Which Schools Are Really Struggling? How Badly?

The Herald-Leader posted “Kentucky middle schools struggle to keep pace” today with a disappointing analysis of the recent CATS testing.

The title of the piece – assuming CATS scores were credible – is off target. Actually, the CATS shows the state’s high schools are doing notably worse than the middle schools. But, you have to read down 13 paragraphs before you learn that from this article.

The Herald-Leader claims the statewide CATS elementary school math score was 97. Actually, according to the statewide Kentucky Performance Report (available by clicking on the KPR Report link on this page), it was 96.9, rounded to the same level as the reported middle school score in the newspaper of 84.5. But, the true middle school score statewide was really 85.0, which is a larger rounding error.

Still, the really big problem concerns high schools. The high school math score was only 67.7 in that same Kentucky Performance Report (somehow the Herald-Leader reports it as 67.4), which certainly blows a hole in the Herald-Leader’s headline’s implication that middle schools have the major problems. If you trust CATS, middle school performance is far closer to the elementary school performance than the high schools are to the middle schools.

Of course, the credibility of all the CATS “stuff” starts to fall apart if you look at other recent test results from the federally operated National Assessment of Educational Progress. In the national assessment, Kentucky’s middle school performance isn’t much different from the elementary schools, and both do a whole lot worse than CATS shows.

For example, in 2007 Kentucky’s NAEP proficiency rates for math were 31 percent for our fourth graders, which was 8 points below the national average. The NAEP showed math proficiency of 27 percent for our eighth graders, however, which was 4 points behind the national average. The proficiency spread from grade four to grade eight was only 4 points.

Now, consider what the CATS showed. The CATS in 2007 reported math proficiency rates of 60 percent for fourth graders and 49 percent for our eighth graders, clearly a claim of much better performance for both school levels than NAEP showed with and a much larger proficiency rate spread of 11 points between elementary and middle schools.

Anyway, I wonder who at the Herald-Leader has an axe to grind against the middle schools?

And, why does the Herald-Leader trust CATS to tell us about our school problems?