Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kentucky’s 2010 No Child Left Behind performance: Excuses don’t work

As I wrote earlier today, the first news about Kentucky’s 2009-10 school year performance is mixed, at best.

• The percentage of schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB is down, again.
• Proficiency rates in Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT) in our high schools declined in every subject except writing.
• There were also very large one-year drops in elementary school social studies and middle school science.
• However, those drops are offset by improvement in elementary and middle school levels in the other subjects.

Naturally, the excuses are starting to come.

The Herald-Leader reports that the Kentucky Department of Education says the drop in successful schools is largely due to another notable increase in the NCLB target proficiency rates in math and reading for this year.

That excuse is amplified by a mailing from the Kentucky Department of Education, which points to more discussion of the NCLB issue in this blog from Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.

Well, I’m sorry, but those excuses really don’t work for me.

To find out why, click the “Read more” link below

To be sure, the required proficiency rates to avoid sanctions in math and reading under NCLB did go up for all school levels this year (I’ll show you those later). However, those moderately large increases occurred only because Kentucky tried to game NCLB in the early years. Our educators ‘back-loaded’ the requirements in NCLB by keeping required annual increases very low when NCLB started. Kentucky’s education leaders were hoping that NCLB would go away before the consequences of starting with many years with small targets caught up to them.

Well, the state’s education community lost that gamble. NCLB is still here.

Furthermore, our educators want you to think the supposed NCLB goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is too extreme.

I’d actually agree – if Kentucky played fair on NCLB and if 100 percent was actually the target schools eventually have to meet.

But, that isn’t the case. Kentucky’s education leaders gamed this thing to the max.

Gaming with statistics

Our educators started by playing outrageous games from the start with statistics called ‘confidence intervals.’ They seriously abused those statistics, setting up a system where no school would ever need to post a proficiency rate of 100 percent to avoid sanctions under NCLB.

In fact, the Bluegrass Institute showed years ago that in some cases, schools can pass NCLB muster even though their real proficiency rates are only a fraction of the supposed 100 percent requirement. Really small enrollment schools hardly have to show any proficiency what so ever.

For example, consider Rousseau Elementary School, which is one of the schools we discussed back in the old report linked above. Rousseau’s 2010 NCLB report (accessible from pull down menus here) shows this school met all NCLB targets in 2010.


Currently, Rousseau gets over 20 confidence interval “bonus points” for reading. So, even as shown later in the table below, while the school’s NCLB supposed Annual Measurable Objective target proficiency rate in 2010 is 73.64, in fact the school is considered to have met the requirement with a real proficiency rate of only 66.67. Furthermore, the school would have been counted as meeting the requirement even if its proficiency rate in reading had been below 54 percent.

Gee, after 20 years of KERA, this school only needs to have a little more than half of its kids reading at what our watered down KCCT calls the proficient level to avoid NCLB sanctions. Is that demanding?

Gaming with enrollment changes

Kentucky continues to play another “Get Out of Jail Free Card,” allowing a school to completely avoid sanctions any time student enrollment changes by 20 percent or more.

Thanks to the busing havoc in Jefferson County, for example, between 2008 and 2009 a number of elementary schools that had been in NCLB’s lowest performing category (then called Tier 5, now renamed something else – more on THAT later) suddenly dropped off the NCLB radar screen completely.

Other districts can play this card by rezoning schools, as well.

Who says scoring proficient on the KCCT is challenging?

Finally, our educators created our KCCT, which is used for NCLB reading and math accountability, with ridiculously low standards that don’t come close to indicating that kids are on track for college and careers.

Even worse, KCCT got further inflated when scoring standards were reset in 2007, prompting a widespread loss of credibility that even our legislators could not ignore.

Meanwhile, as KCCT performance continued growing, our college remediation rates remained entirely unacceptable. The latest reported data shows 45 percent of recent high school graduates who go on to college in Kentucky need at least one remedial course as soon as they step on campus.

As I mentioned above, even our legislators understand the weaknesses in the KCCT, which is why they voted to end this inflated assessment in legislation passed in 2009.

Published goals for 2010 not that high – NOT 100 PERCENT!

It’s worthwhile pointing out exactly what those NCLB goals for our schools were for the 2009-10 school year.

The highlighted information in the table below [source BRIEFING PACKET, STATE RELEASE, NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND (NCLB), Adequate Yearly Progress Report 2009], shows the NCLB required minimum annual proficiency rate targets for reading and math for the 2009-10 school year. Notice that the percentages of required proficiency are not that large, especially when you consider that KERA has been operating for two decades and schools get bonus points from confidence intervals.

For example, in the standard configuration schools (shown inside the red box), even without confidence interval bonus points, standard configuration high schools (grades 9 to 12) only had to meet proficiency rates in reading of 59.63 percent and in math of 59.88 percent.

Throw in confidence interval bonus points and NCLB really only required around half of the students in each Kentucky high school to be proficient on the KCCT in 2010 to avoid sanctions.

Just half – after 20 years of KERA. Is this too much to expect?

And, that is judged by a watered down KCCT.

So, while I admit NCLB has some issues, we see plenty of other evidence from our low Benchmark Scores on the ACT, the EXPLORE, the PLAN, and our low proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress along with our sky high college remedial rates that tell us more than a few Kentucky schools simply are not ‘carrying the mail’ even after two decades of KERA.

The message from Kentucky’s 2010 test results is clear – it’s time for some serious out of the box thinking. After 20 years of KERA, there are no excuses left.

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