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Bluegrass Beacon: Drama of disruptive protests exacerbates testing woes

Ample evidence provided by the latest test scores assessing Kentucky’s academic performance during the 2018-19 school year suggests too many of our students struggled academically and that the drama and disruption caused by teachers’ illegal strikes and school shutdowns exacerbated the problems.

The percentage of students in both Kentucky’s middle and high schools who demonstrated proficiency in the key academic areas of math, reading and writing dropped when compared to the previous school year.

Even more vexing is the fact that according to the latest KPREP numbers, more than half of elementary, middle and high-school students failed to demonstrate proficiency in grade-level mathematics.

Barely 35% of high school students statewide tested proficient in math, down from nearly 38% the previous year.

A major decline occurred in writing, where middle-schoolers scored more than 12% lower on this year’s scores.

Did the tumultuous environment caused by more than 1,000 teachers illegally abandoning their classrooms and causing schools to close while they protested in Frankfort affect students?

At the very least, none of the recent test results suggest the demonstrations aided middle-and-high-schoolers during a crucial period in their educational development.

In Jefferson County, where schools were closed for six days during the two-week period beginning Feb. 28, the district’s overall test scores tumbled and even more schools dropped into the lowest-performing category known as “comprehensive support and improvement” – or CSI – schools.

According to the Courier Journal, which called the district’s performance “equally disheartening” when compared with the rest of the state, “JCPS now accounts for 70% of the state’s lowest performing schools, up significantly from last year.”

How disheartening it must be for those parents who discover their children are among the thousands of students in CSI schools while knowing they have no options.

After all, many of the same individuals who were stirred up by their unions and special-interest groups into shutting down their schools to go yell at legislators in Frankfort about their pensions also protest against providing choices for parents who would prefer their children were in school learning instead of being pawns caught up in political grandstanding.

Had Kentucky already offered charter schools and scholarship tax credits, it’s likely many of those children whose classrooms were darkened in March would have been in school – learning, graduating and preparing for their futures.

Instead, the commonwealth’s own data indicate little more than 60% of students who actually make it to graduation are truly equipped to successfully transition to college or career.

This means nearly half of our ninth-graders are leaving high school either underprepared and receiving largely meaningless diplomas or completely unprepared and dropping out altogether.

Adding context to this picture is the fact that more than half of Kentucky 11th-graders failed to meet the ACT Benchmark Scores set by the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education and will have to take costly and inefficient college-remedial courses in English, reading and math.

In fact, the percentage of high school juniors failing to reach the benchmark increased in all three academic areas during 2018-19 compared to the previous school year.

The drama and disruption caused by the illegally striking teachers – which even forced JCPS to close schools on the day its 11th-graders were originally scheduled to take the ACT – must be considered.

These students were primed and pumped to take this test only to be forced to wait another month because of the antics occurring in Frankfort.

If you think that wouldn’t affect teenage test-takers, then you’re as naïve as those striking teachers misled into believing they have to do whatever their union bosses demand of them – even if it means damaging students’ futures.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

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