Saturday, January 31, 2009

Achievement gaps by race

Here's a painful snapshot of a major Kentucky failure. For our African-American students, we deliver less at every level than we do for our white students, and we are not getting them close to the 100/proficient level we ought to provide.

I can't graph a long-term trend because we made major testing changes in 1999 and in 2007 that mean results really are not comparable.

However, I will note that from 1999 to 2006, the gap narrowed at the elementary level, stayed roughly the same for middle schools, and expanded for high schools. Both groups improved over those years, but where we wanted to see African-American students improving with extra speed, we only saw that at the elementary level.

This hurts. It hurts our children, and it hurts our shared future. As a commonwealth, we have to find the strength and implement the strategies that will produce success for students from all backgrounds.

(For readers who are not already immersed in Kentucky testing terms, the two previous posts summarize the Academic Index and the student performance levels behind the Index itself.)

Key term: Academic Index results on a 0-140 scale

In Kentucky test score data, the Academic Index is a number on a 0-140 scale that sums up how all students performed on all seven Core Content subjects.

An Index of 100 is equivalent to average student performance being proficient, but may include some students at the distinguished level and some at the novice and apprentice levels.

An Index of 140 would mean all students performed at the distinguished level in all subjects.

The Academic Index is the best single number for comparing the performance of different student groups and getting an overview of achievement gap issues.

Key terms: Novice, apprentice, proficient, and distinguished performance

The Commonwealth Accountability Testing System describes student performance using four terms for performance levels:
  • Novice work far below the standard we want all students to reach.
  • Apprentice work closer to the standard, but still not strong enough.
  • Proficient work that meets state standards.
  • Distinguished work that is above state standards.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stimulus amounts from NEA

The National Education Association has details on the federal stimulus bill's provisions for education, including state-by-state specifics.

For 2009 (starting July 1), Kentucky is slated to receive the following amounts (in millions):
  • $430.7 for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
  • $210.0 for School Modernization
  • $132.4 for Federal Pell Grants
  • $82.8 for IDEA Part B
  • $83.4 for Higher Education Modernization
  • $82.6 for ESEA, Title I
  • $15.5 for Head Start
  • $15.4 for ESEA School Improvement Grants
  • $17.3 for Child Care and Block development grant
  • $7.4 for Education Technology
  • $1,077.5 Total
Most amounts will repeat in 2010, but the modernization funds for schools and higher education are removed while Pell Grants and IDEA funding are increased, for a total of $800.8 million.

You can download the complete State Funding Table and see other NEA analysis here. (Hat tip:

Time out for terminology: Formative and summative assessment

Roger Marcum (superintendent in Marion County) just offered an explanation of formative and summative assessment:
The term formative assessment is referring to teacher made classroom assessment or common assessments developed by teams of teachers who teach the same core content. Formative assessment also includes interim, benchmark assessments which many school districts purchase from testing companies to measure student mastery of the content 3 or 4 time a school year. Formative assessment's purpose is to guide the instructional process with feedback for both the teacher and learner. Formative should have no accountability consequences.

Summative assessment is normally an end of the year annual assessment. A summative is used for accountability purposes and has some value for feedback to guide the learning process for the next school year.

To summarize, I will use a basketball analogy, think of formative as basketball practice...a time to learn and approve with no high stakes consequences. Think of summative as game night....the score will be kept, results become public and consequences are expected. Hope this helps.

Roger's definition adds to the discussion of Bob's kick-off post on "Four big ideas for Kentucky testing" below. Thanks, Roger!

Rhonda Caldwell earns non-profit leadership recognition

Today's Advocate-Messenger reports:
Rhonda Caldwell, of Danville, who serves as deputy director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, has earned the Certified Association Executive credential, the highest professional credential in the association industry.... Approximately 3,500 association professionals currently hold the credential, which was first awarded in 1961, according to the American Society of Association Executives.
Congratulations, Rhonda! (The story is in today's print edition, but doesn't appear to be available at yet, perhaps because everyone's covering the ice outside.)

