(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The number of students graduating from high school and considered college/career-ready continues to increase, and more students are scoring at higher levels in most grades and subjects since the state launched its assessment and accountability system five years ago, according to data released by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

In 2016, the college/career readiness rate jumped to 68.5 – up from 66.9 last year and 62.5 the previous year. The four-year graduation rate is up as well to 88.6 – from 88.0 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

“Kentucky schools are to be congratulated for their continued progress on graduating more students with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in the 21st century,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt. “The gains we are seeing 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.”

The numbers of schools and districts performing at the highest levels are up from last year. A total of 802 schools and 138 districts are classified as either proficient or distinguished.

The percent of students scoring at the proficient and distinguished levels has increased in nearly every subject and at every grade level since 2012, the first year of the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) assessments. The state’s overall score, as well as elementary and high school overall scores, also improved over last year. The overall score for middle schools declined.

“While we would like to see big gains in achievement every year, it also is equally important to look at the areas we fall short in and use those results to make good decisions for students,” Pruitt said. “We are committed to pushing forward in order to prepare all students for a bright future.”

The results also continue to underscore the state’s struggle to reduce the achievement gaps for students in groups that have historically lagged behind their peers across multiple content areas and grade levels. The 2016 results do show an increase in the numbers of students scoring proficient and distinguished across grades and subjects, particularly in reading and mathematics.

“We saw some improvements overall in scores, but there are still huge gaps between groups of students,” Pruitt said. “We need to be honest with ourselves about the huge achievement and opportunity gaps that have persisted in our schools for far too long. We need to take collective ownership of this problem and undertake a culture change at KDE, in our schools and districts, and in our communities that is committed to preparing all students for a bright future.”

This is the fifth and final year the state will report results from Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning for All Assessment and Accountability System, which will be phased out and replaced with a new accountability system being created as a result of Congress’ reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in December 2016. The new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states more flexibility and provides state and local control over the accountability process.

“This new law offers us an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of our past, and create a new assessment and accountability system that accurately and fairly measures student learning and allows educators to make good decisions for students,” he said.

As a result of this anticipated transition to ESSA and a new accountability system, the U.S. Department of Education gave states the option on whether to identify any new Priority or Focus Schools in 2016. Kentucky opted not to identify any new Priority or Focus Schools this year, since it would be unfair to identify them under one accountability system and hold them accountable under a new system. Schools and districts that previously were identified under one of these two assistance categories were allowed to exit if they met their goals. Kentucky has 27 Priority Schools, with none exiting this year.

The Unbridled Learning: College/Career-Readiness Accountability model is based on the Kentucky Board of Education’s strategic priorities: Next-Generation Learners, Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support and Next-Generation Professionals. In 2015-16, accountability is based only on the components of the Next-Generation Learners and Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support. In April 2015, the Kentucky Board of Education voted to delay the addition of Next-Generation Professionals. Various component scores in each area are calculated and weighted to produce an overall score for that measure.

This year, as in the past, public schools and districts earned points, on a scale of 0 to 100, based on how well they did on the five Next-Generation Learner components:

  • Achievement which includes student performance in reading, mathematics, science (high school only), social studies and writing.
  • Gap which includes the percentage of proficient and distinguished students in the Non-Duplicated Gap Group for all content areas as well as Novice Reduction, with each component worth 50 percent.
  • Growth which includes the Student Growth Percentile in reading and mathematics (percentage of students at typical or higher levels of growth) as well as Categorical Growth at the elementary and middle school level with each worth 50 percent. At the high school level, growth includes only the Student Growth Percentile, because only single tests are given in the content areas.
  • College/Career-Readiness as measured by the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in three content areas on ACT benchmarks, college placement tests and career measures at high school. Due to the discontinuation of the ACT Explore test, College/Career Readiness is not reported at the Middle School level in 2016.
  • Graduation Rate which uses a Five-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation formula for the 20 percent calculation of Next-Generation Learners. However, four-year cohort graduation rates are used to determine whether a school/district met its graduation rate goal. In the area of Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support, schools receive points (on a scale of 0-12) for Program Reviews in Arts and Humanities, Practical Living and Career Studies and Writing. K-3 Program Reviews generate points for schools with a K-3 grade configuration. And this year for the first time, Global Competency/World Languages Program Review scores are included at the high schools level.

