Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Common Core as political football ignores its benefits to students

Today, Lydia Burns, a senior at West Jessamine High School and chair of the Committee on Academic Standards for the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, shares her perspective on Kentucky's academic standards:
Though it has everything to do with what students are learning, "Common Core" is a phrase you're more likely to hear about on the presidential campaign trail than in a Kentucky classroom.
Sound bites like "frankenstandard," "rotten to the core" and even an outright "disaster" pepper the national conversation, fueled by controversy-hungry news media.
But it can be difficult to wrap one's head around why academic standards have become such a political football in the 2016 presidential race in the first place when, five years into their adoption here in Kentucky, they have enjoyed strong bipartisan support and produced some solid success stories in our classrooms, where it ought to matter most.
At least some of the political rhetoric against the standards is based on the faulty premise that they are a federal mandate and fly in the face of states' rights. This is despite the fact the core academic standards evolved out of grass-roots state initiatives.
More specifically, though their implementation was encouraged by a $4.4 billion grant from the Obama administration, Common Core standards were developed by Republican and Democratic governors together with state education officials.
And even more specifically than that, it was Kentucky's education leadership that spearheaded the national effort.
But even beyond that, as a student myself, I take offense that politicians are having conversations about education in which we are hardly even a factor. Education policy should revolve around students, not the whims of an election cycle — especially since so many of us are too young to vote and these decisions so directly affect us.
The political noise is drowning out the voices of people who are directly affected by the Core: students and our dedicated teachers. Why are we not serving as the more credible feedback loop? Why are more people not asking us what we see at the classroom level?
No one says the Core is perfect, and many of us in the classroom paying attention can tell that their implementation might have been better planned.
We can see firsthand, for example, that some of our teachers did not anticipate, or simply could not accommodate, the amount of time and effort it would take for them to plan their new lessons. And we directly feel the fallout of tests that seem not exactly aligned with what we are learning.
But even still, when informed and aware of the impact, many Kentucky students and teachers can agree that Kentucky's academic standards are good for the type of deeper learning we will need to succeed after high school. Under the newer academic standards, lower level and average students are learning to think like mathematicians, scientists, English professors, engineers and doctors. We are also being encouraged to make clearer connections between what we learn in school and how we can apply that knowledge.
But in the end, it doesn't take any exposure to the Common Core to tell you what you really need to know about this issue. More rigorous standards that prepare students for a global economy that will likely involve more innovation and uncertainty than ever before are more than a good thing; they are a necessity.
I just hope our future president can put politics aside long enough to hear the voices from the classroom — particularly those in Kentucky — that so strongly affirm that.

Read more here:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NAEP Mathematics Comparisons

Here come a set of charts to illustrate how Kentucky's 2015 NAEP math results line up, following the reading post shared yesterday.

Point 1: For fourth graders, Kentucky student results were generally in line with national average, with students with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced-price meals scoring better than similar students elsewhere. 

Point 2: For eighth graders, Kentucky results were lower than national average.  For student groups  historically been under-served, results were similar to those for similar students elsewhere.  For one set of students who often get the best our schools have to offer–white students without disabilities or meal eligibility–results were also well-below national results for the matching group.

Point 3: Kentucky fourth grade math results did not improve significantly from 2013 to 2015.  That's true for all groups shown. 
Point 4: Kentucky math results went down for eighth graders overall, though not for all subgroups.
Point 5.  None of these results are good enough.  Even in the couple of cases where Kentucky fourth grade results were a bit above national average, that will not good enough preparation for the challenges our children will face in the future.

Point 6.  In addition, the gaps shown above mean student potential unfulfilled and a weaker future for all of us.  We must especially build greater improvement for those groups of students.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

NAEP Reading Comparisons

Here come a set of charts to illustrate how Kentucky's 2015 NAEP results line up. 

Point 1. 
Kentucky fourth grade results were significantly better than national results for all students, students with disabilities, students with free or reduced-price meal eligibility, African American students, and Hispanic students, and in a statistical tie for white students without disabilities or f/r meal eligibility.
Point 2: Kentucky eighth grade results were significantly better than national results for all students, students eligible for f/r meals, and Hispanic students, and tied with the nation for students with disabilities, African American students, and white students without disabilities or f/r meal eligibility.

