Campus News

Kentucky Advances in Education Rankings

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 11, 2011) − Kentucky's national ranking for education has risen more dramatically than virtually any other state in the country in the last 20 years.

That finding is according to an Index of Educational Progress conducted by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), located in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky.

Based on multiple educational attainment and achievement factors combined into a single index, Kentucky climbed from ranking 48th in 1990 to 33rd in 2009. Only two states, Kentucky and North Carolina, were able to advance out of the bottom 10 with double-digit gains by 2009, which marks significant educational improvements over the years and advancements over other states.

“This rate of improvement is encouraging and is welcome news for the Commonwealth," said Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. "While the state’s commitment to two decades of education reforms is producing measurable gains, serious challenges remain. Stronger by Degrees, our new strategic agenda, intensifies the focus on the key areas in higher education that will accelerate our pace toward educating more Kentuckians to the high levels necessary to compete in the global economy.”

The index measure for educational attainment involves five to 12 education indicators using summary statistical information about each indicator to construct a number that evaluates how each state's measure compares to other states.

The evaluation includes high school graduation and dropout rates as well as educational achievement, comprising the percentage of students scoring proficient or higher on the various National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading, math and science exams. Attainment and achievement have had a steady upward trend, especially achievement.

Ken Troske, Sturgill Endowed Professor of Economics in the Gatton College, chair of the economics department and director of CBER, said, "We still rank well below other states on measures likely to become more important in a high-tech global economy — such as the percentage of adults with a two-year degree and bachelor's degree or higher."

Kentucky continues to lag on indicators of educational attainment among working-age adults; however rising levels of educational achievement among current students bode well for the future.  Kentucky National Assessment of Educational Progress scores on fourth grade science and reading, as well as a steady decline in the dropout rate, joined to lift the state out of the bottom tier of states.

"Collaboration and innovation must be at the forefront of our thinking as we work together to connect university breakthrough research to everyday applications in classrooms across the Commonwealth," said Mary John O'Hair, dean of the UK College of Education.  "Together, we can move Kentucky forward in unprecedented ways to better prepare students for success in a global world."

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday added, “This report reinforces what we see in our own measures of college/career readiness.  Kentucky has seen marked improvement in elementary and secondary academic performance, but we struggle in the area of preparing our students for life after high school. That’s why there is a new focus on raising standards and setting the expectation that all children will graduate from high school with the skills they need to be college and/or career ready. It’s an economic and social imperative that we can’t ignore.”

Although this is an advancement in Kentucky's rankings, there are at least five stipulations to this index, Troske cautioned.

First, not all of the indicators used in 2009 were available in 1990. As a result, when making comparisons between years, what data was available at any given moment in time should be considered. 

Second, there are fundamentally important indicators not included in the index, such as those that measure achievement gaps. 

Third, equal weight is given to each indicator, but some indicators are arguably more important; however, due to its subjective nature, any weighting scheme would have its own restrictions.

Fourth, although rankings are ideal for determining the relative positions of states, they reveal nothing about the distance between states. Knowing that Kentucky is 33rd and Massachusetts is first does not reveal how near or far Kentucky is from Massachusetts.

Lastly, the index is biased toward primary and secondary education with only two of the 12 indicators reflecting postsecondary education outcomes.

In fact, Troske said, "the distance between Kentucky and leading states on virtually every measure is significant, reminding Kentuckians that educational reform and improvement is an ongoing process, not a destination."

Digital copies of CBER's Issue Brief, “Kentucky Ranks 33rd on Education Index,” will be available as of Sunday, July 10 at the CBER website at or by calling 859-257-7675.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jessica Hancock or Carl Nathe, (859) 257-3200.