Recess improves behavior, says study

We've all got anecdotes and reasons to support the idea that a period of energetic physical activity makes it easier for students to settle down to work. Research published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has just added formal scientific support, concluding that:
"among 8- to 9-year-old children, having ≥1 daily recess period of >15 minutes in length was associated with better teacher's rating of class behavior scores. This study suggests that schoolchildren in this age group should be provided with daily recess."
The official summary is here, with a link to the full report included. (Hat tip: PEN NewsBlast)

SJR 19: a good step forward on math

Senator Dan Kelly has introduced Senate Joint Resolution 19, aimed at revising the state’s mathematics content standards and related assessments based upon National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendations.

I like this legislation because it starts to move Kentucky toward fewer, clearer, and deeper standards based on national expectations, a theme from the recent task force established by Commissioner Draud.

The resolution sets the goal of guiding and encouraging improving math instruction through clearer standards and assessment and, I hope budget support for rigorous professional development to prepare teachers for this responsibility.

Going this direction in the standards and assessment discussion is very consistent with scholars, policy experts and what the new Obama administration in the U.S. Department of Education will attempt and is consistent with our own Prichard Committee ideas for improved standards and assessment.

Indeed, the Senator’s approach—modifying Kentucky’s math standards using nationally established, recognized and respected standards developed by experts, should be the model for making needed adjustments to CATS.

Update: Want to read SJR 19? Click here to go to the legislative record and then on the letters SCS to read the Senate committee substitute version of the resolution.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Invests in Young Children!

The House passed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act yesterday that includes a significant investment in child care and early education. Read a summary of the House proposal for young children prepared by the National Women's Law Center. Next step is passage of the Senate version.

Time out for terminology: Norm-referenced, criterion-referenced

The tests students take are often characterized as "norm-referenced" or "criterion-referenced." Those terms define how the test is scored.

Norm-referenced means the score compares a given student's work to the students in a norm-group--meaning a sample of students who took the test earlier. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills, for example, reports students' percentile scores, with a student who scores in the 49th percentile having done better than 49 percent of the students in the sample group.

Criterion-referenced means the score compares a student's work to a standard of desired quality. The Kentucky drivers' permit test requires a score of 80%, making that the standard of knowledge a person must have before even beginning to practice behind the wheel.

Thanks to Lou Ann Ramos for asking about both terms.

Could Kentucky just use a norm-referenced test?

Kentucky accepts more than $200 million a year in federal Title 1 funding. In exchange, we commit to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements for standards, testing, and accountability in reading, mathematics, and science. We have federal approval for our current Core Content standards and CATS testing methods, but suppose we decided to make a change. Could we use an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test and still meet our NCLB obligations?

I recently took a fifty-state Internet tour and found that:
  • Iowa is using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
  • Eleven states start with items from a norm-referenced test, add their own questions, and produce criterion-referenced test scores from the resulting assessment.
  • Thirty-seven states use a customized criterion-referenced test.
  • Nebraska uses a unique school-based, teacher-led approach to assessment.
What's going on? NCLB does not just require standards and assessment separately: it requires detailed proof that the two are aligned, and off-the-shelf tests are not, in general, well designed to fit a state's expectations without augmentation.

It is, therefore, nearly certain that Kentucky could not substitute an existing NRT for CATS and meet our NCLB obligations.

For a one-page PDF showing how states do their NCLB testing, click here.

Delays, indeed

I've made it to a temporary source of light, heat, and internet, but I fear the blog work will be slow for another couple of days. My apologies!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pardon the delays!

Susan is experiencing problems with access because of the ice storm.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Children's Advocacy Day at the Capitol: Feb. 12

Join hundreds of fellow advocates for children at Children's Advocacy Day in Frankfort, Thursday, February 12. The rally is from 10:00 until 10:30 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda.

This is a great opportunity to stand up for children!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

CPE lowers reading readiness score, slows readiness schedule

In 2007, Kentucky public postsecondary education set a systemwide ACT standard of 18 in English, 19 in mathematics, and 21 in reading. The regulation specified that, starting in the fall of 2009, students scoring below that standard would be required to take a developmental (non-credit) course or a for-credit courses with "supplementary academic support" during their first semester.

January 16, the Council on Postsecondary Education took the first step to change those rules by:
  • Moving the reading standard from 21 to 20.
  • Allowing students two terms, rather than one, to do the developmental coursework.
  • Making the requirement effective in the fall of 2010 instead of 2009.
Giving reasons for the change, CPE staff noted newly received data on student reading performance and ACT scores as well as funding and staffing difficulties. Fairness was an additional reason because, after the 2007 amendment, "new standards of placement were not included in many of the materials distributed during 2008-09 and many prospective students, parents, high school guidance counselors, principals, and other K-12 school administrators were not informed."