Point Three:  Fourth grade results improved significantly from 2013 to 2015 for all students, student with disabilities, students with f/r meals eligibility, and white students without disabilities or meal eligibility.  (African American results are shown with greater growth than any of the other groups, but that result was not statistically significant.  The number of Kentucky African American students participating in NAEP is small enough that many comparisons over the years have fallen in that statistical uncertainty zone.)

Point 4: Eighth grade reading results did not show statistically significant change from 2013.

Point 5.  Matching or mildly exceeding national average is not good enough preparation for the challenges our children will face in the future.

Point 6.  Even the fourth grade progress should make us impatient for more rapid improvement in students readiness, and the eighth grade sluggishness is far from what we need to see.

Point 7.  Those gaps mean student potential unfulfilled and a weaker future for all of us.  We must especially build greater improvement for those groups of students.

Prichard Committee Statement on Latest National Assessment for Education Progress Scores

 LEXINGTON, Ky. – The latest results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, released today, show Kentucky’s students performing above national averages in fourth and eighth grade reading and in line with national averages in fourth grade mathematics, with eighth grade mathematics slightly below national performance.

The fourth grade reading results are especially exciting, showing statistically significant improvement in our scores for students overall, for students with disabilities, and for students eligible for free or reduced price meals. (African American and Hispanic fourth graders also have improved scores, though the changes were not statistically significant.) Kentucky now ranks 8th across the states in fourth grade reading, up from 17th in 2013 and 26th in 2007.

Overall, the results confirm that Kentucky’s students are doing work in line with national performance, but are still facing the urgent challenge of moving to the higher levels they will need for full participation in postsecondary education, our economy and our communities.

As Kentuckians, we can also take a moment of pride in seeing key groups of students doing better than similar students nationwide in:
  • Fourth grade reading for students with disabilities, students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, African American students, and Hispanic students
  • Fourth grade mathematics for students with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced price meals
  • Eighth grade reading results for students eligible for free or reduced price meals.

After noting that good news, however, there are important problems that need our attention:
  • A decline in eighth grade mathematics results for all students must be reversed
  • A lack of significant progress in fourth grade mathematics and eighth grade reading does not match our commitment to substantial improvement in our statewide performance
  • Our students with disabilities, low-income students, and students of color are still not receiving the full benefits of an equal education, creating gaps that persist over time and risks lasting damage to Kentucky’s prosperity.

The Kentucky Board of Education has already added important new efforts to reduce novice performance in all groups of students that are furthest from meeting state standards, signaling that it is time for deeper, more sustained work to end these gaps. To support renewed and expanding work on increasing achievement and closing gaps, a Prichard Committee study group is working through the fall to analyze data, scholarship, policy and first-hand accounts of current work in our schools, aiming to share analysis and recommendations at the beginning of 2016.

For Kentucky to flourish, we need for students of every background to reach their potential and join in building a strong, shared future. In fourth grade reading, this year shows progress worth celebrating, shared by students of many backgrounds. We need matching progress in all subjects, with special attention reversing the eighth grade mathematics decline. Our goal must be for all Kentucky students to graduate from high school truly ready for adult success, making important progress toward that goal in each year of school.

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group. Since 1983, the Committee, made up of volunteer parents and citizens from across Kentucky, has worked tirelessly to improve education for Kentuckians of all ages.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lost, Stolen, or Strayed: Puzzling about Students and Graduates with Disabilities

Where did the students with disabilities go?

The chart above tracks roughly the same group of Kentucky students with disabilities through their school careers by:
  • Starting with the count of 2005 students taking the grade 4 mathematics assessment
  • Following through matching math counts for the next three grades in the next three years
  • Leaving a grade 8 gap because 2009 testing reports did not include numbers of students tested
  • Adding the number starting high school, reflecting the figure used to calculate the statewide four year graduation rate as a count of the entering grade 9 class for the 2009-10 school year
  • Continuing with number of students taking state writing assessments in grades 10 and 11
  • Closing with the 2013 number who graduating in four years and the 2014 number graduating in five years or less

This way of looking at the data raises two big questions:
  • How did the class lose almost 2,400 students between grade 7 testing and the start of high school/grade 9?
  • How did the class regain more than 1,100 of those students for grade 10 testing?
The puzzles only grows when the same method is applied to the next two classes. The testing numbers change only slightly, but the number of students with disabilities starting high school and graduating drop even further in the charts below.

