Monday, July 31, 2017

K-12 Accountability: Goals And Questions About Goals

| Post By Susan Perkins Weston |

For the August 2 Kentucky Board of Education meeting, the Department has posted a set of tables showing “Kentucky Accountability System Long Term and Interim Goals for Public Reporting.” You can download the complete set here.

The document includes goal tables for reading, mathematics, and writing at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, each showing goals that start from a 2018-19 baseline level of proficient/distinguished results and move upward in equal steps for each year through 2030. Elementary and middle school social studies, four-year graduation rates, and five-year graduation rates are also included.

For this post, I'm going to look just at the 2030 math goals, sharing the main questions I have after studying them for a few hours. The yellow highlights flag the goals that I'll give the most attention.
1. How were these goals set?
The document does not explain the method. Each group and each grade moves upward at a different pace to a different 2030 destination. It does look like the gaps between white students and some other racial groups are cut in half. It is possible that the gaps based on eligibility for free/reduced meals, disability status, and English learner status are reduced the same way, but I can’t tell because the disadvantaged group is shown but the more privileged reference group is missing.

2. When did we drop the 75% proficiency goal for elementary and middle schools?
As recently as July 6, Department documents describing Kentucky’s goals said we were aiming:
“To increase student proficiency rates significantly for all students in the state by 2030—for example, the goal is to increase elementary/middle school mathematics achievement from 55% proficient or above to 75% proficient or above, and equally importantly.”
In these new tables, the elementary goal is higher, at 91.1%, but the middle version has dropped to 67.0%. That kind of change from a widely discussed example seems important.

3. Why are we aiming for just 49.7% high school proficiency?
Proficiency for barely half of our students doesn't feel like ambition. It feels like abandoning Kentucky’s commitment to equip each and every child for adult success.

No Kentuckian should agree to lower our sights this far without serious explanation and discussion, and none of us should settle this low without first looking very hard for alternative strategies (instructional shifts, resource changes, other actions) we can use to deliver something better than half-proficiency for our rising generation.

4. How can students eligible for free/reduced-price meals have stronger goals than all students?
Historically, those students have been under-served, with results lower than their more economically privileged classmates. These goals turn that history upside down, with schools asked to move low income students to 75% proficiency in middle school while moving students overall to just 67%. Similarly, the high school goals ask for 54.2% proficiency for low income students and just 49.7% for all students. Doesn't that entail that students with higher family incomes will be expected to score lower than the rest of their classmates?

5. How can the consolidated group have lower goals than any of its member groups?
The consolidated group will be made up of students with disabilities, English learners, and students who are African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The lowest elementary goal for any of those groups is 76.6% proficient, but the consolidated group is only asked to reach 70.6%. How can the combined result be lower than any of the groups that are combined? Similarly, the lowest middle school goal for the included groups is 50.9%, but the combined goal is just 42.0%.

ESSA has required Kentucky to “establish ambitious State-designed long-term goals, which shall include measurements of interim progress toward meeting such goals” since that legislation was signed into law in 2015. Yes, it’s late in the process to be raising questions like these, but this is the first time a full set of goals has been made fully public. The method isn’t clear, the expectations are lower than previously described for middle schools, and startlingly low for high schools, and the expectations for low income students and consolidated group students just don’t mesh with the rest of the goals. Serious and sustained discussion of this plan definitely seems appropriate.

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!