Commonwealth Journal

November 2, 2012

State scores show positive results for local school systems

By CHRIS HARRIS and HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writers
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

The scores are in for Kentucky’s “Unbridled Learning” testing system, and out of the gates, it appears that Pulaski County’s three school districts have done well.
Kentucky’s newest testing system — put into effect during the 2011-2012 school year after the state was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act — features a number of measures at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“We’re still meeting the (requirements) of No Child Left Behind, but we’re doing it with our own model,” said Somerset Schools Superintendent Boyd Randolph. 
The results are based on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP), administered in Spring of 2012 in five content areas: Reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing. At the high school level, four end-of-course exams were given to students in Algebra II, English II, Biology and U.S. History. 
The results, released at 12:01 a.m. Friday, may suggest that many school districts fell below expectations. But the system's design automatically ensured that 69 percent of schools and districts would end up in the "needs improvement" classification.
“Almost three-fourths of schools in Kentucky are going to be (classified as) ‘needs improvement’ just because of the statistics,” said Somerset District Assessment Coordinator Cindy Ham. “ ... ‘Needs improvement’ is not an F. It’s simply saying there are areas they (school districts) need to improve on.”
The new test contains more components, such as graduation rates and college and career readiness, and it means that schools are being tested on more things — and thus, some schools may find the going a little bit tougher. 
The remaining 31 percent of school districts not classified as “needs improvement” are classified as “proficient” or “distinguished.” Those between 70 and 89 percent are “proficient” and those at 90 percent and higher are "distinguished."
Kentucky’s school districts were measured on achievement, which are test scores pulled from reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing content areas; gap, which is a smaller population pulled from schools’ total student population and features those students considered to be academically disadvantaged, such as those in lower economic brackets, ethnic and cultural minorities, and special education students; and growth in reading and mathematics.
Although the 2011-2012 year marks the first run of the new testing system, the growth measurements were pulled from numbers compared between the new system and the transitional system used in 2010-2011.
Also featured in the new testing system are measurements in college readiness — as measured by the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in three content areas on the EXPLORE test at the middle school level and by ACT benchmarks met, college placement tests and career measures at the high school level. 
Also included in the results formula are graduation rates, based on the average freshman graduation rate, for high schools. The latest results are based on graduation rates during the 2010-2011 year.
Elementary school results were formulated through achievement measurements, gap measurements, and growth measurements. Achievement was weighted at 30 percent, gap was weighted at 30 percent, and growth was weighted at 40 percent. 
Middle school results were formulated through achievement measurements, gap measurements, growth measurements and college/career readiness measurements. Achievement was weighted at 28 percent, gap at 28 percent, growth at 28 percent, and college/career readiness at 16 percent. 
High school results were formulated through achievement measurements, gap measurements, growth measurements, college and career readiness measurements and graduation rates. Each of those measurements were equally weighted at 20 percent each to total 100 percent of the score. 
So how did Pulaski County’s districts — Pulaski, Science Hill and Somerset — measure up? Relatively well, it seems.
 
Pulaski County School District
Apparently, all Pulaski County High School needed was a little time.
One of two high schools in the county school district to be assessed by the state, Pulaski had previously been a “priority” school under the old testing system, and made the ominous-sounding “persistently low-achieving” list for failure to meet its goals in multiple years.
Now? With a spot in the 82nd percentile — meaning Pulaski Schools did as well as or better than 82 percent of the state’s districts, an overall score of 61.2, out of 100 and “proficient” classification, Pulaski County High School actually played a big role in the overall success of its district. 
Pulaski County Schools ranked in the top 10 percent of the entire state, earning a coveted “distinguished” rating and the designation of “High Performing District,” with an overall score of 63.4. It’s a feather in the cap with which district officials are naturally quite pleased.
“Oh my gosh — top 10, one of only 18 high performing districts,” said assistant superintendent Sonya Wilds. “That was a proud moment for us right there.”
The school system was 18th overall in Kentucky, out of 174 school districts.
Wilds noted that the switchover between assessment paradigms was a significant factor in Pulaski’s struggles. Like most others, the school had already shifted focus to the “college-and-career-ready” style of preparation, but was still technically being held accountable under a system that they knew was on the way out.
“I think a lot of their problems (had to do with) being caught between two systems,” said Wilds. “All our schools at all levels were under that transition period. It’s been a very difficult transition time for all of Kentucky.”
Pulaski County High School scored 12.5 out of 20 in achievement, a 7.3 gap score out of 20, and 12.6 out of 20 in the growth category, putting them in the top 18 percent in the state. Meanwhile, Southwestern scored 13.4 in achievement, 8.7 in gap, and 12.9 in growth, which was good enough to earn them a spot in the 90th percentile and a “distinguished” classification, also putting them in Kentucky’s top 10 percent.
“The work at PCHS has been focused and intense,” said Superintendent Steve Butcher. “This success is earned and will undoubtedly continue for them. And there’s nothing to say about Southwestern but ‘wow’.”
At the middle school level, Northern Middle School (56.8 out of 100) and Southern Middle School (55.9 out of 100) placed at the 61st and 56th percentiles. Because they are below the 70th percentile, they are classified as “needs improvement” schools.
“Our middle schools performed well into the top half of middle schools in the state,” said Butcher. “We have already had several meetings with principals and curriculum teams in identifying improvements to get to the 70 percent mark. Once we finish analyzing the date to make the appropriate adjustments, we undoubtedly will get our middle schools to proficiency in a short time.”
All elementary schools were designated as “distinguished” or “proficient” and all were within the top 17 percent in the state. Special recognition went to Northern Elementary and Shopville Elementary Schools, which were “schools of distinction” for being in the top 5 percent in the state.
Southern and Nancy Elementaries also received recognition as “high-performing schools,” putting them in Kentucky’s top 10 percent of elementary schools.
Butcher said that he “couldn’t be happier with the results,” and that they validate that the school system’s resources and efforts have been in the right places.
“To have as many schools as we do all scoring exceptionally well shows that we are in this as a team working hard for all the kids of our community,” said Butcher. “It shows our equity across the district and the quality education standards we expect at all our schools and for all our kids. If you see a teacher today, pat them on the back and tell them, ‘Job well-done.’ Our kids are in capable hands.”
 
