Graduation rate, Advanced Placement and ACT scores rise

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(Frankfort, KY) – The percentage of Kentucky public school students graduating from high school continued to increase; more students took rigorous Advanced Placement tests and earned a qualifying score of 3 or higher; and students scored higher with a greater percentage of them meeting readiness benchmarks on the ACT, according to 2016-17 assessment data released today by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

Kentucky is in the process of phasing out its old accountability system, and replacing it with a new accountability system created under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Kentucky Senate Bill 1 (2017). The new system is expected to be in place by the 2018-19 school year with accountability first reported in the 2019-20 school year.

As a result of the transition, this year’s release does not include overall accountability scores, classifications or rankings for schools and districts, although KDE will continue to support low-performing schools and districts during the transition period. This year’s release includes achievement, gap, growth, college- and career-readiness and graduation rate data. Data from Program Reviews, which Senate Bill 1 eliminated, is reported if a school or district chose to do so.

According to the data, Kentucky’s four-year graduation rate increased to 89.8 – from 88.6 percent last year and 88.0 percent the previous year.

Also, students took nearly 52,000 Advanced Placement tests last year and nearly 26,000 earned qualifying scores of three or higher – more than in past years.

ACT scores, which are based on all public school juniors taking the test last spring, increased across the board in English, mathematics, reading and science. The overall composite score also is up over the past five years, from 19.2 in 2012-13 to 19.8 in 2016-17. Additionally, a greater percentage of students met Council on Postsecondary Education readiness benchmarks.

“While this year’s results are different than what we have released in the past, they still show that Kentucky’s schools are making continued progress on graduating more students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said. “The gains are the result of a lot of hard work by our teachers, administrators and our students with the support of parents, community members and our education partners.

“As we move into our new accountability system over the next two years, we expect to see even more positive results as districts and schools move beyond test score and compliance mentality to a continuous improvement model that promotes proficiency and the closure of achievement gaps for every child,” Pruitt said.

Overall, achievement increased slightly at the elementary and middle school levels, but was down somewhat at the high school levels. Achievement gaps between different groups of students persisted in many areas and will be a major focus of KDE, schools and districts under the new accountability system.


Next-Generation Learner Component Scores1

 YearAchievementGapGrowthCollege/Career Readiness2Graduation Rate
Elementary201369.942.159.9n/an/a
201472.645.459.8n/an/a
201569.242.659.8n/an/a
201668.343.561.4n/an/a
201768.626.659.0n/an/a
Middle201369.039.959.947.2n/a
201470.641.959.947.8n/a
201566.838.059.943.9n/a
201668.124.958.8n/an/a
201768.442.559.2n/an/a
High201360.733.757.260.886.1
201462.035.156.372.488.0
201562.436.457.179.089.0
201663.435.957.381.989.7
201762.323.9n/a77.890.2
1These figures represent point totals, rather than percentages.

2College/Career-Readiness (CCR) includes a bonus calculation. The percentage of high school graduates that are college/career ready for 2017 is 65.1, while CCT percentage with the bonus is 77.8.

The ACT

Since 2008, all Kentucky’s public school juniors participate in The ACT, which assesses English, mathematics, reading and science and is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. The cost of the exam is paid for by state funds. 


ACT Subject Area Scores, Kentucky Public School Juniors

 EnglishMathematicsReadingScienceCompositeTotal Tested
2012-1318.418.919.419.519.243,960
2013-1418.719.219.619.619.444,055
2014-1519.018.919.819.319.445,626
2015-1619.019.019.919.819.545,330
2016-1719.219.420.319.919.845,745

Kentucky’s model includes a college/career-readiness component. The college-ready indicator includes students who meet the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) Systemwide Benchmarks for English (18), mathematics (19) and reading (20) on any administration of the ACT. CPE has set systemwide standards for college readiness based on ACT’s English, mathematics and reading assessments. Students attending a Kentucky public college or university and who meet the Kentucky systemwide standards of readiness are guaranteed access to credit-bearing college coursework without the need for developmental education or supplemental courses.


Percentages of Kentucky Public School Juniors Who Meet CPE Benchmarks for College-Level Readiness

 EnglishMathematicsReading
2012-1353.1%39.6%44.2%
2013-1455.9%43.5%47.1%
2014-1555.3%38.1%47.4%
2015-1654.3%39.7%49.2%
2016-1755.8%43.7%53.2%

PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, SAT
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) and PSAT 10 are the same assessment offered at different times of year. The standardized test provides firsthand practice for the SAT test and is designed to measure the essential knowledge and skills for college and career readiness and success, as shown by research. The PSAT 10 is typically taken by 10th graders, and PSAT/NMSQT is typically taken by 10th and 11th graders.

Potential scores on each section of the PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 – Evidence-based Reading and Writing (ERW) and Math – range from 160 to 760.


Kentucky Public High School Students Taking the PSAT 10 or PSAT/NMSQT*

 ERWMathTotal Score
KY Sophomores5175031020
U.S. Sophomores465460925
KY Juniors5755511126
U.S. Sophomores5065001006
* The College Board redesigned the PSST/NMSQT in October 2015 and introduced the PSAT 10 in February 2016. Statistical information for the two assessments are combined and reported by grade level. Students are counted once per grade and only their latest scores are included. Since this is the first year for the redesigned test, mean score trend data is not reported.

Advanced Placement (AP)
Rigorous Advanced Placement courses are available in more than 35 subjects, ranging from high-level mathematics and science to fine arts. Students may opt to take a standardized end-of-course exam at the conclusion of each course and if they score well enough on it, they may earn college credit. Although it varies from school to school, most colleges require a minimum qualifying score of 3 on an AP exam to earn college credit for the course.

In 2017, more Kentucky students took more Advanced Placement (AP) tests and scored higher than in past years.


All Kentucky Public High School Students Taking AP Exams

 Number of Test-TakersNumber of TestsNumber of Scores 3-5
201430,18148,85923,586
201531,77250,91224,437
201631,46349,86524,777
201732,19251,63725,670

The Kentucky Department of Education’s Advanced Placement for All project allowed low income students to take AP exams for free. The project is supported through a partial fee waiver by the College Board and department funds. Last year, more students (8,506) took advantage of fee waivers or reductions than the year before.


Under-represented Students Participating In Fee Waiver/Reductions and AP Performance

YearNumber of students participating in fee waiver/ reductionNumber of under-represented students
with scores of 3-5
20135,8722,442
20146,7812,551
20157,6222,981
20167,4664,116
20178,5064,590

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