of Kentucky’s public high school graduates’ ACT performance over time period that Common Core came on line.
There are some additional problems. Even if we use consistently reported scores from Kentucky’s statewide Grade 11 ACT testing program, which always have included students with learning disabilities in the averaging process, it isn’t easy to decide exactly when Common Core could be expected to start having an impact on this college readiness test.
Although Kentucky adopted the Common Core in February, 2010, the actual standards were not publicly released until June of 2010. However, it took Kentucky two more years, not until the 2011-12 school term, to bring its Common Core aligned tests on line. In the meantime, thanks to No Child Left Behind laws, Kentucky continued testing with its old, pre-Common Core tests.
So, the earliest time that Common Core would be likely to significantly impact Kentucky’s classrooms is probably during the 2011-12 school term.
However, the picture regarding a reasonable starting date for Common Core impacts on the ACT is murkier.
The high school level Common Core era tests in Kentucky to date are End-of-Course tests (EOC) from the ACT, Inc.’s Quality Core testing program. This program actually came along before Common Core started, though ACT says Quality Core is reasonably aligned to Common Core. The point is that the tests actually used so far in Kentucky’s Common Core era are actually pre-Common Core, which might have notable impact on what is actually still being taught in Kentucky’s high schools.
The specific EOC tests Kentucky uses in its high schools are English II (aimed at the sophomore year, and also used for a reading score for federal reporting), Biology (probably about a 10th grade test for students who want to take a full load of science courses in high school), Algebra II (again, probably about a 10th grade course for students who want a solid college preparation, though it is reported that most Kentucky students recently are taking this in the 11th grade), and US History. Aside from the ACT testing in the 11th grade, these EOC tests are the only tests used to check on high school performance under Common Core, and the focus of these tests seems aimed at lower high school grades.
In essence, thanks to the fact that the Common Core cuts off at the end of about the 10th grade for any student who wants to go on to a reasonably demanding college career, the presence of Common Core in Kentucky might not really be having much impact on the last two years of high school for many Kentucky students. Common Core simply does not cover material that advanced.
The bottom line is that Common Core, especially in the English language arts area, might not have had much real impact on Kentucky’s junior classes even as late as the 2011-12 school term. To be honest, even the juniors in 2015-16 spent the majority of their school years in pre-Common Core classrooms.
So, how do we get at least a rough idea about ACT performance before and after Common Core came along? I decided one way to look at this would be to examine the available Grade 11 ACT test results, which you can find in the table below.
After looking at the data, I decided one way to compare pre- to post-Common Core performance would be to use the 2011-12 (2012 in the table) year as a break point and compare the most recent four-year trends to the definitely pre-Common Core trend from 2008 through 2011. I have done the math for you at the bottom of the table.
As you can see, in several cases Kentucky experienced faster growth in ACT scores in the first four, pre-Common Core years of its 11th Grade ACT testing program compared to the most recent four years.
To be sure, growth slowly continues, but the pace is not as fast in either English or math and only remains constant for reading and science (The Op-Eds briefly talk about Kentucky’s also controversial, Next Generation Science Standards based requirements, so it is reasonable to include a science discussion even though Common Core does not include this subject).
Progress in math, in particular, looks troubling, as the pace has really slowed for this key subject. In addition, the math score was lower in 2016 than in 2014, certainly not a desirable trend.
English scores are flat from 2015 to 2016, as well.
Summing up, I’ve shown you one possible way to consider what is happening with Kentucky’s ACT performance in the Common Core era. At best, Common Core doesn’t seem to have increased the rate of improvement on the ACT.
I must reiterate, however, that it’s probably too soon to tell if Common Core is even responsible for these trends. We need a couple of more years of data to see if the flattening/decay I mentioned for English and math is just a momentary dip or a real and disturbing trend.
However, using Kentucky’s ACT data to declare a Common Core victory is definitely premature.
ACT scores in the table prior to the 2012 year come from a Kentucky Department of Education Excel spreadsheet available here.
ACT scores in the table for 2012 and later come from each year’s ACT “Data Sets” Excel spreadsheet from the Kentucky School Report Cards database.