Answers may include admission and release committees making sound decisions that some students no longer need special education services, specialized details of how data is gathered from our statewide student information system for graduation calculations, or other factors I haven't yet guessed at. I can't supply the answers yet, so I'll simply say that I'm thoroughly puzzled.

--Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

For number-lovers: Testing numbers come from state-level NCLB reports for 2005 through 2008, the Interim Performance Report for 2011, and the school report card assessment files for 2012 through 2015. The starting high school numbers are the denominators used to calculate the four year graduation rate and the graduate numbers are the four year and five year numerators, all found in the school report card delivery target files.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Guest Post: The Way We Used To Teach Math Isn’t Cutting It Anymore

Today, Joe Payne, a teacher at James Lane Allen Elementary and a  Kentucky Hope Street Teaching Fellow, shares his take on Kentucky's standards and effective learning: 

Early in my teaching career, when asked what I do, the response to me being a teacher typically included, “That is so admirable,” “My ____ is a teacher and he/she loves it,” or “You must be crazy!” In the past two years, almost without fail, the response of non-educators almost always includes two words, “Common Core.” Having spent a significant amount of time exploring and implementing the standards, and immediately recognizing the positive impact on the students, those comments initially frustrated me.

After seeing the impact the Standards have had on my students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics, I now embrace those moments with citizens as an opportunity to share my first-hand experiences in the classroom and dispel the misconceptions around teaching and learning in Kentucky.

Just days ago, while on a field trip, our fifth grade was taking a tour of a famous Kentucky landmark when our tour guide pulled me aside. “I don’t know how anyone can be a teacher anymore. I hate that Common Core stuff. That stuff is crazy. I try to help my granddaughter in third grade with her math, and I don’t understand any of it. What a waste of time!”

While comments like these are not atypical, the setting and timing most certainly was. Knowing my time to respond was limited, I simply said, “I love the Standards, and I assure you, if they are being taught correctly, your granddaughter will have a much deeper conceptual understanding of math at a young age. In order for our students to be prepared for jobs that don’t exist yet, they have to learn to think deeply and critically.”

“Wow. You are really passionate about this aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

She smiled back, “I haven’t ever really talked to a teacher about it. Maybe I need to give it another chance.”

Misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Standards are running rampant across the country. Common Core and standardized testing are almost always coupled together in the same breath. Examples of math problems are shown without context. Anytime there is a fundamental shift in thinking, there is going to be a level of discomfort. The fact of the matter is, the way we have been teaching math isn’t cutting it anymore.

My greatest takeaways from interacting with citizens around education issues are that:

1) With snap judgments being made on claims from media outlets, social media posts, and informal conversation, with little to no context, policy implementation of the standards is being greatly misinterpreted and misunderstood, and

2) Those of us in the education field need to share our classroom experiences with the standards with the public, shifting the focus back on the students and their learning.

Do educators need to continue to improve our practice and collaboration with parents to increase their understanding?


Do teachers need to engage in thorough high-quality professional development, so they are better prepared to teach the standards?


Will there be a steep learning curve before the Common Core standards are widely accepted by the public?


But should we get rid of the Standards because they do not mirror the way we used to teach or how we taught when we were in school?

Absolutely not!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Power of Students Working Hard and Showing What They Can Do

| by Cory Curl, Associate Executive Director |

“I didn’t expect…to be so absolutely captivated by my students’ performance.”
-        Katrina Boone
If there is one conclusion I’ve reached during my own journey to understand what works well in education, it’s that there is no silver bullet, no panacea, no one perfect shot that is going to solve all of our dilemmas and produce the results that we have so long sought for our kids.

(It would be very nice if that were the case, though!)

But I do hold dear a few Powerful Concepts. They help me make sense of the thousands of ideas – some good, some not so good – that are floating around out there.

One Powerful Concept that has been tugging on me lately is this simple proposition: learning emerges through quality work.

In a recent blog post, Katrina Boone, a teacher at Shelby County High School and a teacher-in-residence at the Kentucky Department of Education, reflected on the power of a Socratic seminar to help students master several state English language arts standards in reading, speaking and listening. Before the lesson, she didn’t know if the students could pull it off. But they did. They wrote “ridiculously good” discussion questions. She found herself “absolutely captivated.”

Kids can do more than we ever imagined. Engage them in good work. Give them good feedback. See what they learn.