Next-Generation Learner Component Scores1

Graduation RateTotal Score3
Middle School201267.437.960.444.1n/a53.5
High School201256.728.958.551.9

1These figures represent point totals, rather than percentages.
2College/Career-Readiness (CCR) includes the bonus calculation for accountability. The percentage of high school graduates who are college/career-ready for 2016 is 65.7, while the CCR percentage with the bonus is 81.8.
3Total Score is calculated using a formula that weights each component.


In the area of Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support, schools receive points (on a scale of 0-12) for Program Reviews in Arts and Humanities, Practical Living and Career Studies and Writing. K-3 Program Reviews generate points for schools with a K-3 grade configuration. And this year for the first time, Global Competency/World Languages Program Review scores are included at the high schools level.

Mandated by Senate Bill 1 (2009), Program Reviews are an ongoing, year-round process where school personnel assess the characteristics of an instructional program on four standards: Curriculum/Instruction, Formative/Summative

Assessment, Professional Development and Administrative/Leadership. Program Reviews are designed to ensure schools offer quality learning opportunities in each of the program areas.

Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support: (Program Reviews)

YearArts and HumanitiesPractical Living and Career StudiesWritingK-3Global Competency/
World Languages
Middle School201316.86.87.0n/a
High School20137.37.57.0n/an/a
1Baseline year is not included in the accountability calculation.


For 2016, the overall score for accountability is calculated using the weighted scores from Next-Generation Learners (77 percent) and Program Review (23 percent).

Based on their overall scores, schools and districts are placed in one of three classifications, Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement.

For 2015-16, the overall score associated with the classification are:

  • Elementary: Proficient 67.2; Distinguished 72.8; School of Distinction 76.0
  • Middle: Proficient 65.8; Distinguished 70.2; School of Distinction 72.5
  • High: Proficient 70.2; Distinguished 75.4; School of Distinction 77.7
  • District: Proficient 66.2; Distinguished 70.5; District of Distinction 71.9

Number of Schools and Districts by Classification1

YearNeeds ImprovementProficientDistinguished
Middle School20122316636
High School20121604624
Total Schools2012899260137
1Starting with 2014, the classifications are based on Next-Generation Learners and Program Reviews, while 2012 and 2013 are based on Next-Generation Learners only.


In order to promote continuous improvement, each school/district has an Annual Measureable Objective (AMO) that it must meet. For the 2015-16 school year, the AMO is calculated from the total scores of the Next-Generation Learner’s component only.

If a school/district meets its AMO, graduation goal and student test participation rate, it may earn an additional designation of progressing.  

Schools and districts are placed in rewards or assistance categories based on overall score and other data.

Number of Schools and Districts by Rewards and Assistance Categories

Rewards CategoriesAssistance Categories
YearSchool of
High-Performing SchoolHigh-Progress
Middle School20121816n/a9106
High School2012118n/a3276
Total Schools20126268n/a41285
DistrictsDistrict of
High-Progress DistrictPriority DistrictFocus District


School/district rewards categories are:

School/District of Distinction

  • meets its current year AMO, student participation rate and graduation rate goal
  • has a graduation rate above 80 percent for the prior two years
  • scores at the School of Distinction cut score or higher on the overall score
  • for a district – does not have a school categorized as a Focus School or Priority School

High-Performing School/District

  • meets its current year AMO, student participation rate and graduation rate goal
  • has a graduation rate above 80 percent for the prior two years
  • scores above the High-Performing cut score on the overall score
  • for a district – does not have any schools categorized as Focus Schools or Priority Schools

High-Progress School/District

A Title I or Non-Title I school that:

  • meets its current year AMO, student participation rate and graduation goal
  • has a graduation rate above 80 percent for the prior two years
  • has an improvement score indicating the school is in the top 10 percent of improvement of all non-Title I elementary, middle or high schools as determined by the difference in the two most recent calculations of the overall score

A district that:

