Nearly four years in the making, Kentucky's new 5-star accountability system is now live -- giving parents and other stakeholders the opportunity to see how local schools are performing in accordance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA).

Star ratings mark a main departure from previous accountability scores. The number of stars a school receives is based in part of the 2018-19 K-PREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) assessment data as well as other indicators depending on grade level, including: proficiency in reading, mathematics, social studies, science and writing; academic growth over one year; transition (college and career) readiness; and graduation rate.

In the ranking, a three-star school is considered to be a "good" school, with Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis explaining during a Monday press conference that receiving three stars or higher is a positive result.

No school within the three public districts received less than a three-star rating.

Pulaski County Schools

Overall Pulaski County school officials are pleased with the district's performance during the 2018-19 school year. The district earned four stars collectively for its elementary and high schools, and three stars at the middle school level.

"We again had another extremely successful year in student achievement," Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson said, "even with a lot of changes and unknowns. Our teachers and staff work hard every day making sure our students and schools are the best they can be."

Elementary and middle schools received scores in areas of Proficiency (combined reading and math), Separate Academic Indicators (combined science, social studies and writing), and Growth while high schools received scores in Proficiency, Separate Academic Indicators, Transition Readiness, and Graduation Rate. Each of these individual categories also received ratings.

Graduation rates are a major part of the accountability process at the high school level. Both high schools boast very high graduation rates with PCHS at 98.1% and SWHS at 98.0%.

"We have very high graduation rates. It is proof we care about every student and work hard to make sure all students are successful," said Richardson. "We continue to offer more and more rigorous opportunities for our high school students."

Of concern to state officials is the fact that only 56 public schools out of the 1,272 included in the latest accountability report scored five stars (37 elementary schools, 12 middle schools and seven high schools).

"As usual, there are Kentucky schools and districts that are improving," said Education Commissioner Lewis, adding that the system is designed to shine a light on achievement gaps between various groups of students. "We should celebrate

their success and learn from their transformational approaches to teaching and learning. But the data also show that as a whole, our system is not yet ensuring each and every student - regardless of socioeconomic level, disability or race - is empowered and equipped to pursue a successful future."

Locally, Southern Elementary made that exclusive list of five-star schools.

"I offer sincere congratulations to our first 5-star rated schools," said Lewis. "Being rated at the pinnacle of Kentucky's school accountability system is no small feat, and comes only as a result of strategic leadership, hard work, and partnership."

The Pulaski schools earning four stars were Eubank Elementary, Nancy Elementary, Oak Hill Elementary, Pulaski Elementary, Shopville Elementary, Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School.

Earning three stars were Burnside Elementary, Northern Elementary, Northern Middle and Southern Middle. However, Richardson was quick to point out that both middle schools and Northern Elementary would have earned 4-star ratings had they not been penalized a star for having achievement gaps with their special education population.

"We have about 35 students in the middle schools and a few at the elementary level that need even more support and interventions," Richardson said. "We will be looking closely at each of these students to determine how we can best support them."

Under the new accountability system, a 5- or 4-star school's rating can be lowered by one

star if it has one or more statistically significant achievement gaps between the performances of groups of students. A statewide total of 81 schools' overall ratings were impacted by their achievement gaps - 16 otherwise 5-star schools were lowered to four stars, and 65 otherwise 4-star schools were lowered to three stars.

Like the Pulaski schools which were penalized, the majority of schools statewide that had star ratings lowered due to achievement gaps have work to do to ensure that students with disabilities are learning and performing at higher levels. Other schools whose ratings were lowered had significant achievement gaps between economically-disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers, English learners and their native-English speaking peers, African-American students and their white peers, Hispanic students and their

white peers, and students with two or more races and their white peers.

"Kentucky's new accountability system is built on the philosophy that a school or district cannot be rated as one of our very best schools unless it is ensuring that all groups of students, regardless of background, are learning at high levels," said Lewis.

