Achievement Gaps for Kentucky Since KERA Began

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Kentucky’s NAEP Achievement Gaps

The US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences released a report in July 2009 titled “Achievement Gaps, How Black and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Statistical Analysis Report.” It is the first time that a full size report from the Institute of Education Sciences has been devoted to achievement gap analysis of the national assessment, which everyone calls the “NAEP.”

Gaps by Race – Kentucky versus US Average

The tables below summarize some of the NAEP scale score data in the federal report. The tables additionally show the achievement gaps by year between Kentucky’s Whites and the national average scores for Whites. The same data presentation is also shown for a Black to Black gap comparison.

KY White and Black to Nation Gaps Table.jpg

These graphs below show how the White to White and Black to Black gaps have trended over time between Kentucky’s Whites and Blacks and the national averages for Whites and Blacks. The yellow bars show the White to White gaps and the pink bars show the Black to Black gaps for each year.

White to White Black to Black KY NAEP Gaps.jpg


White Performance in closing the gaps is minimal

Kentucky’s Whites generally have consistently trailed their counterparts elsewhere throughout the KERA period, making only scant progress, at best. The 2007 White-White gap for fourth grade math is unchanged from the early days of KERA, and in eighth grade math the gap has only been closed by a scant two points, which might not be a statistically significant change.

The small progress in closing the White-White fourth grade reading gap could be mostly an illusion, as well, because Kentucky sharply increased exclusion of students with learning disabilities on the NAEP reading assessments after KERA took hold in the mid- to late-1990s.

Black decay in the gaps is considerable

It is clear in all of these tables and graphs that Kentucky’s Blacks lost notable ground relative to Blacks elsewhere since KERA began.

For example, in Grade 4 NAEP math, back in 1992 Kentucky’s Blacks scored eight points above the national average score for Blacks. By 2007 that had seriously degenerated to the point where Kentucky’s Blacks scored three points below the national Black average.

This relative increase in the Black-Black gap of 11 points on the NAEP scale is considerable.

Kentucky’s Blacks also went from above to below the national Black average in eighth grade NAEP math.

Finally, in reading, Blacks in Kentucky lost considerable ground, as well. Once scoring five points above the national Black average, today the state’s Blacks only tie it.


Racial Gaps within Kentucky

This section examines the White to Black scoring gaps within Kentucky.

The federal report contains a series of graphs which show how the difference in Black and White scores on the NAEP have changed over time for Kentucky students. Data covering virtually the entire period since KERA was enacted is available for both fourth and eighth grade math and fourth grade reading.

Grade 4 NAEP Math

The first graph below, extracted from Figure 10 in the federal report, shows the Black/White achievement gap for fourth grade NAEP math in Kentucky actually grew somewhat from 17 to 19 points between 1992 and 2007.

This graph includes a dashed red line that shows the overall average math score for all students across the country of all races. Kentucky’s White kids barely matched that average even thought the national samples have a lot more children of color than the Bluegrass State has in its NAEP samples. Because children of color score lower on the NAEP, having a much larger proportion of them in the national sample drags the national average down.


G4 Math Gap Over Time.jpg


While not shown here, the new federal report shows that when we do an “apples to apples” comparison of NAEP results – such as White to White scores only – across the nation Whites scored ten points higher than Kentucky Whites did on this assessment in 2007. Ten points is a big score difference on the NAEP.

Grade 8 NAEP Math

The next graph, taken from Figure 12 in the federal report, shows the gaps are much worse for our eighth grade Black students in math. The gap between their score and the score for Kentucky’s eighth grade Whites grew dramatically from 18 to 25 points between 1990, the year KERA began, and 2007.


G8 Math Gap Over Time.jpg


Furthermore, while not graphed here, Kentucky Whites scored eight points lower than Whites across the nation did on the 2007 eighth grade math assessment. That puts the Kentucky Black/White gap in an even starker perspective. This means our relatively low Black/White gap compared to other states is misleading – Kentucky’s Whites didn’t set anything like a decent target for the state’s Blacks to shoot for, so Kentucky’s below national average gap is no indication of good performance.

Grade 4 NAEP Reading

The last graph, taken from Figure 22 in the federal report, shows how the fourth grade reading gap has trended since the early days of KERA (Note: eighth grade NAEP reading wasn’t tested at the state level until well after KERA began and therefore isn’t shown, though the results are in the federal report for those who are interested in this more narrow timeframe).

As with the other examples, the gap grew somewhat over time.


G4 Reading Gap Over Time.jpg


The federal gap report shows other areas for concern. While the overall scores for all students on the NAEP indicates that Kentucky scores around, or even slightly above, the national fourth grade reading average, the gap report shows the national White fourth grade reading score was 230 in 2007, five points above what our Whites scored. Thus, it is clear that the focus of some groups in Kentucky on just overall NAEP scores has led to serious misunderstanding about the real performance of Kentucky students. Once data is disaggregated by race, a very different, and not comforting, picture of Kentucky education begins to emerge.

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