Kentucky's school accountability system is in such a state of change it's hard to know what to make of the latest avalanche of test scores. A couple of things do stand out:
■ Kentucky needs to figure out how to teach math and science more effectively, especially at the high-school level.
As usual, the elementary and middle schools outperformed the high schools.
In reading, students performing at proficient or higher statewide dropped 10 points from elementary (76 percent) to high school (66 percent). In math, the drop from elementary to high school was a whopping 27 points (from 73 percent to 46 percent proficient or higher) and in science 30 points (71 percent to 41 percent).
There may be a reasonable explanation, but it appears that students are losing a lot of ground in math and science once they reach high school — even though they will graduate into an economy that demands ever more proficiency in the subjects.
■ The state also must do a better job of educating minorities.
Statewide, just 50 percent of black students scored proficient or higher in reading and math compared with 72 percent of white students.
Poverty is assuredly a factor in the achievement gap. But it's not the whole story. Students who receive free or reduced-price school meals, the common measure of poverty, are performing better than black students. Sixty percent of students receiving free or reduced price meals scored at proficient or higher.
Sixty-three percent of Hispanic students, 80 percent of Asian students and 44 percent of students who have a disability scored proficient or higher in reading and math.
Kentucky can't afford to waste any of its citizens' potential, and education achievement gaps ripple through the economy and society.
A recent study commissioned by the Council on Postsecondary Education found that the gap between white and non-white working-age Kentuckians who have college educations has increased over the past decade, although college graduation rates in both groups rose.
In 2000, 26.3 percent of white Kentuckians, ages 25 to 44, had attained a college degree compared to 16.8 percent of minorities.
By 2009, 34.3 percent of white Kentuckians in that age group had attained college degrees compared to 21.8 percent of minorities.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act succeeded in focusing attention on achievement gaps — and also revealed that developing effective strategies for closing the gaps will take a lot more work.
The test scores released this week are the last ever CATS results. The state tests were given for the final time last spring, to be replaced next spring with different tests based on higher standards.
Also, this seems to be the last year that schools will be declared failures under No Child Left Behind, which was on track to label just about all schools failures by 2014.
Kentucky is one of many states that's expected to receive a waiver from NCLB in exchange for adopting those new, improved standards designed to ensure students leave high school ready for college or a career and that teachers and principals are evaluated by measuring their effectiveness.