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Kentucky: The First Domino?

Early Common Core results show a steep drop. Is your state next?

Kentucky has long been a pioneer in education reform. In 1990, the state equalized funding and dramatically altered the curriculum and governance of schools. More recently, it adopted a progressive bill calling for new academic standards and a new testing system, both of which were implemented in the 2011–12 school year. These lined up quickly with the Common Core standards, putting Kentucky first in line to give tests that matched the standards.

Kentucky is also part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a consortium of 23 states developing a Core-aligned assessment system, which will be ready for states to administer in the 2014–15 school year.

The first Kentucky results from 2011–12 are seen as a predictor of things to come, so when they were released on November 2, education stakeholders nationwide scrutinized them. The first reaction was a collective "uh-oh." Elementary and middle school students scoring "proficient" in reading or math dropped by about one-third.

Expecting a backlash from educators, parents, and the media, the Kentucky DOE provided data and analysis up front, says DOE spokesperson Lisa Gross. "We'd predicted a drop in rates of up to 40 points in the gap data. The drop was not as steep, landing in the 20-to-30-point range. It still shows that there's a lot of work needed in that area."

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, doesn't think the results will cause states to second-guess their decision to adopt the Common Core. "I think there's general acceptance that having national standards is the right thing to do."

There was a less-publicized kernel of good news: a 9 percent increase in college/career readiness, and in the end, that's the primary focus of the state's educators.

"Kentucky has done a nice job of providing support for parents, teachers, and schools," says Minnich. "We've got to make sure the right information gets into the right people's hands, and have some of these hard conversations. Seeing lower passing rates are going to make schools feel like they haven't gotten the job done, but they are accurately aligned with expectations for college and career success."

—Winter 2013—

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