A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Public school graduation rate increases, more students attain ACT readiness benchmark scores

The percentage of Kentucky public school students graduating from high school continued to increase; more students took rigorous Advanced Placement tests and earned a qualifying score of 3 or higher; and students scored higher with a greater percentage of them meeting readiness benchmarks on the ACT, according to 2016-17 assessment data released by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

Kentucky is in the process of phasing out its old accountability system and replacing it with a new accountability system created under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Kentucky Senate Bill 1 (2017). The new system is expected to be in place by the 2018-19 school year with accountability first reported in the 2019-20 school year.

Kentucky Schools Report Card

As a result of the transition, this year’s release does not include overall accountability scores, classifications or rankings for schools and districts, although KDE will continue to support low-performing schools and districts during the transition period. This year’s release includes achievement, gap, growth, college- and career-readiness and graduation rate data. Data from Program Reviews, which Senate Bill 1 eliminated, is reported if a school or district chose to do so.

According to the data, Kentucky’s four-year graduation rate increased to 89.8 percent – from 88.6 percent last year and 88.0 percent the previous year.

Also, students took nearly 52,000 Advanced Placement tests last year and nearly 26,000 earned qualifying scores of three or higher – more than in past years.

ACT scores, which are based on all public school juniors taking the test last spring, increased across the board in English, mathematics, reading and science. The overall composite score also is up over the past five years, from 19.2 in 2012-13 to 19.8 in 2016-17. Additionally, a greater percentage of students met Council on Postsecondary Education readiness benchmarks.

“While this year’s results are different from what we have released in the past, they still show that Kentucky’s schools are making continued progress on graduating more students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said. “The gains are the result of a lot of hard work by our teachers, administrators and our students with the support of parents, community members and our education partners.

“As we move into our new accountability system over the next two years, we expect to see even more positive results as districts and schools move beyond test score and compliance mentality to a continuous improvement model that promotes proficiency and the closure of achievement gaps for every child,” Pruitt said.

Overall, achievement increased slightly at the elementary and middle school levels, but was down somewhat at the high school levels. Achievement gaps between different groups of students persisted in many areas and will be a major focus of KDE, schools and districts under the new accountability system.


In 2016-17, public school students in grades 3-8 took K-PREP tests in reading, mathematics, social studies, writing and language mechanics. Their performance is categorized as novice, apprentice, proficient or distinguished. This past year, elementary and middle school students, except alternate assessment students, participated in a field test of new science assessments aligned to science standards implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

Performance levels are not reported for field tests. Additionally, to conform with the requirements of Senate Bill 1 (2017) students in grade 6 and 10 did not take a writing on-demand assessment this year, eliminating the ability to compare middle and high school level scores with previous years.

High school students take end-of-course assessments in English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History plus K-PREP tests in writing. There is no language mechanics score at high school this year due to ACT eliminating reporting of scores in that area.

Student performance on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) was mixed, depending on the grade and subject. At the elementary level, the percentage of students performing at Proficient/Distinguished increased in social studies, writing on-demand and language mechanics. At the middle school level, the percentage of students performing at the Proficient/Distinguished levels increased in reading, social studies and language mechanics. High school students also made gains in science.

Graduation Rate

A graduation rate for each high school and district that contains one or more high schools is reported annually. The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate is calculated by dividing the number of students who graduate with the number who enter high school four or five years earlier after adding any students who transfer into the cohort and subtracting any students who transfer out of the cohort to a legitimate educational setting (for example, transfer to an out-of-state school, enroll in a private school, emigrate to another country, or student death).

The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is used to determine whether a school/district met its graduation rate goal. In 2013-14, Kentucky began calculating a five-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. It is calculated the same way as the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate with the addition of one year.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Rigorous Advanced Placement courses are available in more than 35 subjects, ranging from high-level math and science to fine arts. Students may opt to take a standardized end-of-course exam at the conclusion of each course, and if they score well enough on it, they may earn college credit.

Although it varies from school to school, most colleges require a minimum qualifying score of 3 on an AP exam to earn college credit for the course. In 2017, more Kentucky students took more Advanced Placement (AP) tests and scored higher than in past years.

ACT (public school juniors)

Since 2008, all of Kentucky’s public school juniors have participated in the ACT college entrance exam, which assesses English, mathematics, reading and science and is scored on a scale of 1 to 36. State funds cover the cost of the exam. Kentucky juniors increased their scores in all subject areas this year.

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) sets systemwide standards for college readiness based on ACT’s English (18), mathematics (19) and reading (20) assessments. Students attending a Kentucky public college or university who meet the Kentucky systemwide standards of readiness are guaranteed access to credit-bearing college coursework without the need for developmental education or supplemental courses. This year’s results show more Kentucky public school students reaching CPE benchmarks.

For more details, including the data broken down by student group, visit the School Report Card on the Kentucky Department of Education website.

These electronic report cards provide a wealth of information about each school and district including test performance, teacher qualifications, student safety, parent involvement and more. State level data also is available.

School districts will send home individual student results in the coming weeks.

From KDE

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