Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New NCLB and Kentucky testing results released

Too many schools fall behind

Big surprise in Jefferson County’s lowest performing schools is questioned

Educator excuses don’t work for me

The new testing results from the 2010-2011 school term are out from the Kentucky Department of Education, and news articles are exploding across the state.

The headline for the department’s press release covers one of the most important findings:


The Courier-Journal also reports on this unsettling statistic, saying that more than half our schools failed to make all of the required No Child Left Behind (NCLB) targets in math, and/or reading and/or other areas such as graduation rates. Meeting all targets is required by federal NCLB legislation.

Of course, Kentucky’s educators are quick to condemn NCLB when so many schools are failing, but are those educators really right?

Scores for Kentucky NCLB accountability are inflated

For one thing, Kentucky’s testing with the now defunct Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT) – but used up to this year for both NCLB and state reporting – says that 69.90 percent of our eight grade students were proficient in reading in the past school term. Two years ago in the 2008-2009 term the number was not much different at 66.94 percent.

That 2009 data is significant because we can compare it to what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2009 Reading Report Card said our reading proficiency rate was for a carefully selected random sample from the very same group of students. Per the NAEP, only 33 percent of our students were proficient readers – less than half of the figure our bloated KCCTs reported.

A similar issue shows up when we look at 2009 NAEP math scores for eighth grade students here. Our KCCT said 60.93 percent of our eighth graders were proficient in math. NAEP said it was only 27 percent, again less than half what our state tests reported.

Other testing raises more questions

We can also compare the 2011 KCCT figures to results for reading and math from the EXPLORE tests, which all our eighth graders took in the fall of 2010.

EXPLORE says that only 39.3 percent of our students met the reading benchmark score that shows they are on track for preparation for college and careers. In math, EXPLORE reported only 32.2 percent were on track. EXPLORE is created by the ACT, Incorporated, the same organization that creates the ACT college entrance test. If I were going to bet which test, the EXPLORE or the KCCT, gives us the best idea about how well our kids are being prepared for postsecondary education, the EXPLORE would win, instantly.

So, the grim reality is that evidence from both the NAEP and EXPLORE indicate that the new NCLB report which says 42.6 percent of our schools are on track might actually be a bit rosy.

Persistently Low-Achieving Schools post big gains in Jefferson County

By the way, one of the big surprises in the new scores release involves rapid improvement in some of Jefferson County’s Persistently Low-Achieving Schools. The Courier-Journal separately reports there were big gains in Western, Shawnee, Fern Creek and Valley high schools.

But, as the Courier reports under the title, “Lowest-performing Jefferson County schools make big gains,” there is also a credibility problem with those big score increases. People are questioning if they are real. You see, the increases are VERY dramatic.

For the sake of credibility, the Kentucky Department of Education needs to look at the possibility of testing manipulation in those schools. There are a number of forensic test analysis protocols in use today, and it would be highly beneficial to all concerned if the department will confirm that such examinations have been made and no hanky-panky was discovered.

Personally, I hope that the increases in Western, Shawnee, Fern Creek and Valley high schools are legitimate. If they are, it will lend strong support to our belief at the Bluegrass Institute that staffing is a part of the problem in our under-performing schools, and in the best interests of our children, we simply must come to grips with the reality that some of our teachers are part of the issue.

But, given the questions swirling around dramatic test score increases, I’m not tooting any horns just yet.

I’ll be doing more on the new test results, but a death in the family will probably slow that analysis down. Please be patient – it will be forthcoming.

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