The proposed amended regulation can be downloaded here: it's item 3 on the agenda. Because the regulatory amendment process has multiple steps, the draft may be changed several more times before becoming official some months from now.

Kentucky and national ACT scores

In three of four subjects, Kentucky's 2008 high school graduates who took the ACT came within one-tenth of a point of national average scores. They were eight-tenths of a point behind in mathematics, and two-tenths of a point behind in the composite score.

Do notice that a much higher proportion of graduates participated in ACT here than nationally. It is widely thought that if small proportions of a class take an optional college readiness test, the best-prepared students are likely to sign up and the scores are likely to be higher than a representative sample. As a state moves closer to all students participating, the less-prepared students are added and scores are likely to be lower. Kentucky sent most--though not all--of our students, and they still brought back English, reading, and science scores in line with the nation.

And $87 million for postsecondary?

Assuming that postsecondary education has asked to plan for the same cut as P-12 education, $87 million is 6.7% of the $1.3 billion general fund CPE budget for this fiscal year.

$228 million as potential P-12 cut

$228 million is my quick estimate.

To calculate it, I started with the Council for Better Education's analysis of the 2008-10 general fund budget for P-12 education, available here. Three numbers from the 2008-09 column in that report:
  • $4,141 million total funding
  • $532 million for health insurance
  • $212 million for the five line items for facilities
Subtract the health and facilities from the total to get $3,397 million, multiply that by the 6.7% the Governor has asked the Department to plan, and the result is $228 million.

That's a painful number.

Further state cuts being studied

School districts received word Saturday that Department of Education is working on possible 6.7% cuts to education:
I wanted to inform you that we, and all other state agencies, have received a request from the state budget office to prepare a plan for additional budget reductions, deeper than those already proposed by Governor Beshear.

The only items exempted are the appropriation for health insurance and the portions of SEEK that relate to facility debt service. We have been asked to complete this task by the close of business on Monday, January 26th.

Of men and bachelors

Men are earning a smaller share of the bachelor's degrees awarded in Kentucky, as reported in Mortenson Seminar on Postsecondary Education's December 2008 newsletter.

Men earned only 41.3% of all bachelor's degrees awarded here in 2007, putting Kentucky 35th of the 50 states in male share of degrees. Only in Utah did men earn more than half of the degrees.

That male rate is down 2.5% from 1997. Eleven states had greater decreases in male share than Kentucky, and only four (Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Nebraska) showed an increased male share.

That doesn't mean fewer men earning degrees, because the total degrees have gone up substantially over the last decade. Both sexes are earning more degrees, but women are moving up faster.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Housing declines could be education challenge

If property values go down, local revenue for schools will decline as well. That makes the Herald-Leader's report on the housing market one to note:
None of us in this business have ever seen it this way," said Haymaker Development Co.'s Tim Haymaker. Haymaker tracks single-family home permits issued in Fayette County and said 2008's number was the lowest since 1982.

Kentucky's low-income children

Kentucky's children come to schools with greater challenges than others nationally, as Kids Count helps us to see each year. Because "poverty" isn't always an easy category to imagine, I've included dollar amounts based on the poverty threshold for a family of four.

(Why include 200% of poverty? It's a rough stand-in for what a family needs for self-sufficiency without public assistance and other subsidies. A far more detailed estimate developed in 2001 found that a family of four in Jefferson County needed to earn $46,823 to be self-sufficient, while the same family in Breathitt County needed $36,795.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Minnesota moves into international competition

Minnesota and Massachusetts have decided to get state-level scores that compare them directly to other nations, using the TIMSS math and science tests. Minnesota has released preliminary results with these highlights:
  • Minnesota’s 4th-grade performance gain in math was among the largest of any of the 16 countries that participated in both the 1995 and 2007 TIMSS
  • In 2007 4th-grade math, four nations scored significantly higher than Minnesota; three were not significantly different than Minnesota; and 29 nations score significantly lower than Minnesota
  • In 2007 8th-grade math, five nations scored significantly higher than Minnesota; and 44 nations score significantly lower than Minnesota
  • In 2007 science, Minnesota maintained its relatively high level of performance being outperformed by very few countries at either 4th or 8th grade and significantly outperforming the U.S. at grade 8
  • In both 4th-and-8th grade science there was no significant change in how students performed in 2007 compared to 1995
The full report quoted above in blue is here, an Ed Week analysis here, and Bob Sexton's post on international benchmarks and other testing ideas that we should consider as CATS improvements is here. (Hat tip: Ronda Harmon at KASC.)