I am not a courageous teacher like Katrina Boone. I am a trying-to-do-the-best-I-can parent of a four-year old. But I recognize that feeling – the feeling of being absolutely captivated.

My child does good work in his school. I know that because he talks to me about it, because some days he doesn’t want to leave school because he is still absorbed in his work, and because he brings his work creations—the products of his work process, the evidence of what he is learning—home. I’ve had moments of being absolutely astonished by what he can do.

Recently, I heard Carmen Coleman, from the University of Kentucky College of Education and Center for Innovation in Education, reflect on efforts in Danville to engage students in deeper, project-based learning. What struck me most was this – she said that, for students, being engaged in this learning environment looked like – well, work. The students had meetings. They made plans. They adjusted their plans. They solved problems together. Work.

Kentucky is fortunate to have visionary teachers who have taken on the challenge of working together to truly bring the still-new Kentucky Academic Standards to life for students. It takes a lot of effort to lay the foundation needed to engage students in aligned, high-quality lessons that expect them to work hard and show what they know and can do. Bold efforts such as the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), Math Design Collaborative (MDC), and the recent Common Assignment study are incredible examples. 

* Note: See these past PrichBlog posts on LDC ( and MDC (, and see this recent blog post on Common Assignment from Renee Boss at the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky.

The challenge for all of us is to ensure that students throughout Kentucky are engaged in quality work that leads to real learning – particularly for students of color, students in poverty, students with disabilities, and those in other student groups that so urgently need access to the most stellar opportunities to learn, to grow, to succeed – to absolutely captivate their teachers, their families, and their communities. Thanks to the LDC, Sherri McPherson’s students at Lafayette High School in Lexington are doing just that.

As parents and advocates, by asking good questions, communicating our priorities, and supporting changes, we can help meet this challenge—to rally for our children, our neighbor’s children, and all children across the Commonwealth to do high-quality work that absorbs them in the learning process, empowers them with knowledge, and prepares them for what comes next on their educational journeys. 

KPREP results for student subgroups: Jefferson County edition

Following up on last week's post summarizing statewide achievement gaps, here's a matching look at results for Kentucky's largest school district.

The weighted averages for the elementary and middle school levels reflect the percent of students who scored proficient or distinguished in five tested subjects. Reading, mathematics, and social studies each contribute 25%, with writing adding 20% and language mechanics 5% of the weighted average. At the high school level, science adds a sixth subject. At that level, 20% weights go to reading, math, science, and social studies, 16% to writing, and 4% to language mechanics.

The students who are not part of the "gap group" are white or Asian or Hawaii Native/Pacific Islander or from two or more races, and they do not have identified disabilities, limited English proficiency, or family incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced price meals.

Historically, our schools have delivered the best results for that group of students, and the graphs above show that pattern unabated.  At the high school level in Jefferson County, that best-served group of students is reaching the proficient/distinguished level at rates more than double the rate for African American students and students from low-income families, and more than five times the rate for students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.

--Posted By Susan Perkins Weston

Source note: The Kentucky School Report Card portal offers disaggregated data on performance levels in each subject. Results for students not counted in the gap group were calculated by multiplying numbers tested by percent proficient/distinguished for all students and for students in gap group.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

KPREP Results for Student Subgroups (Facing Some Brutal Facts)

First, a snapshot of results for different student subgroups using the newly released 2015 K-PREP elementary school results, and then a little explanation.
Explanations for three terms used above:
  • Students are counted in the gap group if they are African American, Hispanic or American Indian/Native Alaska, or have  identified disabilities or limited English proficiency or eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. The gap group is a way the Kentucky Department of Education shares combined data on multiple groups we know have been historically under-served by Kentucky's schools. Naturally, some students belong to more than one of those groups, but those students are only counted once in the group score.  In the tested elementary grades, they're about 67% of all students.
  • The students not counted in the gap group are the the other 33%. They don't have disabilities or limited English proficiency or low family incomes that qualify for free or reduced-price meals. They're also white, Asian, Hawaii native or Pacific islander, or of two or more races.
  • The weighted average combines all the KPREP scores at the proficient and distinguished levels. Reading, math, and social studies results each count 25%, with writing counting 20% and language mechanics 5%. That's the formula the Department used to calculate the gap group component of this year's overall scores.  Using that formula generates one number for thinking about what's happened to each group of students.
The weighted average lets some patterns pop out, like these:
  • Students in the "gap group" are 30 points behind those not in that "group."
  • Students with limited English proficiency are another 20 points behind the "gap group."
  • Students with disabilities, African American students and Hispanic students also score below the gap group, though Hispanic students are quite close.
  • Students with free/reduced meal eligibility have results essentially identical to the gap group result, for the obvious reason that those students with low family incomes hugely outnumber all the other subgroups.
A similar pattern –but with even worse gaps– appears at the middle school level.

