Thursday, October 20, 2011

Substantial progress or not: You can’t have education both ways

A Tuesday news release from the Kentucky School Boards Association has me scratching my head. Why do some education boosters in this state think we don’t remember the past?

The legislature realized that Kentucky’s CATS school assessment program was not providing trustworthy information and disbanded it back in 2009. I remember that.

Never the less, a consortium of groups including the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, the Council for Better Education (CBE) and the Kentucky Association of School Councils couldn’t let go. They kept on computing a ‘CATS Index’ anyway.

Today that consortium released data disaggregated by race and special student groups such as English language learners.

The bottom line from this new release: even relying on the watered down testing left over from CATS, most student groups in Kentucky are not on track to reach the performance goals that were set back in the start of this century.

In one case, students with limited English proficiency, the scores are flat or even declining at all school levels.

So, on Tuesday, the story was about enduring achievement gaps and that major work remains to bring Kentucky education to the level we all want to see.

That doesn’t mesh with recent claims we’ve been hearing about the state making “great strides” over the past 20 years, does it?

I'm sorry ed boosters, but you just can’t have this both ways.

The stark reality from the new test results released recently led CBE head Tom Shelton to say:

"The gaps remain painful and too many of those gaps are growing wider, reminding us that we still have major work ahead to provide an equal quality of education for all Kentucky's children.”

The news release adds that Prichard’s Stu Silberman labeled the report:

"‘…a call to action for all Kentucky adults on behalf of all our children,’ and encouraged all stakeholders to keep attention on raising performance during the testing transition.”

To sum up, no one was crowing about “substantial” or “significant” progress in Kentucky education. Far from it.

Now, here’s the problem.

The comments made on Tuesday don’t mesh with glowing comments made by Silberman in a Herald-Leader Op-Ed just weeks ago on October 2, 2011.

There, Silberman’s opening comment was:

“Kentucky has made great strides in education over the past 20 years.”

His article did go on to quietly admit to gap issues, but his lead-off comment was about the “great strides.”

To be sure, I now think Kentucky’s public education system has made a small amount of progress, but it is only a small amount.

For example, we still face the stark reality that recent ACT testing shows very low percentages of Kentucky’s students are ready for college, especially in the critical math and science areas, and a disconcertingly low proportion of our high school graduates read well enough to handle any college courses in any discipline well.

Those unhappy numbers are echoed by the low percentages of our students performing at or above what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grades as “Proficient” work. The most recent results from 2009 show that in both math and reading, generally only one out of three Kentucky students is performing at a level the NAEP deems “Proficient” work. In Eighth grade, math performance is even lower.

So, you can’t have this story both ways.

If we have a long way to go, and we absolutely do, then how can you talk about ‘great strides’ being made?

The truth is that we’ve taken only some rather small steps, at best, and we still suffer from the very same achievement gaps that KERA promised to fix – way back in 1990.

I remember.

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