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Conservative Group Breaks Down Kentucky Test Results

The Bluegrass Institute, a Lexington-based conservative think-tank, has spent the past week dissecting the results of K-PREP, Kentucky's new standardized test, the results of which were released nine days ago. In their latest post, the Institute breaks down the achievement gaps at the high school level with a specific look at racial discrepancies:

Overall, following the change to K-PREP, the reading achievement gaps were larger for both African-Americans and Hispanics in Kentucky’s public high schools. This is exactly the same trend we earlier reported for elementary and middle school reading gaps.

In math, the achievement gaps were reduced for both African-Americans and Hispanics in Kentucky’s high schools between the last year of the KCCT and the first K-PREP testing in 2012. The high school gaps are also somewhat smaller than those in the lower level grades.

However, there is an additional factor to consider when we talk about racial achievement gaps in high schools.

The disaggregated high school graduation statistics from 2011 (latest year available, used for 2012 Unbridled Learning Accountability), which are available by clicking on the “Graduation Rate” link here, show African-Americans had a high school graduation rate of only 70.3 percent while whites graduated at a rate of 79.0 percent. Because many dropouts occur prior to the end of the 10th grade, and because almost all dropouts depart by the end of the 11th grade, the lower African-American K-PREP gaps in high school need to be considered with caution. Some, perhaps all of the gap reduction simply may be due to a larger proportion of struggling students from this minority group dropping out prior to the time these tests are administered.

By the way, Hispanics supposedly graduated from Kentucky’s public high schools at a rate of 83.0 percent in 2011. That is a notably better rate than whites posted, which raises some credibility questions. When the Nonacademic data report was released by the Kentucky Department of Education earlier this year (available by clicking here), it showed the Hispanic high school graduation rate experienced a very sharp rise in 2011 of over 8 percentage points. The Hispanic population in Kentucky is still quite small compared to most states around the nation (somewhere around 3 percent or so of all students) – and data for small student groups tends to bounce around a bit from year to year – but this is still a rather exceptional one-year change.

It also must be noted that Kentucky still has not adopted the highly accurate Cohort Graduation Rate calculation. Kentucky still relies on the somewhat less accurate Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) formula. That can introduce errors in the numbers.

Still, given that Hispanics score notably lower than whites in the new K-PREP reading and math results, the exceptionally high Hispanic graduation rate in 2011 could imply that Hispanics are being socially promoted to diplomas in exceptionally high numbers.

This is, of course, all based on cross cohort data, and the AFGR formula isn’t as accurate as I would like, but this situation will need to be revisited once better quality graduation rate data becomes available after the Class of 2013 graduates.

For more on the Bluegrass Institute's analysis, including a look at the elementary and middle school results, click here.