  • meets its current year AMO, student participation rate and graduation goal
  • has a graduation rate above 80 percent for the prior two years
  • has an improvement score indicating the district is in the top 10 percent of improvement of all districts as determined by the difference in the two most recent calculations of the overall score

School/district assistance categories are:

Priority School

  • has an overall score in the bottom 5 percent of overall scores by level for all schools that failed to meet the AMO for three consecutive years
  • has  a graduation rate that has been below 80 percent for three or more consecutive years

Focus School 

  • has a nonduplicated student gap group score in the bottom 10 percent of nonduplicated student gap group scores for all elementary, middle and high schools
  • has an individual student subgroup within assessment grades by level with a score in the bottom 5 percent
  • has a graduation rate that has been less than 80 percent for two consecutive years

Focus District

  • has a non-duplicated student gap group score in the bottom 10 percent of nonduplicated student gap group scores for all districts. Focus Districts are identified annually based on data.

It is possible for a Proficient or Distinguished school or district that would otherwise be in rewards to be a Focus School or District if it has a large achievement gap.

Schools previously identified remain in their assistance status for a minimum of two consecutive years over which time they must demonstrate sustained improvement to exit. With the transition to a new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), no new Priority or Focus Schools were identified in 2016.

Accountability Components
Overall student performance on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) improved, depending on the grade and subject. At the elementary level, the percentage of students performing at Proficient/Distinguished increased in reading and mathematics. At the middle school level, the percentage of students performing at the Proficient/Distinguished levels increased in reading, mathematics, social studies and Writing On- Demand. High Schools also made gains in mathematics, Writing On-Demand and language mechanics.

In 2010, Kentucky was the first state to adopt more rigorous standards known as the Kentucky Academic Standards (KAS) in English/language arts and mathematics. The standards are aligned with college expectations and set the minimum for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Kentucky implemented the KAS in the 2011-12 school year with students first tested on the new standards in spring 2012.

In 2015, public school students in grades 3-8 took K-PREP tests in reading, mathematics, social studies, writing and language mechanics. Their performance is categorized as novice, apprentice, proficient or distinguished. Due to the state developing science assessments to align with new science standards implemented in the 2014-15 school year, elementary and middle school students were tested in science using only a norm-referenced test, but those scores are not included in accountability.

High school students take K-PREP tests in writing and language mechanics (subtest of The ACT) plus end-of-course assessments in English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History.

Kentucky’s goal is 100 percent proficiency for all students. The distance from the goal or gap is measured by creating a student Gap Group – an overall count of student groups that have historically had achievement gaps. Student groups combined in the overall count include ethnicity/race (African American, Hispanic, Native American), special education, poverty (free/reduced-price meal) and limited English proficiency.

To calculate the combined student Gap Group, non-duplicated counts of students who score proficient or higher and are in any of the student groups are added together. This yields a single gap number of proficient or higher students in the Student Gap Group, with no student counting more than one time and all students included in groups being counted once.

Percentage of Non-Duplicated Gap Group Students Scoring Proficient/Distinguished

YearReadingMathematicsScienceSocial StudiesWritingLanguage Mechanics
Middle School201234.828.750.146.030.827.6
High School201238.427.918.526.331.638.6


In addition to the Non-Duplicated Gap score, a Novice Reduction component has been added. The total Gap score includes the Non-Duplicated Gap Points (50 percent) and Novice Reduction Points (50 percent). A 10 percent novice reduction target was generated in reading and mathematics for individual student groups (African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Limited English proficiency, students in poverty [free/reduced-price lunch], students with disabilities and non-duplicated gap group). The number of points each school/district received was based on the percentage of the target they met. If a school met the target, it received all points available for novice reduction.

If a school did not meet the target, it didn’t receive any points. If it partially met the target, it received part of the points.

The addition of the novice reduction component greatly impacted the overall Gap score with more than 700 schools improving and over 500 schools declining in their Gap score. Novice reduction is sensitive to the population of the school or district and schools or districts that had very low percentages of students performing at the novice level are vulnerable to this component.

