Thursday, October 08, 2015

Delivering Proficiency?

Close achievement gaps and clarify the state's puzzling accountability measures. That's the job for newbie Ed Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, according to the Herald-Leader.

The problem is that the same legislature that said Kentucky schools must teach all children well - cut school funding for about 6 years. That's one full rotation of students through every K-5 school in the state.

Still, the rhetoric is that the schools must "deliver" proficiency. It is the kind of thinking that assumes legislated goals alone will give schools enough heft that the effects of poverty can be overcome and that the ever-present inequities in student achievement will be magically swept away. It is the kind of thinking that allows public school supporters and critics alike to blame schools for things beyond their control.

H-L notes one area of significant change, however. It is the swiftness with which Fayette County Schools got on board with the rest of the state in inflating Program Review scores - enough to cover up known deficiencies in other areas.

Did Kentucky high schools really deliver proficiency? Or did affluent parents deliver a sufficient number of privileged kids to all the usual places? Year after year, the same schools seem to jockey for positions at the top of the accountability system, while a group of usual suspects languish at or near the bottom. Bright spots appear in communities that value and support better schools. They twinkle and fade over time.

I don't oppose the paper's wish for equity in student achievement results. It is the right motivation. But magical thinking won't get us the results we seek. Closing achievement gaps requires a broad set of in-school and out-of-school solutions, and the only group in Kentucky that can "deliver" them is the legislature. That possibility hinges on a new tax code and a dedication to social equity that seems to be missing in Frankfort.

This from the Herald-Leader:

Ky.'s new education commissioner 
must reignite sense of urgency about teaching all kids

Kentucky's new Education Commissioner Stephen L. Pruitt should move quickly to reignite a sense of urgency about teaching all youngsters well.

The latest round of test scores and accountability measures, released last week, were not particularly good news, though we admit the welter of data that now makes up Kentucky's school accountability system usually leaves us more befuddled than enlightened. (Maybe it's just us, but we doubt that we are alone in our puzzlement.)

A few things did stand out:
■ The annual improvement goals are painfully modest, yet fewer schools achieved their goals in 2014-15 than in the previous year.
■ The overall score for high schools rose 1.5 points from the previous year, but the overall scores for elementary and middle schools declined 1.4 points and 2.1 points respectively.
■ Students in groups that have historically had achievement gaps — minorities, low income and those with disabilities or limited English proficiency — continue to lag behind their peers across multiple content areas and grade levels.
Analyzing the achievement gaps, Susan Weston, reporting on the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence's blog, found that Kentucky's high schools delivered academic proficiency for the students they serve best, those outside gap groups, at more than twice the rate that they delivered proficiency for black students, more than four times the rate for students with disabilities and more than six times the rate for students with limited English skills.

Thirteen years ago, Kentucky lawmakers shone a bright light on student groups trapped in perpetual underachievement. The legislature enacted a requirement that the Department of Education scrutinize and approve improvement plans for schools that twice miss targets for narrowing achievement gaps. That law and the scrutiny seem to have been forgotten.

Under the current accountability system, now in its third year, the scores schools give themselves for programs in which students no longer take state tests, such as the arts and writing, count as much or more than schools' success in teaching students in the gap groups.

The consequences of such incentives are hardly surprising: Schools are quickly moving toward giving themselves perfect program-review scores; it's as if the teacher handed out the test key and told students to grade their own exams. Meanwhile, the system that's supposed to hold schools accountable isn't delivering enough pressure to improve teaching for students in gap groups.

Anything that Pruitt and the state school board that finalized his contract Tuesday can do to push schools to close achievement gaps would be a great service to Kentucky's future. Likewise, for making the accountability system less convoluted.

The new data also provide some bright spots. The percent of high school graduates who tested ready for college or careers has risen from 47.2 in 2012, the first year for this measure, to 66.8 percent in 2015. (That's still about a third of graduates who leave with a diploma but under-prepared for the next phase of their lives.)

The number of districts and schools performing at the highest level is up.

And, as always, some schools in poor places are performing at high levels, debunking the notion that low-income kids can't be taught.

Kentucky can be proud that it has not dumbed down its testing to create an illusion of improvement as some states have.

And, in Lexington, Williams Wells Brown Elementary, branded last year as the state's lowest-performing elementary school, achieved a 19.2 point gain on a 100-point scale and was rated a "high progress" school.

Congratulations to all the students and educators who are working hard to do better.


Richard Innes said...

Regarding the graduation rates, and college and/or career readiness rates, as they are more properly described, these also look inflated.

The OEA released a report in December that raises strong concerns that the college ready part of the college and/or career ready rates is providing an inflated picture of performance. The report provides information that the KYOTE and COMPASS test combined results are the problem. One or both of these tests seem to be too easy.

The Herald-Leader did pick up on the implication of the college and/or career ready numbers on the real graduation rates but didn't follow through completely. Here is how that looks. In 2014-15 the new Unbridled Learning reports show a 4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation rate of 87.9 for Kentucky. So, among every 100 ninth grade students from the 2011-12 school term, 87.9 graduated in 2015. But, the CCR rate for these grads was only 66.8 percent. That means only 58.7 students out of the original entering ninth grade cohort of 100 students met muster as either college or career ready (or maybe in a few cases, ready for both). That works out to what I am now labeling the "Effective High School Graduation Rate" of only 58.7 percent for 2015. I hope no one wants to cheer about that.

Bringyoursaddlehome said...

Just some thoughts:

Frankfort politicians conceptualization of a greater social equity will always be trumped by the limits of their county's/districts boarders and the dollars and local votes needed at each election.

How can a high school award a student a diploma if they aren't college and career ready (however that happens to be mismeasured at moment)?

Always easier to show big gains if you were at the bottom of the heap.

Could it be that the best way to serve the individual is not necessarily the same as the perceived best way to measure the group?