Friday, October 15, 2010

Legislative confusion

It’s troublesome when legislators “puff up” the performance of Kentucky’s public schools by quoting out of date statistics, trying to make the numbers sound like the most current information available.

A recent case in point – yesterday’s commentary in the Union County Advocate from State Representative John Arnold, Jr.

Arnold claims that, “We have made some major sstrides (sic) in key areas.”

Spelling problems not withstanding, Arnold claims one of those major stride areas is that “Our high school graduation rate is well above the national average.” Note the current tense of the verb.


This slide shows the latest available federally computed comparison data for Kentucky’s high school graduation rate and the best available national average for all states. The numbers come from a June 2010 publication from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a group that has no reason to play favorites among states.

[Data source: “Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2007–08, First Look”]

This latest available data from Washington shows Kentucky not only has a high school graduation rate BELOW the average across all states that reported data, but – maybe even worse – the high school graduation rate in Kentucky fell consistently after the 2005-06 year.

How did Representative Arnold go wrong?

Click the “Read more” link to find out.

Representative Arnold relied on a report – recently published, by the way – by the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission’s Office of Education Accountability (OEA). It’s titled, “Compendium of State Education Rankings 2009.”

The report’s title says 2009, but the table on Page 30 that Arnold relies on shows the federally reported graduation data in the report cuts off at 2006. That data is almost half a decade out of date. That’s a bit hard to understand. “Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2006–07, First Look” dates from October 2009, well before the OEA report was presented to the legislature in March 2010 for final approval. It shows data to 2007, which provides the first indication that our graduation rate was in decline.

Relying on that out of date data hides a very inconvenient truth: the most recent federal data show there was a very undesirable trend of decay in high school graduation rates in Kentucky after 2006.

Furthermore, as this next graph shows, the years selected for comparison in the OEA report are awfully “conveniently selected.” Kentucky hit its lowest-ever graduation rates between 1999 and 2002.

[Data sources: Multiple editions of NCES’ “Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data” and “Digest of Education Statistics”]

The facts are that Kentucky’s most recent federally reported Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate of 74.4 in 2008 is well below the state’s peak rate of 79.2, which occurred way back in the 1993-94 school term, BEFORE KERA had much impact on our high schools (See Table 101 in the Digest of Education Statistics 2006, for example).

Bottom line: Kentucky’s recent high school graduation rate performance is not a major “stride,” correctly spelled or not. On this statistic, using a well-researched federal calculation, we remain behind where we were back in the early days of KERA.

But, some legislators don’t know that.

One last point, Representative Arnold admits in his Op-Ed that, “Only a third of last school year’s graduating high school seniors were considered college-ready.”

That being the case, it raises unfortunate questions:

• Did Kentucky’s schools socially promote more students all the way to a high school diploma between 2002 and 2006?

• Did the introduction of 100 percent testing with the ACT college entrance test in 2006 start to put a halt to that practice?

Those are questions worth thinking about.

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