FRANKFORT – It may still be early in the school year, but some of the “report cards” the state uses to measure academic progress have already begun to arrive. In general, the news for Kentucky is good, although there is still much room for improvement.
Perhaps the best example of that can be found in the growing number of high school students taking and passing Advanced Placement tests, which provide college credit if the score is high enough.
According to results the Dept. of Education announced early this month, we had nearly 32,000 students take more than 50,000 of these tests this past May, well above the 23,000 students who took 38,000 tests in 2011.
On the positive side, a higher percentage of students last school year earned college credit when compared to their 2011 counterparts. On the downside, that percentage was still less than half, well below the 58 percent success rate nationally.
In late August, we learned more about another widely used college benchmark: the ACT.
It’s important to note that, since 2009, Kentucky has required all students to take the test before graduating, something a dozen other states do as well. Because of that, it is difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons when the national test-taking rate is less than 60 percent.
Even so, it is clear that our students are progressing more quickly than their fellow students in other states. Since 2011, our composite ACT score has risen eight-tenths of a point, from 19.2 to 20.0, while the country’s composite score increased just one-tenth of a point over the same period.
Among the 13 states that test all students, our ACT score ranked eighth last year, ahead of such states as Tennessee and North Carolina and just behind Utah, Wyoming and Michigan.
Over the last several years, Kentucky has made it easier for the public to gauge student progress in high school by determining how many students are deemed college and/or career ready, the level we want all graduates to reach.
Between 2012 and 2014, that number rose from 47 to 62 percent, which is definitely good news and is being re-confirmed in college as well. Between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of postsecondary students needing to take at least one remedial course fell from 54 to 38 percent.
To help determine what long-term steps the state should take next to help students get to college and succeed, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) is laying the groundwork for a new five-year agenda. It gathered public input during a series of meetings in July.
This strategic agenda will take us through 2020, a pivotal year that is the finish line for some long-range goals the General Assembly established during postsecondary reforms in 1997. We’re not where we had hoped to be, but we have certainly come a long way. According to CPE, the number of four-year college degrees awarded annually went up almost 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, while two-year degrees increased nearly 70 percent.
Getting these numbers even higher is one of the leading challenges we face during the next decade. We recently learned that this goal just got tougher, given that enrollment at our two-year colleges and technical schools this fall is a fourth lower than it was in 2011. Ironically, a better economy means fewer people are going (or going back) to college.
As the General Assembly readies to pass a new budget next year, the hope is that we can begin dedicating more money to postsecondary education. After years of cuts and holding the line on student aid, there are encouraging signs that we can finally begin moving again in a positive direction financially.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts about this issue or any other, just let me know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.