Ky.'s public schools performing much better than critics pretend

During this long political season, we have noticed that Kentucky's public school system has been a frequent topic of discussion. It seems that our schools are often the target of individuals trying to make the case that they are the worst — or near worst — in the country.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In an effort to educate the public about Kentucky public education, here are some facts:

■ On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Kentucky fourth and eighth graders continue to outperform their peers nationally in reading. In science, fourth and eighth graders scored significantly above the national average.

■ During the 2013-14 school year, overall student performance improved, with the percentage of proficient and distinguished students increasing in nearly every subject at every grade level. Students in groups that have historically had achievement gaps are performing at higher levels across multiple content areas and grade levels.

■ High school graduates' performance on the ACT has increased in every subject, and overall composite scores increased significantly — by nearly one point compared to one-tenth of a point nationally.

■ More students, including minorities, are taking Advanced Placement tests and scoring higher. In 2013-14, Kentucky students outpaced the nation in the percentage of growth of those receiving qualifying scores of three or higher.

■ In 2013, Kentucky moved to a more accurate system of measuring graduation rates that is also used by most other states. In 2014, the four-year graduation rate is 87.4 percent, up from 86.1 percent in 2013.

■ Nearly two-thirds of all graduates (62.3 percent) now are considered ready to take credit-bearing college courses or a postsecondary training program. The rate is up from 34 percent in 2010.

■ The percent of recent Kentucky high school graduates who entered college in Kentucky and met statewide standards for readiness in English, mathematics and reading increased from 52 percent in 2010-11 to more than 68 percent in 2012-13, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

Kentucky also has earned national recognition for education improvement. For example:

■ In Education Week's annual Quality Counts report, Kentucky ranked 10th, moving up from 34th place in 2010. This reflects efforts to improve teaching, raise student achievement and many other variables related to public education.

■ A Harvard study ranked Kentucky eighth in student performance improvement in the last two decades.

■ According to the Data Quality Campaign, Kentucky has implemented all but one of 10 actions to ensure effective data use among teachers, policymakers and parents — making it among the leaders.

■ Code.org, a national nonprofit that promotes computer-science education and computer programming, has recognized Kentucky for its "progressive state policy to make computer science count" as a core graduation requirement.

■ In a recent report by the Education Commission of the States , Kentucky's online School Report Card was singled out as one of only eight nationwide that was easy to find, informative and readable.

And finally, the leader of our statewide educational effort, Commissioner Terry Holliday, is highly regarded nationally and is a force for progress in our school system. He has been:

■ Named the 2014 Policy Leader of the Year by the National Association of State Boards of Education.

■ Served on the board of the Council of Chief State School Officers since 2010 and is currently president.

■ Chosen in 2011 for the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation's Report Card.

■ Co-chaired the Commission on the Accreditation of Educators Preparation task force that developed new educator preparation standards.

■ Participated in the Global Education Leaders Program.

Of course, Kentucky still has a long way to go to reach its goal of all students proficient and college- and career-ready. However, it is a disservice to the public to pass on inaccurate and inappropriate information. To do so damages not only the image of Kentucky, it also damages each and every student in our school system.

It is time to work together on behalf of our schools. Public education is much too important to be used as a political football.

Roger Marcum is chair and Mary Gwen Wheeler and David K. Karem are members of the Kentucky Board of Education.