Kentucky Touts ACT Gains

With today’s release of the ACT College and Career Readiness report, the Kentucky Department of Education is touting the fact that the state’s students are making continuous gains in terms of readiness.  The state points to three-year trends that show the number of Kentucky students hitting college/career ready benchmarks steadily (and slowly) heading upward.

The trend data is noteworthy because it establishes that while Kentucky still has work to do, the progress is steady and real.

What’s fascinating is that this progress has been made without any of the trendy reforms oft-touted by today’s education reform crowd.  Kentucky still has no Charter Schools.  There aren’t voucher schemes in the state or any school system.  Kentucky has yet to tie teacher evaluations or licensure to test scores.  In fact, Commissioner Holliday tweeted today that recent polling data on the issue of tying teacher evaluations to test scores was reason to take further pause before considering using scores for the evaluation process.

What that means for Kentucky kids is that they won’t be subject to a barrage of new tests used primarily for creating a number score for a teacher.  Instead, they can expect the same focus on high standards and strong teaching that has been the backbone of Kentucky education policy for more than 20 years now.

What’s even more telling, perhaps, is that in Tennessee, a state that has adopted liberal charter enrollment policy, changed teacher evaluation radically, and recently passed new standards tying teacher licensing to test scores, there was no release today touting similar gains in college and career readiness.

In fact, if you simply look at head-to-head results, Kentucky students test higher (slightly) than Tennessee’s in 4 out of 5 categories.

What’s the difference? Instead of trying every trendy new reform and developing test-dependent policies, Kentucky has focused on rigor and investment.  The comparison of the two states is an important lesson for those in Kentucky who will call for vouchers or charters or score-based teacher evaluations in the 2014 legislative session.

Kentucky should stay the course, continue investing, and move its schools forward.

For more on Kentucky education policy, follow us @KyEdReport

3 thoughts on “Kentucky Touts ACT Gains

  1. I really don’t know the ins and outs of KY education policy, but to black eye charter schools just because seems to miss the mark.

    If charter schools in KY proves to be sound education policy for some kids in KY, then so be it. Good charter schools, in concert with improvements to district schools, can accelerate overall achievement.

    If KY moves to implement charters, it’s important to construct a strong authorizer framework (which should include a way for local boards to not monopolize the process, and thus deny all the time…).

    The narrative you suggest (KY doesn’t want charter schools) seems to be a different one than I briefly read about:

    Commissioner Holiday has blasted JCPS for “academic genocide.” That’s pretty intense language:
    http://newsdemocratleader.com/view/full_story/21779274/article-Education-chief-labels-Louisville-schools-with-%E2%80%98academic-genocide%E2%80%99

    And he seemed to support the notion of charter schools this past KY legislative session:
    http://wfpl.org/post/persistently-low-achieving-schools-could-become-charters-under-kentucky-senate-bill

    I also briefly searched, and found, some pretty concerning reports on equity of achievement in KY urban districts.

    Charter schools for charter schools sake because it’s some political thing to do is the wrong idea.

    Charter schools as part of a way to ensure that all kids have the learning they need to be prepared for a postsecondary career of their choosing – that makes sense.

    • Hunter,

      Thanks for engaging here as well.

      Note that nowhere do I claim charter schools are good or bad. I note simply that Kentucky doesn’t have charter schools and yet its students tend to perform better than Tennessee’s. This is true not just on the ACT but also on 4th and 8th grade NAEP results.

      Certainly, there are high quality charter programs and if Louisville and Lexington want them, that should be an option. Of course, as you note, appropriate accountability measures should be in place. So, instead of a political stunt like the one Rand Paul and Lamar Alexander pulled in Nashville not long ago, any move toward charter schools in Kentucky should be taken carefully and thoughtfully.

      Of greater interest (and emphasis) to me, Kentucky is being very cautious when it comes to tying teacher evaluations and employment decisions to student test scores. This is in stark contrast to the approach currently being taken in Tennessee. And yet it is Kentucky who is (and has been) getting better results. In fact, I read a brief this morning that indicated that Tennessee’s ACT numbers have remained relatively stagnant since 2010 – the same time reforms began including the new, TVAAS-reliant teacher evaluation system. Yes, Tennessee needs to do more for its kids. And I certainly applaud those who are focusing on schools — but, it seems to me that there are better, smarter approaches that Tennessee hasn’t tried. They don’t line up easily with the national rhetoric in terms of reform, but the evidence (in Kentucky at least) indicates they work.

  2. Andy,

    A couple of points.

    First of all, Kentucky’s students ARE being subjected to a barrage of new tests. They are called K-PREP. How did you miss that?

    There will be more new tests as science and social studies standards change.

    And, there might even be further changes in testing if Kentucky elects to drop its self-created K-PREP tests to adopt the PARCC consortium’s tests in 2015.

    Do you think it’s OK to subject Kentucky’s students to all these new tests and hold them accountable, but it’s not OK to also hold teachers accountable for the same test results?

    One more point.

    Tennessee has so few students in charter schools that in 2011 the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 4 and Grade 8 Math Assessments would not provide scores for them.

    So, Tennessee is not a good charter school example. They are still in the early stages of creating their system.

    Pay attention to Louisiana, instead.

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