Common Core Has Improved College Readiness in Kentucky?

kentucky-flagKentucky has been getting considerable attention as the first state to implement the Common Core State Standards. Across the nation, people are looking to Kentucky, which was the first state to implement Common Core aligned testing in the 2011-12 school term, to see early indications of the real performance of Common Core.

But, while questions remain about the accuracy of Kentucky’s new Common Core tests, known as the Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress, or KPREP tests, the state has other college readiness test data available from far better established assessments from the ACT, Inc. Those other college readiness tests include the actual ACT college entrance test, given to all of the state’s 11th grade students, and two other tests known as EXPLORE, given to all Kentucky eighth grade students, and PLAN, which is given to all of the state’s 10th graders.

EXPLORE and PLAN have been in use in Kentucky since the 2006-07 school year. Statewide use of the ACT came on line several years thereafter.

Like the ACT, the EXPLORE and PLAN also offer Readiness Benchmark Scores, which are linked to actual college readiness data from the ACT college entrance test. Meeting EXPLORE or PLAN Benchmarks provides a good indication that students as of the eighth grade or tenth grade are progressing on track to eventually be college ready.

Obviously, if Common Core is working in Kentucky, scores on valid college readiness tests like EXPLORE and PLAN should be increasing.

But, that’s not happening.

This graph shows the percentages of Kentucky students that met or exceeded the EXPLORE Benchmark Scores in English, math, reading and science over the years that Kentucky administered this assessment statewide. The recent trends since the onset of Common Core around 2011-12 don’t look good.


The 2014-15 school year results for Common Core subjects of English, math and reading are all uniformly lower than in several previous years. For example:

English has been in steady decline for the past two years.

Reading performance is notably lower now than last year and actually is also lower than results for all but one year since 2009-10, as well.

Math performance also dropped from 2013-14 and with only one exception, the 2014-15 math Benchmark performance is worse than the performance in any of the previous five years.

These decays in performance in Common Core subjects raise concerns about the true functioning of Common Core in the Bluegrass State. The latest scores from the 2014-15 term are for the fourth year of full Common Core operation in Kentucky and the state’s education program should be stabilizing. We should not see such decay on a true college readiness test if Common Core is really working in Kentucky. However, the graph above indicates that at the eighth grade level, at least, Common Core in Kentucky has a problem.

Things only looks slightly better for Common Core in the PLAN results. While math has shown some improvement, both English and reading scores also decayed in the 2014-15 school term.

By the way, science isn’t specifically covered by Common Core although Common Core materials do include reading suggestions for the subject. However, Kentucky has not performed well on EXPLORE science in the past two years, either. The state’s best science performance was posted by the eighth grade class of 2012-13, two years earlier. There was a notable, 4-point drop in the percentage of Kentucky students meeting the science benchmark between 2012-13 and the newest results. PLAN science has been essentially flat since Kentucky’s Common Core testing with KPREP started in 2011-12, as well.

Unfortunately, except for English, disturbingly low percentages of Kentucky’s students meet the EXPLORE and PLAN Benchmarks. With its low current Benchmark Scores, Kentucky needs to be making lots of improvement in all tested subject areas, but that clearly isn’t happening, at least so far, in Kentucky’s Common Core era.

Data Source:

Excel Files for Kentucky’s EXPLORE and PLAN Benchmark results are available in the “Assessment” section on the Kentucky Department of Education’s “Supplemental Data” web page.

6 thoughts on “Common Core Has Improved College Readiness in Kentucky?

  1. Thank you for providing a 7 yr objective & comparative analysis of “basic” test results! Very informative!

    From my training at U of Pitt, I was taught to research & present findings clearly (as you have so well done), but also to question & develop possible theories, trends to explain those findings. (& then research to support, deny theories)….appropriate for research, not news writing.

    While reading your article I was thinking of the possible reasons for the “drop” in testing performance…

    Just a few thoughts:

    1. Because scores went down in all 3 areas tested, reading, math, and science, I would theorize that the lower scores might indicate a flawed educational design i.e. teaching outcomes vs learning outcomes.

