Kentucky performance flat on national reading, math tests

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(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – Kentucky’s public school students’ performance in reading and mathematics on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, remained relatively flat, according to results released April 10. Kentucky students scored about the same as those in most other states.

2017 NAEP Scores, Kentucky Compared to Other States/Jurisdictions

Grade/SubjectStates/Jurisdictions Scoring Lower
than Kentucky
States/Jurisdictions Scoring Higher
than Kentucky
States/Jurisdictions Scoring About the Same as Kentucky
4th-grade reading21624
8th-grade reading141720
4th-grade mathematics171322
8th-grade mathematics93112

Kentucky performance was strongest in 4th-grade reading, where students outscored their counterparts across the country and weakest in 8th grade mathematics.

Student performance on NAEP fits into one of four categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient or Advanced.

In Kentucky, in reading, 70 percent of 4th-graders and 75 percent of 8th-graders scored at the Basic level or above. In mathematics, 80 percent of 4th-graders and 65 percent of 8th-graders scored at the Basic level or above.

2017 NAEP Achievement Level Percentages

Grade/SubjectBelow BasicBasicProficientAdvanced
4th-grade reading30322810
8th-grade reading2541304
4th-grade mathematics2040337
8th-grade mathematics3537227

NOTE: The Basic level signifies partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work in a grade and subject. Proficient denotes solid academic performance demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills. Advanced represents superior performance beyond proficiency. Proficient is not the same as being “on grade level,” which refers to student performance based on local standards and curriculum that can vary among school districts.

“Clearly we have some work to do to ensure every student is achieving at high levels in reading and mathematics, so they are transition ready throughout their school career and graduate from high school with the opportunity to succeed in whatever endeavor they undertake,” Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said. “When we look at a break down in scores by gender, free/reduced-price meal eligibility and ethnicity, we see the need for improvements in closing the achievement gap. We have to find a way to consistently close the achievement gap and any learning opportunity gaps that may exist by increasing the achievement levels for all students.”

Pruitt already has outlined five priorities – including a renewed focus on K-3 literacy and individual instruction and assessment – that are designed to boost achievement for all students and cut the gap in half over the next 13 years.

The NAEP reading assessment tests students on literary and informational texts. The questions measure students’ ability to locate and recall, integrate and interpret, and critique and evaluate.

In 2017, the average reading scale score for 4th-grade students in Kentucky was 224 – slightly lower than in 2015 (228), yet higher than for students across the nation (221). The average reading scale score for 8th-grade students in Kentucky was 265 – unchanged from 2015 and the same as the average for students nationwide.

The mathematics assessment addresses five content areas: number properties and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis, statistics and probability; and algebra.

In 4th-grade mathematics, the average scale score for Kentucky students was 239 – the same as for students across the nation and not significantly different statistically from the 2015 score (242). In 8th-grade mathematics, the average scale score for Kentucky students in 2017 (278) remained unchanged from 2015. Although the score was slightly lower than the average scale score for students in public schools across the nation in 2017 (282), it was not significantly different statistically.

In 2017, for the first time, NAEP administered a digitally based assessment instead of a paper-based assessment, which some say may have impacted student performance.

“Our students, and those in a handful of other states that still give paper and pencil state tests seemed to be at a disadvantage with the new online NAEP assessments,” Pruitt said. “It is an entirely different experience taking a test on a tablet than with the paper and pencil our kids are used to. Going digital seemed to have an impact on results, especially in reading.”

Kentucky will be transitioning to digitally based assessments at the elementary and middle school levels in future state assessments.

“Honestly, looking at the ups and downs over a two-year period doesn’t tell us much,” Pruitt said. “It is the long-term changes that are much more meaningful. If you look at that, Kentucky students have made tremendous progress.”

Since 1998, Kentucky’s 4th-graders have gained 6 points on the NAEP reading assessment, and 8th-graders have gained 3 points.

Since 2000, Kentucky’s 4th-graders have gained 20 points, and 8th-graders have gained 8 points on the mathematics assessment.

Additionally, in recent years, the state’s exclusion rates – the percentage of students with disabilities and English Language Learners excluded from taking the test – dropped. These students typically do not score as high as their peers.

NAEP is given to a representative, random sampling of students in 4th and 8th grades across the country. In Kentucky, about 2 percent of students (12,400) representing 63 percent of districts (111) participated in the 2017 assessments.

NAEP protects the confidentiality of students, teachers and schools that participate by not reporting individual student, teacher or school data. However, NAEP does provide results for major demographic groups. The data shows performance gaps persist at both the state and national levels.

For more than 40 years, NAEP has been the country’s only nationally representative and continuing survey of students’ educational achievement. The assessment is authorized by Congress, directed by the National Center for Education Statistics and developed by Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. Westat, Inc. of Rockville, Md., conducts sample selection and data collection.

More information is available from the National Center for Education Statistics website

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