Kentucky’s Achievement Gap Increases Five Years Post-Common Core


Kentucky was an earlier adopter of the Common Core State Standards. They adopted them to replace the state’s English Language Arts and math standards over five years ago.  The state has seen a widening black-white achievement gap since then.

The Hechinger Report writes:

In spring 2015, in the elementary grades, 33 percent of black students were proficient in reading, versus 58 percent of white students; in math, the breakdown was 31 percent to 52 percent, according to Kentucky Department of Education figures.

And those gaps, in many cases, have widened, according to an analysis of state testing data by The Hechinger Report and theCourier-Journal.

In Jefferson County Public Schools in 2011-12, the first year of Common Core testing, 25 percent of black third-graders were proficient or better in reading, compared to 54 percent of white third-graders. By 2015, when the majority of those same students likely had reached sixth grade, the percentage of proficient black sixth-graders had inched up 2 points while that of white sixth-graders had increased more than 4 points.

The students at Dunn Elementary, located in a leafy and affluent section of Louisville, had average scores about 20 points higher than the rest of the state. From 2012 to 2015, its white and black students saw improvement on reading tests, and the black students in many cases outscored their black peers in the rest of the district. But at the same time, white students at Dunn scored proficient or better in both math and reading at more than double the percentage of black students.

Closing these gaps was one of the goals of Common Core reform.

In the past, “Schools that were in low-income areas and predominately served students of color often had very low standards for their students that did not prepare them adequately. When the [Common Core] standards were first introduced, I sent them to my sister, a college professor of English, and she wrote back right away, ‘Yeah, this is what you need to succeed in college,’ ” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based research group.

Now, Kentucky finds itself at a crossroads. With four years’ worth of testing to show after its quick embrace of Common Core, it’s clear that raising standards was not enough to help all learners.

The last sentence in this excerpt is a major understatement. There wasn’t (and still isn’t) any empirical evidence that shows standards will help increase student achievement. While Common Core advocates care to admit it we now have evidence in Kentucky that a one-size-fits-all approach to education reform has made the black-white achievement gap worse.  Whether it has actually helped Kentucky students in general is still very much up for debate.

1 thought on “Kentucky’s Achievement Gap Increases Five Years Post-Common Core

  1. The “news” about Kentucky’s achievement gap growth is old news in Kentucky thanks to my report, “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update,” which was released at the end of February (online here: Still, it is nice to have the newspaper from Louisville and The Hechinger Report back us up.

    By the way, the Courier-Journal and Hechinger are doing multiple reports on Common Core related activity in Kentucky. Additional reports indicate that there also are problems for English Language Learners in Kentucky although no one really has full data on how those students perform over time.

    One caution area is the report on what has happened to students with learning disabilities. Hechinger’s article title gets it right as “’It’s unfair’ special education students lag behind under Common Core in Kentucky.” In sharp contrast, the Courier ran this as “closing gap for challenged kids can help others.”

    Aside from the Courier missing the main point with their headline, the article actually raises up the Field Elementary School in Louisville as doing an exemplary job for students with disabilities. While it is true that learning disabled student scores did rise notably in the school since CCSS came along, the problem for this school is that it has the second largest white minus black achievement gap for math in the entire Jefferson County School District, which is one of the 50 largest school districts in the nation. That gap is just shy of 50 percentage points!

    Also raising credibility flags for Field is the fact that in both math and reading the proficiency rate for blacks was only 27.6 percent in the latest available 2014-15 data. For the students with disabilities, the overall average was 47.4 percent proficiency. Given this obviously problematic data, I certainly am not eager to transport the Field model for progress to other schools without knowing a whole lot more than the article provides.


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