Behind on college completion

Although Kentucky is close to the nation on high school completion, we have major distance to cover on college completion. Though younger Kentuckians have more bachelor's degrees than older residents, they are not catching up with the national numbers.

State budget a la mode

Here's a pie chart now being served at Kentucky's new financial transparency site, and here are are a few things I notice.

First, this pie is the full $24 billion the state appropriates, rather than the $9-and-a-half billion we call the General Fund. The Road Fund is well over $1 billion. Federal funds are close to $8 billion, and restricted funds more than $5 billion. The tobacco settlement contributes about $140 million.

Second, if you look at the two education slices, you'll probably want to look at both again. Is postsecondary really bigger than P-12 education? Well, yes and no.

The complete budget is not just state tax dollars: it includes fees people pay to the state, including students' tuition at public universities and at KCTCS. That's in the restricted funds I mentioned earlier.

And then, the budget is just dollars in state accounts, so it does not include local tax revenue that supports P-12 education. The local ingredients add about $1.5 billion to school funding. If we could add that into the pie, it would change all the other slices a bit.

It's sweet to see important numbers displayed clearly, and I look forward to seeing else is cooking with the state's new effort to share financial information.

End-of-course exams in Missouri

Missouri is implementing end-of-course exams for high schools. Algebra I, Biology, and English II are in place, with seven others under development. The state strongly encourages schools to use the exam results as 10-25% of the student's course grade. Read more here. (Hat Tip: PEN Newsblast)

National Commitment to Early Childhood Education

Last week the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Early Childhood Educators shared this item.

Yesterday it became even clearer that early childhood education will continue to be a top priority of the new administration. Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for Education secretary, promised a new emphasis on early childhood education and focus on teacher quality at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In his testimony, Duncan explained, "First, we must invest in early childhood education. Too many children show up for kindergarten already behind. Many never catch up. The President-elect's 'Zero-to-Five' proposal calls for greater supports for working parents with young children, early-learning challenge grants to states, voluntary universal pre-school quality enhancements, and more resources to build on the successes of Head Start and Early Head Start."To read more about Arne Duncan, his accomplishments in education, and a full listing of Obama’s plan for early childhood education, please visit (1/14/09)

Working for a Strong Start

Strong Start Kentucky is an initiative of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a growing coalition of partners working to make high-quality preschool and child care available to every Kentucky child. To learn more and sign up for updates on Pre-K progress and challenges, go to

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gaining on high school attainment

The youngest Kentucky adults are very close to the national average in high school completions. Because older Kentucky residents finished school less often, we are still behind for adults overall. Here are the numbers:

An assessment manifesto worth our attention

Rick Stiggins' Assessment Manifesto is getting a lot of attention from Kentucky educators, and the attention is deserved.

In this document, the call for lean standards and for tests that provide detail on each student are the outer shell. On the inside is a vision of students who understand the goals they're working toward, know what progress they need to make, and learn each day that they can master those next steps and move forward. Trusting themselves and their teachers, those students are increasingly confident and successful.

writes, "In other words, assessment practices that permit—even encourage—some students to give up on learning must be replaced by those that engender hope and sustained effort for all students." That's the sunlit, central, student-focused point that makes me sure this is an important report.

I plan to blog on some of the specific ideas in the coming weeks. For now, though, I recommend the ten-page full document to everyone. You can download it here.

Partnership, New Cities merge

Two great Kentucky organizations, the Partnership for Successful Schools and the New Cities Institute, have merged. The new group "will focus on giving local leaders a stronger voice in the most critical element of economic and job growth – school performance."

