As we put another school year behind us – and as parents wait for the inevitable cries of “I’m bored” in the not-too-distant future – now is a good time to take a closer look at all of the good things going on academically.
Over the long term, perhaps the best news came out of a 2012 Harvard study, which showed Kentucky tying for fifth among the states when measuring the gains our students have made over the last 20 years in math, reading and science.
That study relied on scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which gives what is commonly referred to as the “nation’s report card.” A December comparison of the NAEP scores shows Kentucky placing fourth among the states in fourth grade science; 11th in fourth grade reading; 13th in eighth grade reading; and 17th in eighth grade science.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education, our high schools are making strong strides as well. It reported in February that the number of graduating students considered college and career ready jumped from 38 to 47 percent in a single year. That translates to 4,500 more students who are better prepared to tackle the world.
More high school students are excelling in Advanced Placement courses, too, which provide college credit for those who earn at least a three out of a possible five on the final exam. More than 12,000 students took these exams in 2012, which was 75 percent more than took them in 2007. About half of the students passed last year.
In January, meanwhile, Education Week put Kentucky 10th among the states when measuring student achievement, academic standards, school finances and the quality of our teachers. That ranking is two dozen spots higher than it was in 2011.
That success is continuing at the postsecondary level. Recently, the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education said that our public and private colleges and universities were on track to award more than 61,000 certificates and degrees this school year. That’s a slight decrease from 2011-12, but still far better than what we saw a decade ago.
Since then, associate degrees have risen by more than two-thirds; bachelor and Ph.D. degrees are both up a third; and professional doctoral degrees are up by more than half.
Interestingly, a recent comparison between Kentucky and 15 other southern states shows we do a great job when focusing on professional doctoral degrees, which primarily cover the law and healthcare fields. Only one state produced more dentists than Kentucky in 2010-11, for example, and just two produced more attorneys.
A lot of credit for all of the gains our students have made goes, of course, to our teachers, and that workforce also gets high marks. Early this year, we learned that only six states had a higher number of teachers earn the prestigious National Board Certification in 2012, and a 2007-08 review found that there are only six states as well that have a higher percentage of teachers with a master’s degree.
During the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, the General Assembly adopted several notable laws that will help us succeed even more in the future. That includes initiatives to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 – a process that will begin when 55 percent of the school districts sign on – and giving schools the opportunity to make significant changes if they think it will boost scores. We also streamlined career and technical education; laid the groundwork for a statewide evaluation system for teachers; and offered more financial help to students graduating early.
Education is one area where there is always room for improvement, and while that is what we all strive for, it is good every so often to step back and see just how far we have come in a relatively short amount of time. That is worth celebrating as one school year ends and, just about two months from now, another is set to begin.