STANFORD — Lincoln County school officials aren't exactly sure what they're going to find when they unwrap the district's new accountability and testing scores later this month, but they're prepared for an across-the-board drop in proficiency.
The anticipated drop wouldn't be due to students performing worse than before; it would be due to new state standards that expect more from "proficient" students, Superintendent Karen Hatter said.
"The bar has been raised on where that proficiency is, particularly in reading and math," Hatter said.
Statewide math and reading scores under the new Kentucky Rating for Education Progress system — known as K-PREP — are projected by the state Department of Education to be 25-30 percentage points lower than in previous years.
But that figure needs some context, because the new K-PREP scores won't be directly comparable to old scores determined under the previous CATS system, said Pam Hart, Lincoln Schools' chief deputy of quality management.
"It would be like comparing the scores of a football game and a basketball game," Hart said. "The numbers are the same but they mean different things."
Hart said under CATS, academic achievement was the major way scores were determined. Under K-Prep, academic achievement is just a small piece of the overall score.
Under K-PREP, academic achievement only makes up 30 percent of each elementary school's total score, 28 percent of Lincoln Middle School's score and just 20 percent of Lincoln High School's score.
Schools' scores are now substantially affected by how individual students improve in proficiency over time and how well low-income, special-education, minority and English-language-learner students perform.
At the middle and high school levels, scores also account for how well students are prepared for college or a career.
"It's new, it's rather complicated, and I think it's especially complicated for those outside of education because … as parents or community members, we're used to looking up numbers from the past and saying, 'OK, how are we doing?" Hart said. "I'm intrigued to open these scores. We don't know if the schools that have performed really well in the past will perform as well."
Hatter said even though it's hard to guess how individual schools' scores will change, she expects to see a "move toward the mean," with previously-high-scoring schools losing more off their scores than previously-low-scoring schools.
"You won't be able to make a standard score comparison (year over year), but you will be able to see how you ranked compared to other schools," Hatter said. "It will be a good way to see if you've moved up in rank."
Lincoln County High School Principal Tim Godbey told Stanford City Council members Oct. 4 he expects his students to be an exception to the rule of lower scores.
Even with K-PREP's higher standards, Godbey said he feels the high school's progress has been so monumental that it will be one of the few schools in the state to see its scores go up.
"That's not official by any means," Godbey said. "But we feel like by our preliminary work that that's what has happened."
Hatter said work done across the district to improve performance following the high school's classification last year as a persistently low-achieving school has helped improve students' performance.
As a result, scores may not drop as drastically as they might have otherwise, she said.
"I think we've taken some steps to mitigate the impact of those higher standards," she said.
Hatter and Hart said the scoring change is a good move that will help the Lincoln County School District improve students' outcomes.
Hatter said the new standards are in-line with national expectations, meaning students who meet the "proficient" level now will be better prepared to find work and contribute anywhere in the world.
"Students in Kentucky are not just going to compete … with students from Kentucky," she said. "They're going to be national and international citizens now."
Hart said the new scoring system provides much more detail on individual student performance, allowing for more focus on helping students if they begin to fall behind.
"You want to be able to determine as a parent and an educator if each individual child is able to make academic progress," she said. "I think (the new system) is good. It's just so new that to be able to clearly articulate exactly how it's calculated is somewhat difficult."
The new scores will be given to the school district later this month, and then released to the public a couple weeks later. The scores will be presented in a new "school report card" that is "replete with information" breaking down school performance in many different areas, Hart said.
"We are all learning this just as fast and furious as everyone else," she said.