Education in Kentucky

Education in Kentucky includes elementary school (kindergarten through fifth grade in most areas), middle school (or junior high, sixth grade through eighth grade in most locations), high school (ninth through twelfth grade in most locations), and postsecondary institutions. Most Kentucky schools and colleges are accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Education in Kentucky suffers from the same negative stigma as many other Southern states. Some statistics, such as ranking 47th in the nation in percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree and an adult illiteracy rate of about 4%, seem to justify the stereotype. Other reports, such as ranking 14th in educational affordability, 25th in K-12 attrition, and being named the 31st smartest state using a formula by Morgan Quitno Press (ahead of western states like California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico) suggest that the stereotype may be overblown. In fact, Lexington, Kentucky ranks 10th among US cities in percent of population with college degree or higher. Whatever the case, due to a number of reforms beginning in 1990, most studies agree that Kentucky is making progress in the area of education.

The Kentucky Board of Education is responsible for the development, coordination, and implementation of K-12 education in each of the commonwealth's 174 school districts. In 2003–2004, Kentucky's public schools enrolled 656,503 students, with another 12,170 being home schooled.

The Kentucky Commonwealth Diploma
In order to motivate Kentucky high schoolers to take a more demanding curriculum, the Kentucky Board of Education began awarding the Commonwealth Diploma in 1987. The Commonwealth curriculum requires that the student take four Advanced Placement courses (one English, one science or math, one foreign language, and one elective) and sit for the Advanced Placement exam in at least three of the four areas (and receive at least an 8 combined total score). Students whose combined scores on any three Advanced Placement exams meet or exceed a given threshold are eligible to have their registration fees for those exams refunded.

Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES)
In 1998, the Kentucky General Assembly voted to utilize some of the profits generated by the state lottery to fund the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship. The program was designed both to encourage high school students to take a pre-college level curriculum while in high school and to encourage them to pursue higher education in the commonwealth after graduation.

To be eligible, students must attain a grade point average of 2.5 or higher in a rigorous curriculum defined by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), and attend college at an eligible institution in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The actual amount of the award is based on a combination of the student's grade point average and score on the ACT. The scholarship is renewable for four years, provided the student maintains his or her eligibility.

Colleges and universities
Kentucky is home to 8 public universities. Additionally, the commonwealth has 16 public community and technical colleges and over 30 private colleges and universities. The oldest of these is Transylvania University, the first college established west of the Allegheny Mountains and only the sixteenth established in the United States. Another of Kentucky's colleges, Berea College, was the first non-segregated, co-educational college in the South. Like many southern states, the ACT, not the SAT, is the preferred college entrance test; in fact, all students attending public high schools in the state are now required to take the ACT in their junior year (11th grade).

Kentucky Educational Television (KET)
KET is the commonwealth's public television network, and is the largest PBS network in the nation. KET took the air in 1968 after a generous gift from Ashland Oil founder Paul Blazer. In addition to the PBS schedule, KET now airs programming aimed at local audiences and educational series used by some colleges in Kentucky as telecourses.

Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)
In 1990, the Kentucky General Assembly passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) in response to a ruling the previous year by the Kentucky Supreme Court that the commonwealth's education system was unconstitutional. The court mandated that the Legislature was to enact broad and sweeping reforms at a systemic level, statewide. The changes were so unpopular with Kentucky's teachers that some of them began to refer to KERA as the "Kentucky Early Retirement Act," though no spike in teacher attrition actually occurred following KERA's passage.

Since 1990, Kentucky had three major testing phases.

The Kentucky Instructional Results Information Service (KIRIS) was used from 1992 to 1998, and included (for 4th, 8th, and 12th grades) open-response items, performance events, an on-demand writing prompt, and writing and mathematics portfolios.

Based on psychometric concerns and lack of political support for KIRIS, 1998 legislation replaced KIRIS with the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (or CATS; the acronym possibly inspired by the Kentucky Wildcats), using open-response and multiple-choice items, an on-demand writing prompt, a writing portfolio, and the TerraNova national norm-referenced test. As part of the testing change, the state set new “cut point” scale scores for rating student work as novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished. The new cut points counted higher numbers as proficient in most subjects.

In 1998, The Ford Foundation and Harvard University awarded Kentucky's education system the Innovations in American Government Award.

