HAZARD – The Kentucky Department of Education on Friday released the results of the new statewide assessment system, with the two school districts in Perry County achieving varying degrees of success.
For the past two months officials in Frankfort have warned parents in Kentucky that this new accountability system is based on a more rigorous system of working toward college and career readiness, and also uses components such as achievement, gap, growth, and graduation rate, rather than a determination of students’ basic skill levels in subjects like math and reading. When the state adopted the new Unbridled Learning Accountability Model, officials hoped it would be used as a tool for schools to see what changes they can make to help improve test scores.
As a result, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday noted that scores released this year, based on a range of 0-100 rather than the former range of 0-140, would come in lower, but would also serve as a starting point for future improvement.
As a part of this new system, only the schools scoring in the top 90th percentile are considered excellent, while proficient is considered in the range between 70 and 89. Roughly 69 percent of the schools in Kentucky were categorized as “Needs Improvement,” meaning they fell below the 70th percentile in the state. This was a result of the new system, and something officials said would likely happen due to the more complicated and difficult assessment.
“Because this year’s data is the first from the Unbridled Learning model, I encourage educators, parents, communities, elected officials and others with a stake in public education to think of these classifications as a starting point for improvement,” Holliday said of Friday’s statewide release. “Although more than two-thirds of schools and districts are in the Needs Improvement category, this is not an indicator of failure. The Unbridled Learning model is one of continuous improvement, and schools and districts now have a wealth of data to use as they plan for improvement in student learning and achievement.”
Hazard Independent Schools
The latest analysis of the standardized tests in Kentucky show eighth grade students in Hazard Independent Schools ranking fifth highest in the state for math. The data collected from these tests shows how each school ranks, along with hundreds of individual data points from school safety, to parent volunteer hours, to the demographics of students that need work in certain areas.
Hazard Superintendent Sandra Johnson said this break down of data will be able to help the schools to focus on areas that they may need improvement. “It will definitely showcase what we are doing right,” said Johnson, “but it also shows you specifics of groups that you need to target.”
The data sets break down each grade level into different demographics by sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and learning disabilities. These sets of data are then compared to the state. It is with this information that Johnson said they were able to tell some of the areas officials in the city schools will be working on improving over the next year.
“Like our language mechanics at the elementary, 64 percent of our students were proficient/distinguished compared to the state, which was 49 percent,” she noted. “We know we are doing that well.”
In comparison, elementary writing scores were low, especially in the male students.
Overall, the Hazard Independent School District was ranked in the 71st percentile, with a score of 58.4, according to the data compiled from last year’s testing. Johnson said that it is something to be proud of to be among the schools listed as proficient since so many are considered Needs Improvement.
“Out of 174 (schools in the state), 120 of those are going to be Needs Improvement,” said Johnson.
The students at Hazard High School ranked in the 75th percentile, placing them in the proficient range. Roy G. Eversole Middle School (which has since become Hazard Middle School) fell just two points shy of being considered a proficient school. Walkertown Elementary (now known as Roy G. Eversole Elementary) was ranked in the 55th percentile, making both the middle and elementary schools categorized as Needs Improvement.
Perry County Schools
As a district, Perry County Schools failed to meet the statewide district average of 55.2, recording a score of 46.3, ranking the district in the 9th percentile in the state.
Perry Central High School, a persistently low-achieving school which is receiving assistance from a state education recovery team, scored well below the state high school average of 54.8, recording an overall score of 41.3. The school was categorized as needing improvement, ranking in the 5th percentile in Kentucky.
Buckhorn High School also fell below the state average, recording a score of 46.3, landing the high school in the 14th percentile and falling in the category of Needs Improvement.
The county’s grade schools were a mixed bag, with most in the Needs Improvement category, though some scored a proficient rating, coming in between the 70th and 89th percentile.
Dennis Wooton, Robinson, and Leatherwood each scored a proficient rating (Robinson and Leatherwood for their Middle School scores), while the remaining schools were categorized as needing improvement.
Chavies Elementary fared the worst of any school in Perry County, with its elementary scoring a 28 and a ranking in the 1st percentile. The Chavies middle school score of 37.4 placed the school in the 4th percentile. Chavies was also listed as a focus school. The Kentucky Department of Education defines a focus school as one that either scored in the lower 10 percent in the state or had a group of students scoring significantly low.
Jonathan Jett, who officially began his new job as interim superintendent for Perry County Schools the day before these scores were released, was quick to acknowledged this week that there will be a lot of work to do in the Perry County School District to raise test scores and bring students closer to being college and career ready.
“We’re not going to try to manipulate the results or make excuses for why those results are there,” Jett said. “The excuse making is over. We understand that those are areas of concern, a great deal of concern. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
Part of that work will be a focus on giving teachers honest and authentic feedback through observations of classroom performance, using a continuous stream of data to drive instruction, and a stringent monitoring of programs to ensure that methods being used in the district are working. And one of the more important plans for improvement is to ensure that the district works as a whole, and not as group singular schools.
“We have a lot of schools, and they’re all kind of isolated,” noted Cindy Gabbard, the district’s chief academic officer. “We want to come together as a team, everybody help each other, and what somebody’s doing that’s working, share it.”
“For years we’ve kind of been 10 or 11 islands competing against each other, but we’ve got to get past that,” Jett added. “We’ve all got to get to the big picture of being the Perry County School System, and in order for our system to get to where it needs to be, all of our schools need to be successful.”
And that will mean more of what Jett termed “job-embedded professional development” in which teachers will visit other classrooms where they can get ideas from their peers on what works. It’s all an attempt to cultivate professional relationships within the district so that schools are not competing against each other, but working to help each other improve, Jett explained.
Though some of the district’s schools, like Dennis Wooton Elementary, are succeeding, Jett said there is still room for improvement, and communicating these issues with stakeholders, including the students and parents, will be an important part of moving forward. Officials will be planning a series of community forums where stakeholders can meet with school and district administration to discuss issues within the the county’s schools.
“The administration and board members have more of an academic education focus that we’ve ever had,” Jett said. “We are focused on doing what’s best for students and getting them college and career ready.”