There's been some talk recently about the number of Kentucky students excluded from NAEP participation based on disabilities. The chart above, drawn from the NAEP "Nation's Report Card" documents for each subject, shows those rates. To me, it offers two clear messages.
First, Kentucky has been doing something different from the rest of the country with NAEP reading. Or, more exactly, the local decision makers in the districts chosen to participate in NAEP testing have been doing something different than the local decision makers elsewhere. NAEP exclusion is a local decision based on judgment about the individual student's needs.
Second, NAEP science and mathematics have worked differently. Kentucky's exclusion rate has been a perfect match to the country in science, and it has differed by a single point in mathematics.
So, what if we look at reading, and leave out students with disabilities for a moment? (Only for a moment, I promise! Only to make this one point!) All the excluded students in the chart above above were in the group with disabilities. Even if the disability exclusion rate made a difference, it wouldn't change the scores for the students without disabilities. Here's that comparison.
For both grades, Kentucky students scored above the national average by a statistically significant margin in reading.
That is, Kentucky's recent record of relative NAEP success does not, in fact, evaporate when exclusion rates are considered. In two of three subjects with recent comparisons, exclusion rates line up nicely with the nation. In the remaining subject, Kentucky students without disabilities--and thus unaffected by the exclusion rate--outscore the national average.
Relative NAEP success is, of course, not enough. The whole nation needs to move student performance substantially higher, Kentucky must be part of that movement, and Kentucky's students with disabilities should receive priority attention to ensure that our whole state moves forward. Nevertheless, the notion of Kentucky as distinctively weak among the states is one we need to lay to rest. The right question for our state is not how to catch up with our neighbors, but how to move faster and faster as we pull ahead.