Overall Pulaski County Schools are performing well compared to other districts around the commonwealth. According to the superintendent, Pulaski elementary schools were in the top 35 percent of the state while the middle schools placed in the top 25 percent and high schools in the top 20 percent.

"We are very pleased with the results under the new system," Richardson said. "We will continue to focus on each individual child and provide opportunities for our student that are second to none."

Somerset Independent

Of the three schools in Somerset Independent's district, both Hopkins Elementary and Somerset High School received three stars, and Meece Middle School received a four-star rating.

None of the schools had their scores reduced due to a "statistically significant gap" in educational scores for any demographics, although the report does note that a statistical gap in scores does exist at Hopkins for students with disabilities.

Cindy Ham, Somerset's district assessment coordinator said that she and the district were pleased with the ratings.

"Although we still have room to improve, we feel that our students are getting a strong academic foundation to take them beyond high school," Ham said.

Likewise, Superintendent Kyle Lively seemed happy with the scores.

"These test scores are a direct result of remarkable students, teachers/staff, parents, and administrators working toward a common goal," Lively said.

"We are truly fortunate to have a fantastic student body with supportive parents. Our teachers/staff and administrators go above and beyond to ensure all student needs are met. It is this combination of caring and dedication that make results like this possible. While we are extremely proud of what our students and teachers have accomplished, we look forward to continual academic growth."

Ham said that the 2018-19 KPREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) data showed improvements at all levels.

KPREP scores are one of the five assessment criteria that goes into determining the star rating system.

"Hopkins Elementary scores in math and science increased from last year, while Meece Middle showed growth in social studies and writing content areas," Ham said.

"Meece also has a High rating for the Proficiency Indicator (the combined score for math and reading) and Separate Academic Indicator (the combined score of science, social studies and writing). Somerset High School showed a slight increase in the graduation rate from the previous year and received a High rating for the math and reading Proficiency Indicator."

Science Hill

Science Hill School had comparatively less to sort out than the other two districts, as usual. With only a single facility in northern Pulaski County, serving only elementary and middle school-level students, Science Hill is small, but still high-performing.

At the elementary level, Science Hill got a 3 star rating; the middle school received a 4 star rating.

"The scores for the 2018-19 school year are out and the 'stars' are shining across Kentucky," said Science Hill Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse. "... We are so proud of our students and the hard work they put in this past year. This year's KPREP scores are proof that the dedication of our staff and the grit shown by our students has once again paid off."

Transition Readiness and Graduation weren't factors that applied to Science Hill, noted Dyehouse, as those are geared toward high schools, but indicators that still contributed to the scores included Proficiency, Separate Academic, and Growth.

Science Hill's overall score at the elementary level (grades 3-5) was 69.5 with a score of 86.3 for Proficiency, 67.6 for Separate Academic, and 54.1 for Growth. The overall score at the middle school level was 71.8 with a score of 80.4 for Proficiency, 73.6 for Separate Academic, and 61.9 for Growth.

Parents and community members can see the full School Report Card by going to the Kentucky Department of Education website under Communities and click on School Report Card Main Landing Page, noted Dyehouse.

2019 Kentucky Accountability Scores for Pulaski-area schools:

Pulaski County Schools:

Burnside Elementary: 3 Stars

Eubank Elementary: 4 Stars

Nancy Elementary: 4 Stars

Northern Elementary: 3 Stars

Oak Hill Elementary: 4 Stars

Pulaski Elementary: 4 Stars

Shopville Elementary: 4 Stars

Southern Elementary: 5 Stars

Northern Middle: 3 Stars

Southern Middle: 3 Stars

Pulaski County High School: 4 Stars

Southwestern High School: 4 Stars

Somerset Independent:

Hopkins Elementary: 3 Stars

Meece Middle: 4 Stars

Somerset High School: 3 stars

Science Hill Independent:

Elementary School: 3 Stars

Middle School: 4 Stars

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