FRANKFORT - As students near the end of the semester, they are invariably starting to think about the grades that will determine whether their Christmas break is actually a joyous one. 

For Kentucky's educational system, our "report cards," so to speak, have already arrived. They came earlier this fall from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a non-profit organization that has been a driving force behind education reform since the 1980s, and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

In general, these updates to previous studies indicate that the commonwealth is still moving in the right direction. Our younger students, for example, now rank among the top 20 states in several key areas or are on track to cross that threshold by 2020, according to the Prichard Committee.

Kentucky's eighth graders are 15th in reading, and fourth graders are 17th in reading and 28th in math. We are almost dead center among the states in the percentage of high school students who are going on to college and who are getting college credit through AP classes.

Other categories, meanwhile, are improving more slowly. We are 30th in the percentage of adults 18 to 24 who have a high school diploma and 32nd in preschool enrollment. That last ranking, however, should begin improving significantly next year because the current state budget calls for greatly expanding preschool access.

The Prichard Committee said some areas lack up-to-date information among all states, but in earlier reports, our fourth-graders were fourth and eighth-graders 18th in science. We also ranked 16th when it comes to the percentage of students completing associate college degree programs.

The CPE's report takes a different approach in how it gauges progress. Rather than compare students with their counterparts in other states, it measures them against goals set about five years ago.

With that in mind, one area where we are excelling is college readiness. More than two-thirds of our college-bound students were ready for the challenge in 2012-13, which is up from 52 percent in 2010-11. The goal is to have this top 75 percent by CPE's next accountability report.

While that is good news, it's not actually having a major impact on our college-going rate. In fact, a slightly smaller percentage of the class of 2013 pursued a postsecondary education when compared to the class of 2011.

Even so, the overall number of postsecondary degrees and other credentials awarded continues to grow and has already surpassed its five-year goal. That accomplishment also applies to several other major categories: graduate degrees like master's and doctorates; the number of students transferring from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) to a four-year institution; and the number of degrees awarded in the STEM+H fields. That acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, math and health.

The report points out that some major challenges remain. We've unfortunately seen little movement in the percentage of low-income students and under-represented minority students getting their college degree; and rising costs tied to increases in tuition and decreases in available funding have made the hurdles a little higher for everyone pursuing an education.

The hope is that the worst is truly behind us and that in the future we can build on the gains in the current two-year budget. It includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new money for schools at all levels, including classroom spending and needed updates to our postsecondary campuses.

As the General Assembly looks for ways to do more, I'd like to hear any suggestions you may have. You can write to me at Room 329F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

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