    2. Therefore, I would propose that the outcomes of the longitudinal test score comparisons represent a “soft” measure of common core “failing”, not the students! To me , the lower scores indicate that the(narrowed) curriculum & “canned” instructional approaches would lower & flatten learning….limiting use of curr expansion thru thinking skills; shortened content & types of learning approaches…neither teacher nor student applies mental effort to “learn.” Thus, brain, thinking not challenged….

    3.If a valid theory, the next years’ scores would be about the same or lower. Never much higher than baseline of implementing the “teaching” of cc. (How long does it take to “prove” cc is not working? )

    4. How about that? The test results indicate that the new system is failing….not the students!

    Just sharing my thoughts…

    Kathy Zanardelli, MEd
    University of Pittsburgh
    (Rank I, when i taught in KY)


  2. I’m not familiar with PLAN or EXPLORE. Why not go directly to the test that matters, the ACT? ACT’s data for KY graduates shows that the percent of students testing at the college ready level in reading, English, math and science has increased every year since 2011, rising from 16% in that year to 19% in 2014. We are heading in the right direction so let’s stick with the standards and see if we can accelerate even more.


    • RE: drhays’ comment

      So far, we don’t have the ACT scores for 2014-15 but we do have the EXPLORE and PLAN results. That is why I didn’t mention the ACT. Also, the eighth graders in particular have spent more of their total school experience in Common Core influenced classrooms than the recent high school graduates experienced.

      I’ll look at the ACT later this month, but in the meantime, you need to know that while Kentucky’s ACT scores have increased in past years, other states that also test 100% of their students with this college entrance test generally do better, sometimes a lot better, than Kentucky. This blog will give you information about Kentucky’s recent ACT performance:

      One more point: Kentucky Department of Education reports show the total Grade 12 fall membership (enrollment) figures for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school terms were nearly identical (43,877 and 43,873, respectively). But, there was a drop of 600 students between those two years taking the ACT. Could it be that hundreds of students got excluded in 2014 who should have tested, and could this boost the 2014 scores a bit? We’ll know more about that when the 2015 ACT report comes out later this month.


  3. You can see the data collected by the US department of Education for Race to the Top assessments for Kentucky online. If you look at the reports, you will see that the state is still lagging behind 25% from its pre-Common Core student proficiency rates. It is comical that the latest reports do not mention the original 2010-2011 baseline before the implementation of Common Core.. You have to look at the first year report from 2011-2012 to see that baseline.


    • RE: Dave’s Comments

      Kentucky’s scores should have dramatically dropped when the new tests came along because the state’s old testing program was seriously inflated.

      The real issue is that in most cases the scores didn’t drop enough compared to scores for the state from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the ACT’s EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT tests. In other words, Kentucky’s Common Core aligned KPREP tests are still too easy to tell parents and students what is really happening.


  4. Dr. Zanardelli raises some interesting points.

    To be honest, I would like to see a few more years of EXPLORE and PLAN data before drawing firm conclusions about Common Core (longer trend lines would eliminate the possibility that an individual year of weaker students took the assessments), but that sadly isn’t going to happen. The ACT, Inc. announced it is ending EXPLORE and PLAN, and Kentucky will not use it again in the 2015-16 school term.

    ACT is also ending another college readiness assessment called COMPASS used for college placement. This will kill another college readiness trend line in Kentucky that started in the 2011-12 school year.

    It looks like the ACT, Inc. hopes that its new Aspire test series, which it is creating in a for-profit partnership with Pearson Publishers, will become the single source of information about supposed college readiness in the lower grades. Aspire is advertised as fully Common Core aligned. Whether Aspire will maintain the true college readiness characteristics of EXPLORE, PLAN and COMPASS is clearly unknown.

    So far as I have heard, this leaves the ACT college entrance test as the only established college readiness test with a trend line in Kentucky.

    Richard Innes
    Staff Education Analyst
    Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions


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