We’ve become accustomed to mixed news about education progress in Kentucky, and the latest test results do nothing to break that pattern when it comes to narrowing achievement gaps among groups of students.
Yes, there has been progress in delivering educational excellence with equity. But we are still falling far short of ensuring that every student receives a high-quality education.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has recently accelerated its efforts in this critical area. The statewide citizens group released “Exellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business” to spotlight the importance of closing the achievement gaps that are denying thousands of students the opportunities that education offers.
The committee followed up with “2016 Statewide Results: An Excellence with Equity Report,” the first of an annual analysis of elementary and secondary students’ test results. While no single assessment can give a complete picture of student learning, the results provide an important snapshot of recent progress and the work ahead.
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The report, which also incorporated graduation rates and the percent of students ready for college and career, revealed the following, based on information from Kentucky’s 2016 school report cards.
▪ Good news for students with identified disabilities, including improvement in math, reading and college- and career-ready graduates along with narrowing gaps on most indicators.
▪ Mostly good news for students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, with growth in math, reading and college- and career-ready graduates and with all gaps shrinking between those students and their classmates with higher family incomes.
▪ Mixed news for African-American students and students of two or more races, with improvements in math, reading and college- and career-ready graduates, but many gaps widening compared to their white (non-Hispanic) classmates.
▪ Troubling news for Hispanic students, with math as the only improving subject and most gaps widening compared to their white (non-Hispanic) classmates.
▪ Troubling news for English learners, with a pattern of declining scores and widening gaps compared to students who are not English learners.
How do the gaps look at our local level? Looking at third-grade reading results, Fayette County has a gap of 37 points between low-income third-graders and their classmates. That is, only 39 percent of third-graders who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are reading at the proficient level, while 76 percent of students from more prosperous homes are reading proficiently.
Fayette County also has third-grade reading gaps of eight points between African-American and white students, 35 points between Hispanic and white students, and 34 points between students with and without identified learning disabilities.
As the report points out: “Where there is good news here, it is good news about making one worthwhile step in a long journey. We need sustained improvement at a robust pace, year after year, to equip all of Kentucky’s students for successful futures.”
There was progress on math scores, for example, and that is worth celebrating.
But three examples from the statewide results show how much work remains to be done: For elementary students with identified disabilities, 3.4 percent growth in math proficiency is good news and it still means only 28.2 percent of those children are proficient. For middle school students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a 4.4 percentage point step up in mathematics is important and it only moves that group to 35.6 percent proficient. For African-American high-school students, a 4.5 percentage point increase is exciting and not nearly enough when only 27.3 percent of those students have reached proficiency.
It is time for a new headline spreading the news about education in Kentucky. Here’s one we can all look forward to: Test results show each and every student achieving at high levels.
Melissa Moore Murphy, an attorney with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and a former criminal prosecutor, has been a PTA member and parent representative on site-based decision making councils at Lexington schools. Murphy also serves on the boards of the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center and GreenHouse17.