The growth category uses a Student Growth Percentile, comparing an individual student’s score to the student’s academic peers. It recognizes schools and districts for the percentage of students showing typical or higher levels of growth in reading and mathematics tests each year in grades 3-8. At high school, the same model of recognizing student performance uses the ACT Plan (grade 10) and ACT (grade 11) composite scores in reading and mathematics for comparison.

Though the ACT Plan was not given during the 2015-16 school year, students did take the test in 2014 as sophomores, so a comparison was available for juniors. Points are awarded for the percentage of students showing a typical or higher growth rate, which is defined as being in the 40th percentile. Because of the statistical basis of the Student Growth Percentile, statewide, the percentage of students scoring at the typical or higher level will be consistent from year to year at approximately 60 percent. At the individual school level, students scoring at typical or higher levels range from 14 percent to 89 percent.

Student Growth Percentile, 2016

ReadingMathematicsReading and Mathematics Average
Middle School60.060.060.0
High School58.556.057.3


New in 2016 is the addition of the Categorical Growth measure at the elementary and middle school levels in which schools earn points by moving students up in category of performance until they reach or stay proficient or distinguished. It cannot be measured at the high school level because only one test is given per subject area.

Categorical Growth, 2016

ReadingMathematicsReading and Mathematics Average
Middle School61.253.7
High Schooln/an/an/a


The cornerstone of the Unbridled Learning Accountability Model is college/career-readiness.

Since 2012, the college/career-readiness rate among Kentucky high school graduates has skyrocketed from 47.2 percent to 68.5 percent in 2016. That translates into 10,274 more students graduating from high school over the past five years ready to enter college or postsecondary career training programs without having to take expensive remedial courses for which they do not earn credit.

College/Career-Readiness Rate

Number of Graduates
College-ReadyCareer-ReadyCollege/Career Non-Duplicated Total CountPercentage of Graduates(College- and/or Career-ReadyAccountability Points with Bonus


      • College-Ready – graduates who met the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) Systemwide Benchmarks for Reading (20), English (18), and Mathematics (19) on any administration of the ACT; also students who passed a college placement test like ACT COMPASS or Kentucky Online Testing (KYOTE).
      • Career-Ready – graduates who met benchmarks for Career-Ready Academic – Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) or ACT WorkKeys; and Career-Ready Technical – Kentucky Occupational Skills Standards Assessment (KOSSA) or received an Industry-Recognized Career Certificate. Graduates that have met both career-ready benchmarks are included in each respective column, which could result in the same student being counted in multiple columns.
      • College and Career Non-Duplicated Total Count – includes only individual graduates who received a high school diploma or certificate of attainment and are college-ready or career-ready. Graduates with a diploma could have met both college-ready and career-ready benchmarks. Graduates with an alternate diploma must have met the readiness standards on the Alternate K-PREP assessment Transition Attainment (TAR). This is not a total of the college-ready and career-ready columns.
      • Accountability Points with Bonus – includes percentage of graduates college- and/or career-ready plus half-point bonus for graduates meeting both college-ready and career-ready technical benchmarks.

Graduation Rate
Beginning in 2013-14, the Graduation component (20 percent at the high school level) of Next-Generation Learners is based on a five-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. A four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is used to determine whether a school/district met its Graduation Rate goal. Both rates are figured similarly: the formula takes the number of students in a high school freshman class and then accounting for those students who move in and out of the system, looks at how many students get a diploma four or five years later.

Graduation Rate

YearFour-year Adjusted CohortFive-year Adjusted Cohort
High School201386.1n/a


ACT Data (public school juniors)
Since 2008, all of Kentucky’s public school juniors have participated 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


Additionally, the percentage of students meeting Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education benchmarks on the ACT is up nearly 10 percent in English, more than four percent in mathematics and more than six percent in reading since the state first started administering the test to all juniors in 2008.

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

1Starting 2012-2013, percentage of Kentucky public school juniors who meet CPE benchmarks includes Kentucky Alternate Assessment students (Transition Attainment Record).


For more details, including the data broken down by student group, visit the School Report Card on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website. These electronic report cards provide a wealth of information about each school and district including test performance, teacher qualifications, student safety, parent involvement and much more. State level data also is available. The School and District Report Cards were established by statute KRS 158.6453, and regulation 703 KAR 5:140.