Ky. Results Mixed on Common-Core-Aligned Tests

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 08, 2013 3 min read
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Results in Kentucky from a second year of assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards reveal improvement for many groups of students, but some scores remained flat or dipped on the English/language arts and mathematics exams intended to assess college and career readiness.

Middle and high school students showed progress on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress (K-PREP) reading tests for the 2012-13 school year. But high school performance in math dropped, and various achievement gaps among racial groups also persisted in the scores released by the state last month.

The changing nature of tests as they are aligned to the common core can be highly controversial. There was concern and criticism in New York this past summer, for example, when such new tests administered in the 2012-13 school year produced markedly lower scores.

Critics say the new test results will harm schools, teachers, and students. But the revamped tests’ defenders argue that the new test results are more accurate depictions of students’ knowledge and capabilities.

The concern “is they did not go up fast enough,” Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday said during a Sept. 26 press conference when he discussed the results.

Proficiency Ups and Downs

The new common-core-aligned tests were first given in the 2011-12 school year, replacing the previous Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS), and scores on those first K-PREP tests plunged dramatically that year. For example, reading proficiency among elementary school students dropped by 28 percentage points from 2010-11 levels, down to 48 percent of students scoring at proficient levels.

Such drops weren’t repeated on the 2012-13 school year tests. At several levels, there were improvements.

Reading proficiency rose for both middle school students (from 46.8 percent to 51.1 percent) and high school students (from 52.2 percent to 55.8 percent), while math proficiency for elementary school students also rose by 3.5 percentage points, up to 43.9 percent.

Students receiving free and reduced-price meals in both middle and high schools showed improvement,while black students in elementary school math and middle school reading improved by nearly 3 and 4 percentage points, respectively.

But high school math scores dipped by 4 percentage points, to 36 percent proficient, while reading scores for all elementary school students remained flat.

In addition, key achievement gaps showed no signs of shrinking. The performance gap between black elementary school students and their white counterparts in math crept up, from 20.7 percentage points to 21.4 percentage points, for example, and the black-white gaps in math for both middle and high schools also grew by small amounts.

Most subgroups of students missed their performance targets on the tests, including low-income students, black students, and English-language learners. (These are aspirational goals set by the state, but not used for accountability purposes.) Asian middle school students were the only group to hit their aspirational target on the reading test.

Mr. Holliday said that the decrease in the high school math scores in particular could be attributed to the increase in the number of test-takers from about 40,600 in the 2011-12 school year to about 44,100 in 2012-13; he argued such an increase typically leads to lower test results.

Meanwhile, scores on the ACT in math for high school students increased from 2011-12 to 2012-13, he noted, showing that a greater proportion of students were demonstrating college- and career-readiness in that area. (The math score for the state’s public school juniors went from 18.8 to 18.9 over the past year, but since 2007-08, the department said, the score has gone up by 0.8 points.)

The score gains are consistent with expectations as schools implement the common core, said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which oversaw the development of the standards along with the National Governors Association.

“We wouldn’t expect the adjustment to higher standards to take place in one year. So the good news is that the trend is in the right direction,” he said.

Warning Signs Seen

But others saw more ominous signs. While it’s too soon to draw broad conclusions, the results, in particular those that reveal a persistent achievement gap over the first two years of testing with the standards, “don’t offer the kind of encouragement that a lot of people wanted to see,” said Richard Innes, an education policy analyst at the Bluegrass Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Lexington, Ky.

“We’re leaving far too many kids—whites and blacks—with an inadequate education,” he said.

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