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Common-Core Tests in Kentucky, Year Two: What's the Trend?

Kentucky was the first state to release test score results that year that were supposed to be aligned to the Common Core State Standards last year, and as expected, there were significant drops in proficiency in both reading and math on the new assessments for the 2011-12 school year. Now we have a "trend line" (albeit a short one) in Kentucky: second-year results in Kentucky from those common-core aligned tests for the 2012-13 school year.

Remember, the standard theory that covers the introduction of a new test like these K-PREP exams is that after an initial, dramatic drop in scores, there will be a steady improvement as teachers and students become accustomed to the new standards. And Kentucky officials say they're leading the way with common-core implementation. So what are Kentucky's results on these exams, known as K-PREP?

In reading, proficiency rose for middle (46.8 percent to 51.1 percent) and high school students (52.2 percent to 55.8 percent), and was basically stable for elementary school students from 48 percent to 47.8 percent. And in math, the proficiency rates rose for elementary school students (40.4 percent to 43.9 percent) and was essentially stable for middle school students (40.6 percent to 40.7 percent), but took a noticeable tumble among high schoolers, dropping from 40 percent to 36 percent. 

Here's a breakdown of the testing data by racial subgroups. Among high schoolers, not just the overall score went down—math scores slid across all four racial subgroups. Proficiency among white non-Hispanic students slid from 42 percent in the 2011-12 school year to 38 percent in 2012-13, and scores for black students dipped by 4.1 percentage points down to 20.2. So that key achievement gap, in a state with relatively few Hispanics and Asian students, is persisting at the same level. But what was the group with the biggest proficiency dip in math among high school students? Asians—their proficiency slid by seven percentage points down to 59.4 percent.

For elementary school students in reading, proficiency rates were either flat (for whites) or declined a little (for all other racial subgroups). Those who stress literacy by third grade as a key target for future student success, a relatively popular approach across states, won't be pleased by those numbers. 

On the positive side of the ledger, middle schoolers improved across various groups in reading, as did elementary school students in math. And students receiving free and reduced-price meals improved in elementary and middle school in both reading and math. Only in high school math did the proficiency rate for  students on federally subsidized meals take a bit of a dive, in keeping with other student groups in high-school math. Keep in mind that based on how the Kentucky education department broke down the data, some students are counted in more than one such subgroup.

However, students at all three school levels missed the state's performance targets in both reading and math. That below-par performance also persists across subgroups. Those targets tended to go up by roughly seven percentage points from 2011-12 to 2012-13. 

In a Sept. 26 news conference discussing the results, Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday had a mixed reaction: "Overall, the math and reading scores in grade 3-8 and high school did go up, but the concerns we have is they did not go up fast enough." (He left out the fact that for some groups of students, scores declined.) Holliday noted that the department anticipated it would take three to five years for students to "catch up" with the standards, so these returns are still relatively early. 

So it's remains unclear exactly when we can, or should, expect a broader and faster increase in scores after the initial plunge in 2011-12. But the targets I just mentioned are only going to continue rising. Will students' scores catch up, and then keep up? 

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