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Kentucky: First to Adopt Common Core, Achievement Gap Widens

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The Hechinger Report reviews what has happened in Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core standards.


In the first year, test scores plummeted. They have started to inch up, but the achievement gap between white and black students has grown larger.


“Kentucky stepped into the national spotlight in 2010 when it became the first state to adopt the standards after the Obama administration offered federal money to help pay the costs. (Over 40 other states and the District of Columbia eventually adopted the Common Core.) On Kentucky’s previous state tests, tied to its old standards, over 70 percent of elementary school students scored at a level of “proficiency” or better in both reading and math. Once the state introduced the Common Core-aligned tests in the spring of 2012, that percentage dropped 28 points in reading (to 48 percent) and 33 points in math (to 40 percent), according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Middle and high school students’ scores also dropped.


“Of course, we knew that the tougher standards had to be followed up with extra attention to students who were behind,” said Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy at the Education Trust.


“Scores have been edging up ever since. By spring 2015, 54 percent of Kentucky elementary school students were proficient in the English language arts and 49 percent were proficient in math.


“Despite that improvement, within those numbers are hidden divisions that have existed for decades. Breaking the scores down shows that African-American students fare much worse than their white peers.


“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 the Courier-Journal.”


Education Trust, which has received many millions from the Gates Foundation, is one of the strongest supporters of the Common Core standards, which were funded by Gates. Since Education Trust has long been the leading exponent of the view that raising standards and making tests more rigorous would close the achievement gap, the situation in Kentucky is a bit awkward for them.


There is still no evidence, despite the billions spent on Common Core, that it raises achievement or closes gaps between races. Common sense would suggest that making tests harder would cause the kids who are already scoring low to score even lower. A student who can’t clear a four-foot bar is going to be in big trouble if you raise the bar to six feet.


But Common Core was never related to common sense. It was about a theory, which decreed that all students would one day be college-and-career-ready if school work was more rigorous. And this far, the theory is failing.

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