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Report: Kentucky needs to close academic achievement gaps

Too many students face learning barriers

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 18, 2016) — Kentucky has made significant progress in education, but the state is not doing enough to close the academic achievement gaps that persist among different groups of students, according to a report from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 3.34.19 PMThe report said that closing those gaps is more critical than ever given the increasing need for education or training after high school to ensure the future success of individual students and the state as a whole.

Students most likely to face such barriers include those:

  • With low family incomes
  • Who are learning English
  • With learning differences
  • Who are African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian/Native Alaskan or of two or more races

Nearly 70 percent of Kentucky students fit in one or more of those groups, although many of those students excel, the report said.

While overall student results have improved over the last decade, the report points out that the achievement gaps have grown. As an example, between 2005 and 2015, Kentucky’s 4th-grade reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased:

  • 8 percent for African American students and 11 percent for white students
  • 7 percent for students receiving free or reduced price meals and 18 percent for students not receiving those meals
  • 5 percent for students with identified disabilities and 12 percent for students without

All six student groups improved, but closing the gaps would have required faster improvement for those students with the lower rates of growth.

Key findings point to the need for early and continuing efforts to achieve excellence with equity in Kentucky schools:

  • Gaps are already visible at the start of kindergarten, making early childhood efforts essential.
  • Most gaps expand from kindergarten to graduation, confirming that improvement is needed at all grade levels.
  • Disciplinary consequences are much harsher for students of some races than for others.
  • Identification of students with disabilities and gifted and talented students appears to lack equity.
  • Kentucky’s teaching force lacks sufficient racial diversity.

The report calls for bold leadership at the state and community levels; improvements in school climate and culture to support students and families; classroom instruction that engages each student; accountability to ensure improvement in student performance; and a clear focus on sustaining the work.