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Many Achievement Gaps Grow on Kentucky's New Common Core Tests

The statewide results on Kentucky's new tests, the first to be explicitly linked to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and math, are now available, and you can read my story about the numbers and reactions here. But one thing I don't mention in my story is the performance of "traditional" subgroups of students, such as blacks and Hispanics, in relation to whites.

Fortunately, Richard Innes, an education policy analyst at the Bluegrass Institute who is quoted in my piece, has taken up the challenge. He has broken down the data to show what the achievement gaps were on this year's K-PREP results, and compared them to 2011 data on the KCCT, the previous set of exams. What has he found?

All of the achievement gaps between whites and blacks and Hispanic in each grade, in both reading and math, increased from the KCCT to the K-PREP tests, with the exception of the gap in 3rd grade math and 5th grade math between whites and blacks. In 3rd grade reading, for example, whites outperformed blacks by 20.3 percentage points on the old KCCT test, and by 24.9 percentage points on the new K-PREP test. In all, 10 out of 12 possible achievement gaps have gotten bigger in Innes' analysis.

"The data...for elementary schools indicates that achievement gaps are a problem," Innes wrote on his blog.

As he mentions, while the state breaks out the data for the usual subgroups, school accountability for achievement gaps is based on a "super-subgroup" of these traditional subgroups all rolled into one. (Kentucky switched to this accountability model under its No Child Left Behind waiver.) As you can imagine, there have been concerns that states may start paying less attention to individual subgroups if schools and districts only have to worry about the super-subgroup when it comes to their ratings from the state. So those concerns, which my colleague Michele McNeil mentioned in her story, are only likely to increase if the subgroup data shows that gaps are growing.

A spokesman for the Kentucky education department, Lisa Gross, said the state didn't really make any predictions in terms of achievement gaps specific to groups. Gaps were a problem before the new tests, she said, and that when it came to the new K-PREP tests, "We knew that they would be an issue."

She did say that the new achievement gap calculations using the super-subgroup did the job in terms of capturing the gaps where they existed, and that schools and districts that previously scraped by despite having large gaps won't be able to do so using the new calculation.

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an education advocacy group in Kentucky, has also examined achievement gaps on the new K-PREP tests for high school, although it doesn't compare those gaps to KCCT gaps from 2011. On the reading test results, 55 percent of whites were at least proficient, compared to 32 percent of blacks, 39 percent of students on free and reduced-price meals, and 41 percent of Hispanics. In math, the percentages were 42 percent proficiency for whites, 24 percent for blacks, 28 percent for students on free and reduced-price meals, and 35 percent for Hispanics, making the math gaps a little smaller than those in reading.

I'll have more observations on achievement gaps as I get more information.

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