Science Hill Independent School District
Science Hill’s overall performance placed it solidly in the top 10 performing districts in the state, and it’s been classified by the state as a “high performing district.” The distinguished classification means that a school or school district placed in the 90th percentile or above — or it was deemed as being within the top 10 percent of schools or school districts in Kentucky.
“Our students at the elementary and middle school level are making strides at meeting new rigorous standards and using higher-order thinking to become college and career ready,” said Science Hill School Superintendent Rick Walker. 
Science Hill ranks 10th out of 174 school districts in the state. 
Science Hill’s overall district score of 65.1 out of 100 placed it in the 94th percentile ranking — meaning the district scored as well or better than 94 percent of districts statewide. That score was derived from the elementary and middle school scores combined, and the “distinguished” classification came through comparison of Science Hill as a district to other districts in the state.
Science Hill Elementary scored 24.3 out of 30 for achievement, 15.8 out of 30 in the gap population, and 26 out of 40 for growth. Those combined for an overall score of 66.1, which placed the elementary school in the 82nd percentile in the state — meaning the elementary school did as well as or better than 82 percent of elementary schools in Kentucky. 
Those elementary school students who scored proficient and distinguished in the achievement category were deemed to have averages above the state average in reading, math, social studies and writing. 
Science Hill’s middle school grades received a total score of 64 out of 100, which placed it in the 87th percentile compared to other middle schools in the state — meaning the middle school did as well or better than 87 percent of middle school districts in Kentucky. Broken down, that shows that Science Hill’s middle school scored a 24.1 in achievement out of 28, 14.1 in gap out of 28, and 18.1 in growth out of 28. The middle school also scored 7.7 out of 16 for college and career readiness. 
Those middle school students who scored proficient or distinguished in the achievement category scored above the state averages in reading, math, science, social studies, writing and language mechanics. In college and career readiness, Science Hill officials said middle school students who met benchmarks saw scores above the state averages in all areas of English, reading, math and science. 
Science Hill School’s staff and faculty were pleased with the results of this first year of the Unbridled Learning testing system.
“Now, more than ever, we as a school staff are required to work together to help each student move from his or her current achievement level to demonstrate growth,” said Science Hill Principal Rita Presley. “ ... Our entire staff has done an amazing job of meeting this new challenge and helping our students become better prepared for the 21st century.”
Science Hill is a K-8 school located in northern Pulaski County. 
 
Somerset Independent School District
Somerset Independent School District, made up of Hopkins Elementary School, Meece Middle School, and Somerset High School, was deemed a proficient district by the Kentucky Department of Education under the new testing system. 
“(The achievement measurement) was very good for the first time out of the gate with the new standards,” said Randolph, the Somerset Schools superintendent. “ ... This is, I think, starting off on a pretty good foot with the new system.”
The Somerset district as a whole scored 60.5 out of 100, and the district ranks 29th out of 174 school districts. 
Hopkins Elementary School scored 23.2 out of 30 in achievement, 15.4 out of 30 in the gap category, and 18 out of 40 in the growth category, which gave it a total of 56.6 out of 100, placing it in the 45th percentile. That means that Hopkins did as well as or better than 45 percent of Kentucky elementary schools.
Hopkins was placed in the “needs improvement” category, just as every school in the 70th percentile or below was deemed. Both Randolph and Ham, the district’s assessment coordinator, said the elementary school’s achievement score was “an area of strength,” and they stated that the school’s gap score is an area that has been identified for improvement. 
Meece Middle School students scored 21.4 out of 28 in achievement, 11.9 out of 28 in the gap category. 18.8 out of 28 for growth, and 8.2 out of 16 in college and career readiness, for a total score of 60.3 out of 100. That total placed Meece Middle School in the 77th percentile, which means Meece did as well or better than 77 percent of the state’s middle schools, and the school was deemed a proficient school. 
Somerset High School has been deemed a proficient high school with a rank in the 89th percentile, which means the school’s students performed as well or better than 89 percent of high schools in the state.
Somerset High students scored 13.5 out of 20 in achievement, 7.3 out of 20 in gap, 11.3 out of 20 in growth, 13.6 out of 20 in college and career readiness, and 18.4 out of 20 for graduation rate.
Randolph said the last two indicators — college and career readiness and graduation rate — helps the state and the schools to determine whether they’re preparing students to become productive citizens in society after public school.
“This is giving the community an economically competitive product,” Randolph said. “That’s the whole point (of the testing system).”
Somerset High School students scored a total of 64.1 out of 100.