From 1999 to 2006, Kentucky schools showed improvement on the state’s CATS assessment in every subject, at every level, for every student group listed in disaggregated data reports. Most elementary schools improved at a pace strong enough that, if continued, they would have reached the proficiency goals set by the state for 2014. Most middle schools and high schools, however, were improving at too slow a pace to meet those proficiency targets.

Major changes in CATS were made in 2007, including revisions to the content being tested, the years each subject is tested, the relative weight given to different topics, the relative weight given to multiple-choice and open-response questions, the national norm-referenced test included in school scores, and the “cut points” used to convert students’ numerical scores to performance levels of novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished. Those changes broke the state’s “trend line,” meaning that scores cannot be compared to past years.

Critics point out that the CATS changes significantly increased reported proficiency rates compared to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a problem found in many state assessments. In addition, critics note that despite rising CATS scores, the remedial requirements for Kentucky's entering college freshmen remain very high (nearly one of two recent high school graduates requires at least one college remedial course in Kentucky's public college system) which has led to pending legislation to replace CATS with a more up to date and credible assessment.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress is the most respected source for comparing Kentucky public school students to those in other states. The most recent scale score results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show Kentucky:

    Scoring above national average in fourth and eighth grade science.
    Statistically tied with national average in fourth and eighth grade reading, fourth grade writing, and eighth grade mathematics.
    Scoring below national average in fourth grade writing and eighth grade math.

Some NAEP critics argue that those results are unreliable because of differences in how states handle students with disabilities. In the latest NAEP testing, Kentucky did exclude higher proportions of learning disabled students in reading and writing than was typical across the nation.

Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997
The Kentucky General Assembly completely revamped higher education in the commonwealth with the passage of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, commonly referred to as House Bill 1 (HB1). HB1 mandated that the University of Kentucky become a Top 20 Public Research University by the year 2020. It also charged the University of Louisville to become a preeminent metropolitan research university over the same time frame.

The law created several new entities: Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), Kentucky Virtual Campus (KYVC), Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL), Kentucky Virtual Schools (KYVS),

Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS)
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) governs the commonwealth's community and technical colleges. Previously, many of the commonwealth's community colleges had been part of the University of Kentucky's Community College System, while many of the technical colleges had been operated by the Workforce Cabinet.

Kentucky Virtual Campus (KYVC)
Originally designated the Commonwealth Virtual University (CVU) and then the Kentucky Virtual University, the Kentucky Virtual Campus (KYVC) is a single point of access to find online courses, degree programs and professional development education at Kentucky colleges, universities and state agencies.

Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL)
The Kentucky Virtual Library] supports the Kentucky Virtual University. The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997 also created . KYVL provides the ability to search a number of databases of books and scholarly works, and provides help on research methods and techniques. KYVL is supposed to enhance the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of resource sharing among Kentucky libraries by utilizing current and emerging technologies and providing access to digital information resources at lower cost per unit through cooperative statewide licensing agreements.

Kentucky Virtual Schools (KYVS)
The Kentucky Department of Education and staffs of the KYVU and the KYVL created the Kentucky Virtual High School (KYVHS). The KYVHS launched in January 2000 to serve as a statewide educational provider of those highly specialized courses that the smaller, rural school districts could not afford to offer on a regular basis. The KYVHS is now part of the expanded initiative Kentucky Virtual Schools. The KYVS offers the extended curriculum offerings for schools that might not otherwise be available (e.g., foreign language instruction or Advanced Placement approved courses), and alternatives for credit recovery, additional instructional support for at-risk youth and teacher professional development.

Other Kentucky Virtual Education Providers
After the Kentucky Virtual High School launched, other state agencies approached the Kentucky Virtual University to partner with the Council on Postsecondary Education create their own online learning portals:

    Kentucky Adult Education launched in 2001 the nation's first fully online Kentucky Virtual Adult Education portal for adult learners and for adult educators' professional development.
    The Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board partnered with the KYVU, KYVL and KVHS to create Kentucky which offers professional development opportunities for Kentucky teachers, counselors, staff and administrators.
    A collaboration between GEAR UP Kentucky, the KVHS and the KYVU, launched in 2003 as an e-learning portal for K-12 students and their educational guardians seeking self-paced, not-for-credit learning opportunities.

Assessment and Accountability Task Force
In 2008 a task force was established by the Kentucky Commissioner of Education to make recommendations to the 2009 Kentucky General Assembly. The task force is responsible for analyzing specific components of Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS) and determining how effective they are in meeting student needs. The task force operates with seven scheduled meetings with the final meeting to be November 7, 2008.