The pattern worsens again at the high school level. At this level, reading, math, social studies and science each count 20%, writing 16%, and language mechanics 4%: the formula used for high school Gap Group reporting. For 2015, only high schools have reported KPREP science results.
Look hard at that last graph. 

Using this weighted average approach, we delivered proficiency for the high school students we serve best, the ones not counted in the gap group:
  • at more than twice the rate we delivered for African American students
  • at more than four times the rate for students with disabilities
  • and at more than six times the rate we delivered for students with limited English proficiency.

Overall Scores Rise for High Schools, Not for Lower Levels

In Kentucky's Unbridled Learning system, overall scores are the quickest summary of results for a public school, district, or the entire state. An overall score combines multiple measures to calculate a single number on a 0 to 100 scale that sums up student and program performance.

For our state as a whole, the high school overall score rose 1.5 points from 2014 to 2015, but the elementary and middle overall scores declined.

Below, you can see the main components that went into the changes at each level.

At the elementary level:
  • Achievement indicates KPREP scores for all students in all tested subjects.
  • Gap Group shows KPREP results for students in historically under-served subgroups: students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, have limited English proficiency, or have identified disabilities, along with African American, Hispanic, and American Indian/Native Alaskan students.
  • Growth reflects how students' reading and math scores this year compare to scores for students with similar results the previous year.
  • Program reviews reflect schools' analysis of the quality of their programs for primary students, arts and humanities, practical living/career studies, and writing.

At the middle school level, those four indicators are combined with:
  • Readiness results  from the grade 8 Explore assessment.  

At the high school level, the four elementary indicators are combined with:
  • Readiness results from indicators that include ACT and a battery of other tests to show that students are ready for college and/or career, with bonus points if a student is ready for both.
  • Graduation rates (using a four-year rate for 2013 and five-year rates for 2014 and 2015).

Graduation and Readiness Continue to Rise

Kentucky's statewide graduation rate showed continuing improvement, and the readiness of those graduates moved up substantially during the 2014-15 school year, as shown in results released at midnight by the Kentucky Department of Education.  This is important good news for Kentucky's Unbridled Learning commitment to college/career readiness for all!

Statement on 2015 Accountabilty Results

Here's the full text of the Prichard Committee statement released today:

The accountability results released this morning show strong growth in the college and career-readiness of Kentucky’s high school graduates, moving from 62.5% to 66.8% of graduates reaching those benchmarks. This good news is coupled with the fact that scores for high school students in groups who have historically struggled to meet state standards have improved at a quicker pace than the achievement results for all students. These indicators are positive news for Kentucky’s students and our shared future.

However, the decline in overall scores for elementary and middle school is cause for immediate concern and focused attention. Student outcomes in the early grades must continue to improve as they lay the essential foundation for later success. As a combined group, African-American, low-income, Hispanic, English-language learners, and students with disabilities also lost ground at the elementary and middle school levels, showing that we need to deepen our focus on providing richer opportunities for each and every child.

In addition, this year’s results fell short of some of the goals Kentucky set for educational improvement. Our statewide elementary and middle school results are below the goals set by the Kentucky Board of Education. While the high school outcomes met these goals and college and career readiness continues to increase, it is important that we recognize the weaknesses in other areas and actively build more consistent year-over-year improvement going forward.

The Prichard Committee plans further study of these results and urges all Kentuckians to renew our focus on making sure all students learn deeply, thrive, achieve, and contribute to our communities. The Committee’s Achievement Gap Study Group, representing participants from across the state, is working this fall to identify the most important next steps to support each and every Kentucky child’s academic growth and achievement. We applaud the Kentucky Department of Education for recognizing the moral imperative of ensuring all students achieve at high levels. It is clear that we have urgent work ahead.

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group. Since 1983, the Committee, made up of volunteer parents and citizens from across Kentucky, has worked tirelessly to improve education for Kentuckians of all ages.