A legislative perspective
Rep. Greg Stumbo Speaker of the House
Our schools may still have a couple of weeks left before Christmas break and the end of the fall semester, but some of the latest “report cards” on Kentucky’s academic progress have already arrived.
Perhaps the most well-known of those came in early November, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gave its latest breakdown of our fourth and eighth grade scores in reading and math.
This report, one of the longest-running of its kind, showed that both grades outpaced the national average in reading, and that fourth graders matched the average in math. The state’s Department of Education says our scores have held steady in recent years, but notes that the latest testing included a higher percentage of students with learning disabilities or who have limited English proficiency.
Another area where Kentucky is ahead of the national average is the high school graduation rate, which for the class of 2013 was 86 percent. That figure is poised to increase in the years ahead because of legislation this year that will have the dropout age move to 18 by 2017.
Less than a week after the NAEP scores were released, the new Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics gave us an in-depth look at the postsecondary progress of the high school graduating class from 2010.
It found that about 60 percent of the approximately 44,000 graduates went on to pursue a postsecondary education. Fifty-two percent of the class attended college in the fall and spring, but only 46 percent returned for a second year.
Nine out of 10 who enrolled at a Kentucky postsecondary school were considered full-time, yet just 15 percent earned enough credit hours as college freshmen to complete a two- or four-year degree on time. Given recent findings showing that college and career readiness in the 2011 through 2013 high school classes has risen significantly, there is reason to believe this figure will improve, but this is clearly an area where more focus is needed.
For those wanting to know more, the center has data on individual high schools, so you can see how ours compare with the state. That website is http://kcews.ky.gov/HSFeedbackReports.aspx.
The final report this fall offering national comparisons comes from the General Assembly’s own Office of Education Accountability (OEA). In addition to peering into the classroom, it gives us a clearer idea of how our schools stack up in other areas.
For example, poverty remains a persistent challenge, with more than half of our students qualifying for subsidized lunches, a rate higher than all but seven states.
We’re ninth in the percentage of rural students, and have larger school districts than the country as a whole, but class size – about 16 per teacher – is right in the middle of the states.
Academically, Kentucky has seen the number of high school students taking – and passing – Advanced Placement courses for college credit double between 2002 and 2011.
Of the nine states that require all high school students to take the ACT before graduating, Kentucky ranks seventh in its composite score, although the margin separating us from many of the others is just a few tenths of a percentage point.
Another OEA report from October takes a closer look at a small but potentially promising area of education: performance-based credits, which give school districts the opportunity to let students complete a class faster than a semester.
This option has been available in Kentucky since 2006, but only one percent of students received performance-based credit last year. About half of our 173 school districts offer at least one of these courses, but only 23 offer more than five.
OEA notes that the programs have their good and bad points; for one, they can keep students from dropping out or becoming bored, but on the other hand, they can be difficult for teachers to implement. The agency recommends more guidance from the Kentucky Board of Education and the Department of Education on how these classes should be conducted.
Taken together, all of these findings show where our education system is doing well – and where we need to make improvements. Education is always one of the General Assembly’s top priorities during a legislative session, and next year’s – which begins in little more than a month – promises to be no different.
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