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Kentucky Education Officials: Test Score Dips “Not Unexpected”

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky Department of Education has released standardized testing scores for the first time since the pandemic started, but officials are arguing the results don’t reflect what’s happening in the classroom.

Statewide scores for Kentucky Summative Assessment (KSA) — formerly known as the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) — fell compared to the 2018-2019 school year, the last one before the pandemic. But so did participation rates.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said COVID-19 prevented thousands of students from being able to adequately prepare for or take the test. But the federal government still required the state to administer it and report the scores.

“We knew these results would not be what we wanted, but we’re also not altogether surprised,” Glass said. “These are not unexpected given the disruptions that we’ve endured over the past two years.”

KSA assesses elementary, middle and high school students in four subjects. The reading, math and science sections of the tests for elementary school students had the highest participation rates, at about 89%. High school writing had the lowest, at 72.4%. Participation rates dipped even more in Jefferson County Public Schools. There, it fell below 50% for high school students.

For elementary school, the percentage of students testing in the “proficient” and “distinguished” categories — the two highest classifications — was down about 7-17% in each subject statewide compared to 2018-19. Middle and high school scores saw similar drops in some subjects.

But Glass said it isn’t fair to compare this year’s scores with prior averages due to the effects of the pandemic.

“In short, these are different tests on different standards, and they were administered under unusual circumstances to fewer students,” he said.

JCPS students scored in the “novice” and “apprentice” categories more often than the statewide averages in most subjects. Superintendent Marty Pollio criticized the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to move forward with standardized testing during the pandemic.

“It’s one of the most disappointing decisions I’ve had an education agency bring down in a long, long time,” Pollio said. “And our teachers worked so hard. … There is no doubt schools did everything they could to reach out to kids. But what we know is [non-traditional instruction] is not in-person instruction.”

Pollio said restrictions on in-school learning and other pandemic-related stressors affected the results. Students only had 10 to 14 days of in-person learning before taking the tests last spring.

“On top of that, mix in the quarantining and the contact tracing that was going on,” Pollio said. “On top of that, mix in just us trying to meet the social-emotional needs of our students as they return to us after an extremely challenging year. On top of that, 25,000 students who usually take K-PREP did not take K-PREP this time. So we have to talk about the validity of those numbers.”

Pollio said there are needs that must be addressed in the education system, but the K-PREP results don’t paint an accurate picture of what those look like. Instead, he said results from the Measures of Academic Progress tests, which are still being processed, will be more useful.

The number of ACT tests administered dropped by about 7% statewide compared to 2018-19. The average composite score fell by a point, down to 18.

Though JCPS’s average composite score was only down 0.2 points, the number of students tested was cut by about 25%. Pollio attributed this to different factors, including being out of school longer than other districts due to the coronavirus.

“When you look at our numbers of kids that have significant trauma issues, poverty, homelessness, there is no doubt that the participation in NTI was lower for those students,” Pollio said. “That had an impact on the outcomes, as well. So for us, it’s about moving forward and making sure that we address those needs as quickly, as intensely as we can.”

Statewide graduation rates decreased by a percentage point, but there was a slight uptick for Black students. Commissioner Glass said that could be the result of equity initiatives kicking in, though he cautioned against drawing conclusions based on what’s happened in the pandemic.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated “the Kentucky Summative Assessment” as the former name of the tests and “the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP)” as the current name.

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