On Sept. 24, a report released by the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky named 12 Kentucky school districts that have been labeled “bright spots.” Among the 12 schools was the Hazard Independent School District.

In the report, researchers from CBER, with support from and in partnership with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, analyzed 2012-2017 education data from the state’s 173 school districts. Researchers also identified key factors affecting academic achievement and constructed statistical models to predict an expected level of performance on state assessments within the report.

The following school districts performed at significantly higher levels than predicted and are considered “bright spots” in the report: Barbourville Independent; Fleming County; Grayson County; Hazard Independent; Hickman County; Jenkins Independent; Monroe County; Paintsville Independent; Pineville Independent; Robertson County; Somerset Independent and Woodford County.

“We looked at elementary and middle school performance on the K-PREP reading and math assessments, as well as the performance of high school students on the ACT,” said Michael Childress, a research associate with CBER. “Student, community and district characteristics were also taken into consideration,” he said. “We specify a district as a bright spot if two things are true: (one) when looking at all students, the district performed better than expected in at least one year, and (two) the free/reduced-lunch students showed improvement over the time period that resulted in a better-than-expected outcome in 2017.”

There were three districts that met both of these conditions for K-PREP Reading at the elementary level, said Childress. Those three districts were Hazard Independent, Jenkins Independent and Robertson County, he said. In the case of Hazard Independent, Chidlress said, the NSLP students improved to 63.2 percent achieving proficient or distinguished in 2017. Additionally, the report showed that in 2017, the Hazard Independent School District improved to 71.5 percent in K-PREP Reading for elementary grades.

Two key findings of the analysis, consistent with others across the nation, are that teacher experience and the socio-economic status of students have a significant impact on achievement levels, said officials involved with the report.

“We know that teachers matter, and these results can offer insight into how Kentucky can continue to improve education, while also breaking the cycle of deep poverty in our state,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the executive director of the Prichard Committee. “These results can inform additional research designed to reveal best practices that facilitate better-than-expected educational outcomes given that Kentucky remains near the bottom of the nation for families living in poverty.”

Hazard Independent Schools Superintendent Sondra Combs said she is proud of the district’s students and staff, and that the poverty levels in this region will not stop her students from succeeding.

“Hazard Independent Schools have always prided their selves on academic excellence and anytime we get acknowledgment for the hard work that our staff has done we really appreciate it,” said Combs. “In Hazard, we also pride ourselves in individualizing our learning and getting to know each and every student, finding areas that they need support in and finding the appropriate resources to get that help for them. We’re very proud of our school system and hope to continue the success we’ve had this far.”

The report and its findings will be showcased at the Prichard Committee’s annual meeting Sept. 27 in Lexington.

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