Local revenue another reason for funding concern

There have been multiple reports on possible cuts to state funding for Kentucky schools, along with proposals to shelter SEEK funding by cutting elsewhere and raising new revenue. Kentucky districts rely on local taxes for a growing portion of their total funds, and the ongoing recession is likely to take a bite of the local share as well.

Fayette County is discussing a $3.2 million potential shortfall in this year's funding, including declines in motor vehicle taxes, occupational taxes, and earnings on district investments. The Herald-Leader shared details last week.

In the coming weeks, many other districts may be reporting related difficulties. Some will have reserves that let them ride out the storm. Some will not, and for schools and students in those districts, the impact of any local decline will be especially painful.

Stimulus may add money, testing standards for schools

Here's a quick heads' up: the congressional proposal includes $142 billion for education, along with requirements to develop "High-quality educational tests, ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress." (Hat tip: KSBA)

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Prichard Blog Begins


This is our blog, a new venture that will allow us to share news and ideas more quickly. We plan updates every day, with posts about all facets of Kentucky education with, as always, an eye for the big picture. We especially hope that readers will join in with comments, so that ideas flow both ways.

Those of you who know Susan Perkins Weston will be glad to know that she will be the daily voice on the blog. Cindy Heine and I will also be writing on an occasional basis.

I hope you’ll become a regular reader and participant in this new form of conversation about education issues.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kentucky's lead in science

For my first post, I choose a Kentucky achievement. Our students' most recent NAEP scores are stronger than the national average. Our students are also statistically tied with the nation in reading, 4th-grade writing and 8th-grade math, but the lead in science is an especially fine thing to see.

Four big ideas for Kentucky testing

I believe that the CATS assessment is better for children than an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test, but I do not think it is the best it can be. Four concepts seem to me to hold special promise for creating a stronger test and promoting higher student achievement.

First, we should aim for balanced assessment. Short, clear, powerful standards can guide great classroom work. With those standards, teachers and students can organize their activities around regular evidence of forward movement. Mathematics standards should be our first priority, because that is where our progress has been weakest thus far. Beyond that, all Core Content subjects should be set up for a similar classroom method. The best revisions to Kentucky testing will flow from standards that also work for classroom excellence.

Second, international benchmarking can help us check that our standards and our student results are high enough for global competition. Again, math is the place to start, but other key subjects should follow quickly.

Third, end-of-course testing may be the right way to get high school improvement back on track. I do not want exit exams that keep a student from graduating, but I do see benefits in having the end-of-course scores be a fraction of student grades. Designed well, those tests could also provide sturdy data on readiness for college and for work. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling recommends this approach.

Finally, we can set program standards and monitor implementation in some areas where pencil and paper tests just do not work. In the arts, the Department of Education is already moving forward with efforts to create a far more performance-oriented approach. We may want to adapt a similar model for some skills that employers have repeatedly asked schools to address, including oral communication and teamwork skills.

In recent months, I’ve been in many conversations about ideas like these, including the work of the Task Force on Assessment and Accountability. I’m concerned that we make changes at a responsible pace, one that involves educators, allows good design and permits teachers to implement classroom adjustments well, and one that does not jeopardize our federal funding.

Still, these four ideas give us options for accelerating student progress, and I think we should move quickly to understand their potential.

(That’s the quick overview. Blogging will let us share more details and links to other sources about these ideas soon, and we hope you’ll read, ask questions, raise concerns, and offer your own ideas, starting with the comments section immediately below.)

Grading Kentucky Postsecondary Education

Measuring Up 2008: The State Report Card on Higher Education, gave Kentucky the following grades (followed by rank among the states):

C in Preparation (38th)
C in Participation (23rd)
F in Affordability (45th)
B in Completion (22nd)
D+ in Benefits (41st)

To zoom in on our weakest element, the affordability grade was calculated from six indicators:
  • Community colleges cost 21% of average family income (after subtracting financial aid).
  • Public four-year schools cost 28% of average family income (again after financial aid).
  • Private four-year schools cost 41% of average family income (after financial aid)
  • The state investment in needs-based financial aid is 48% of the state's share of Pell grant funding.
  • Tuition at the lowest price colleges is 31% of the poorest families' income.
  • The average undergraduate borrows $4,841 per year.
Five of those six indicators have gotten worse since the 2000 report, with only the state investment in needs-based aid getting stronger.

You can download the whole report here, and compare detailed data here.