I got another reminder in a message today that many in Kentucky, including a large number of individuals working with the state’s education system in some way or other, simply have no real clue about how little progress the state has made in education since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was enacted nearly 30 years ago.
So, it’s time to review, again.
Kentucky’s K to 12 education system has not really made much progress over the past three decades, and for some student subgroups like our leading racial minority, our black students, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicates virtually no statistically significant progress has been made what so ever.
But, exactly how much progress has Kentucky made? The only consistent tests we can look at to answer this question come from the NAEP. After all, since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was passed, the state’s own testing program has seen at least three major changes going from the original 1992 Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS), which was ended for cause after 1998, to the also now defunct Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) Kentucky Core Content Tests, which were dumped for cause in 2009, to the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress (KPREP) tests, which are also going through major changes at this time and have been showing inflationary trends similar to the earlier tests, as well.
So, for consistent performance over time, the NAEP is the only game in town.
What does the NAEP tell us?
Figure 1 tells the story for overall average student scores in Kentucky from the earliest to latest NAEP results.
In no case have the Kentucky overall proficiency rates on NAEP even approached 50% in any grade or subject. The closest we get is in Grade 4 NAEP math, where even as of 2019 only 40% of our students score proficient or above.
But, we lose ground in math by Grade 8, where the latest proficiency rate is only 29% — meaning far fewer than one in three students passes muster.
In reading, the story over time is even more disheartening. Between 1992 and 2019 our fourth grade students only improved from 23% proficient to 35% proficient in that 27-year period.
In Grade 8 reading, which NAEP first reported for states in 1998, there has been virtually no change in performance in the intervening 21-year period in Kentucky.
In fact, after allowing for the statistical sampling error found in all NAEP scores, there is no statistically significant difference in the 1998 and 2019 NAEP Grade 8 Reading results for Kentucky. Basically, the Bluegrass State has not improved reading performance in this middle school grade in over two decades!
Using the existing proficiency rates from the bar graphs in Figure 1 to determine a score improvement rate per year, I have projected how many more years it will take for Kentucky’s students to show an 80% proficiency rate on the NAEP. Those projections are shown in the inset table in Figure 1, and the news here isn’t good, either, especially so for reading.
With so little accomplished and so very far yet to go, I really cringe when I hear people talk about “all the progress” Kentucky education has supposedly made. I just don’t see it.
By the way, I chose an 80% proficiency rate target because Kentucky currently runs somewhere around a 15% population in its schools that have learning disabilities. Outside of this group, I think all children should be able to read proficiently.
Well, Figure 1 shows the story for the overall scores, and it clearly is a disappointing tale. But, when we look at what is going on for Kentucky’s largest student racial minority group, you have to cringe. To see that, click the “Read more” link.
The story told in Figure 2 for Kentucky’s black students is just terrible. There is no other way to describe it. And, it clearly gets worse as Kentucky’s black students move from elementary to middle school.
Only about one in seven of Kentucky’s black students score proficient or above on NAEP Grade 8 Reading and about one in nine score proficiently in math as of 2019. That is following 29 years of expensive education reform efforts in Kentucky that initially gave us promises that “All kids can learn.”
And, we’re not talking decades; we are talking multiple centuries before Kentucky’s black students are likely to reach 80% proficiency rates in Grade 8 NAEP Reading and Math if the demonstrated trends so far continue.
So, please don’t tell me about *all* the progress Kentucky has made in education. We’ve made a little, in some cases. But, especially for our minority kids, the promises of 1990 are still that, just unfilled promises.
By the way, below is a summary of other blogs available to you on the 2019 NAEP results. I suggest you check at least some of these and print out some of the tables and graphs to show your legislators and local educators the next time some of them start talking about all the progress they think Kentucky has made. You really should share these as well with those groups who unwittingly make the same claims of progress but mostly are just defending a status quo, groups that range from a rather monolithic and dubiously reconstituted state school board to fans of the clearly not-very-effective School Based Decision Making (SBDM) model of school governance. But, don’t waste too much time. Even Mississippians are already looking at Kentucky education in their rearview mirror, and if we delay, that picture of Kentucky in Mississippi’s rearview mirror will be getting smaller all the time.
2019 NAEP Blogs