It was a mixed bag of results for Jessamine County as Kentucky left behind an old accountability system and released new scores for schools under a new model.
The first year of data in the state’s Unbridled Learning accountability system, which replaces the No Child Left Behind system through a waiver from the federal government, was released to the public at midnight Friday.
The Jessamine County district’s overall score — an aggregation of several components in a variety of areas — was in the 56th percentile, placing it in the “needs improvement” category that includes the lowest 70 percent of Kentucky districts this year.
Officials at the state, district and even school levels have been cautioning parents not to compare results from the new system to those from No Child Left Behind, instead emphasizing that the new data is a baseline for an entirely different system. Jessamine superintendent Lu Young said scores were expected to be lower because of the novelty of the assessments as well as new, higher standards focused on college and career readiness.
“It’s an entirely different metric, because the common core standards alone are so much more rigorous ... I don’t think we had wimpy standards in the past by any stretch of the imagination, but these are significantly higher,” she said.
“(Students tested in 2012) came right into a system with higher standards that they had not been matriculated through, they hadn’t been prepared for, so it was a much tougher, higher set of expectations for kids than they’d worked through the system in the past.”
The overall scores for districts and schools are on a 100-point scale, with a percentile rank along with each score. By coincidence, Jessamine County’s score of 56 fell into the percentile of the same number — 14 percentile points away from proficient, a difference of only 2.4 scoring points.
Young said she hoped parents would take advantage of much deeper, richer data than just the overall scores for schools. School and district report cards are available on the Kentucky Department of Education website at education.ky.gov (a direct link to the report cards is here).
“I’m afraid parents are just going to go straight to the percentile and make a lot of inferences about what that percentile really means when what’s on the site is a lot of important, good data as you drill down that’s a whole lot bigger than just a single number,” she said.
Wilmore Elementary led the way for individual schools with an overall score of 72.3 on the 100-point scale — higher than 94 percent of other elementary schools — earning a distinguished rating and a designation as one of the state’s “highest-performing schools.” East Jessamine High School and West Jessamine High School each scored above the 70th percentile — 72nd for East and 77th for West — to earn the designation of proficient. The four other elementary schools and the two middle schools fell below the 70th percentile and were classified as “needs improvement.” (Scores for students at The Providence School were included in data for East and West middle and high schools, according to students’ attendance area.)
Young said Wilmore’s performance was a result of the school always striving to be “better than Wilmore was the year before.” Another of her major celebrations was the high schools, with both schools’ scores in reading and math above the state average and both schools above the state average in each of four end-of-course assessments.
In addition to achievement scores from testing, overall scores for elementary schools included components of gap and growth. The gap score measures the proficiency of students in traditionally low-performing subgroups, and the growth figure measures students’ progress year-over-year compared to academically similar peers statewide. Middle-school scores include those three components and a score for college and career readiness; high-school scores include those four components and add graduation rate.
The growth measure is newest and most complex. Young said teachers would face an incredible challenge in trying to improve scores that are based on performance of peers across all of Kentucky.
“That’s going to be real rocket science for schools, because I don’t know how all the other kids in your similar academic peers group are going to perform — I have no control over that; I don’t know how they’re going to do,” she said. “So (as a teacher,) I can set goals and get you as far as you can go personally, but I can’t strategically manage the system in such a way that I know you’re going to get that growth point.”
East Jessamine Middle and East Jessamine High were labeled “focus schools” under the system because of low scores from students with disabilities in single subject areas — social studies at East Middle and English/language arts at East High. Young said the label doesn’t “drastically change” practice for a school but highlights specific areas to address.
Of the six Jessamine County schools falling under “needs improvement,” three scored between the 50th and 60th percentile — West Jessamine Middle School (58th), Nicholasville Elementary School (56th) and Warner Elementary School (50th) — and three scored below the 30th percentile — Rosenwald-Dunbar Elementary School (29th), East Jessamine Middle School (28th) and Brookside Elementary School (22nd).
Young said the district would work specifically with the three lowest-scoring schools to help raise scores in the new system, but she pointed out that the accountability — specifically the growth component — required attention to the needs of even the highest-performing schools.
“The hard thing about a complex system is you’ve got all those plates spinning, and you can’t let one of them come crashing down because you’re tending to the others,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out now as go on.”
Young said she was happy with the 56th percentile as a starting point in a new system.
“I’m really optimistic about it; I think it’s a good showing for our district as a starting place. It’s not where we want to be, but it’s a good starting place, and I think we’ll quickly operationalize around the new system and see some good gains from ’12 to ’13.”
The accountability system will include a component of program review next year and teacher and principal evaluation the following year. Young said the increasingly complex system is valuable in evaluating the district but it is not the only feedback.
“We look at it very holistically to say, ‘What will make Jessamine County the very best district that Jessamine County can be?’” she said. “I make no bones about the fact that this is a really important, huge part of that, but it’s not the only thing. We want to try to be as global in our perspective on the district and improvement as we possibly can be.”