Scores reveal mixed results

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Schools prepare to address weaknesses

By Bryan Marshall

A new assessment and accountability system provided mixed results, but a path for the future for Grant County and Williamstown Independent school districts.

The scores from the new Unbridled Learning accountability model, which was applied to test scores and other data for the first time for the 2011-12 school year,  were released Nov. 2 to the public.
The results are derived from information about Achievement (student scores on state tests,) Gap (scores of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch, received special education services, identified as English as a second language or are identified as African-American, Hispanic or Native American,) Growth, (based on measurable changes in individual student performances from year to year,) College/Career Readiness (based on college readiness exams: EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT) and Graduation Rate (based on number of students who graduate within four years.)

Public schools and school districts receive overall scores on a scale of 0 to 100 in the new model.
On average, the statewide school overall score was 55.2. For elementary schools, the average was 57.3; for middle schools, 53.5; and for high schools, 54.8.

Under the new system, schools are rank ordered from highest to lowest and assigned one of three ratings: distinguished (top 10 percent), proficient (70th to 89th percentile) and needs improvement (69th percentile and below.)

More than two-thirds of schools and districts in Kentucky are in the needs improvement category.
Locally, all schools except Williamstown High School placed in the needs improvement category with WHS reaching a distinguished classification.

As a district, Williamstown also was classified as proficient.
However, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday cautioned that statistic should not be an indicator of failure, but rather a starting point for improvement.

“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,” he said.

Grant County
Jennifer J. Wright, assistant superintendent for Grant County Schools, described the new accountability and assessment system as “the start of a new game -- with new, more rigorous goals, new rules and new scoring.”
“Some parts of the new game we played well; other parts will require attention,” she said. “The best part about the new game is that this compels us to examine every player, every coach, every play, every practice session and every game to ensure that we are performing to our highest potential. This is good for our students and good for our schools.”

At the elementary level, schools were only assessed in the Achievement, Gap and Growth categories.
Grant County’s four elementary school’s ranged from a total score of 55.4 (40th percentile) at Crittenden-Mt. Zion Elementary to 39.8 (3rd percentile) at Mason-Corinth Elementary.
Sherman Elementary and Dry Ridge Elementary had overall scores of 52.5 (31st percentile) and 50.1 (23rd percentile), respectively.
None of the elementary schools were above the state average of 57.3.

“The elementary scores do seem low, particularly when compared to how well they have performed in the past,” Wright said. “Part of this rests in the new formulas, as, obviously, our teachers did not suddenly stop teaching, nor did our kids suddenly quit learning. We do, however, need to re-examine how we do what we do, particularly how we target our instruction, both to the already high achievers and for those students identified as in the “gap” group. Everyone must show significant, measurable growth every year.”
Grant County Middle School’s overall score was a 54.2 (49th percentile), nearly a point above the state average of 53.5.
The middle school scores do take into account College/Career Readiness, as well as Achievement, Gap and Growth, but Graduation Rate is not factored in.

Grant County High School also scored above the state average of 54.8 with an overall score of 55.4 (57 percentile.)
Wright said she is proud of the scores at GCMS and GCHS.
“With the focus being college and career readiness for all students, the high school’s dramatic increase in that area - from a score of 44 last year to 62.7 this year - shows that we are clearly doing something right,” she said. “Obviously, we feel the new Career and Technology Center has had a significant impact, but we have seen the energy and focus on college and career readiness transfer to classes throughout the entire building.”

In the past, when state test scores were released, Wright said the district had a general idea of how the schools would perform and could follow trends.

However, with the introduction of Unbridled Learning, she was not sure what to expect.
“We are still trying to examine everything, but I think the thing that surprised us the most is how much the weight of the various components affected overall scores,” Wright said. “The addition of the ‘growth’ component, which compares the growth of each individual student with like students across the state, at a weight of up to 40 percent of a school’s overall score at the elementary level means that no child can remain ‘status quo’ even if he or she is already performing at what was once considered a proficient level. It turns out a low growth score can have a very significant impact on a traditionally high performing school.”
Last March, the district held a town hall meeting that helped to explain the new accountability system to parents and community leaders.

Individual school pamphlets also were sent home last week explaining the results.
“It is an extremely complicated system which is compounded by the fact that we are scored differently at every level, with different percentages and areas being factored into the total,” Wright said.

“Each school has a communication plan for parents, staff and students.  We also have plans to bring in the community for focused sessions to discuss the results on a smaller, more personal level, which will allow those attending to ask their own questions regarding the new system.”

As for teachers and administrators, Wright said it will take several weeks to break down the data to understand where the shortfalls and strengths lie.

The data, along with other assessments, will help administrators create a plan that will impact each school in the district.  
Teachers, with guidance from the administration at each school, then will work in Professional Learning Communities on a weekly basis to continue to analyze and digest the data.  

If a need for a change is identified, and the solution is good for students, Wright said they will make the change.
“The higher standards will bring progress, but will also require change,” Wright said. “I am fortunate because, as uncomfortable as change may be, our teachers are the first to acknowledge that our children are deserving of anything that best ensure their future success.”

With the first year of a new accountability model, Misty Middleton, instructional supervisor for Williamstown Independent Schools, knows it will take time to make sense of it all.  
However, she said she is excited about the information the district is receiving about the students.

“Once we break down the data, I feel confident it will lead us to our areas of strength and the areas where we can improve,” she said.
Williamstown High School was an exceptionally bright spot for the district with an overall score of 66.6 (94th percentile,) nearly 12 points above the state average.

The score was high enough to put WHS in the distinguished classification.

In the middle school, Williamstown scored a 52.6 (43rd percentile,) slightly below the state average of 53.5.
While faring the best among elementary schools in the county, Williamstown Elementary’s score of 57.1 (48th percentile) was just shy of the state average of 57.3.

“When looking at the elementary scores, we did very well on Achievement, like we’ve always done in the past,” Middleton said. “Before, that was the only measure, but in the new accountability model it is only worth 30 percent. With the added measures of Gap and Growth, worth 30 percent and 40 percent, respectively, we have room for improvement.”

Regardless, Middleton said she is not disappointed in the results.
“Naturally, it would have been awesome if all of our schools were ranked in the 90th percentile, but with this being the first year, the scores will show us where we need to make necessary adjustments to keep improving,” she said.

Seeing that 79.2 percent of the students who graduated in 2012 were college/career ready was an encouraging sign, said Middleton, adding that it was a 12.2 percent improvement over the previous year.

There were also several other bright spots.

“Our elementary had awesome math scores, which is phenomenal when I think about the increased rigor in the math standards,” Middleton said. “The staff did a great job of filling in the gaps between the old and new standards. Although you can’t compare the old system to the new one, the middle school is moving in the right direction by having scores close to or above the state average. The high school scores are phenomenal. It’s exciting to see scores above the state average in all content areas.”

In the next couple of weeks, each school’s staff will break down the data and use it to make school improvement plans.
Then,  the district will make the needed corrections in instruction, assessments and schedules, if needed, said Middleton.
The district has tried to be proactive in getting the message out about the new assessment and how Williamstown will be scored.

A community forum was held Nov. 12 in the high school cafeteria where parents heard about the new system, got a detailed account of each school’s results and received their child’s individual report.  
“I want parents to know that we are all about continuous improvement,” Middleton said. “In areas that we did well, we hope to do better and we are going to emphasize the areas where we need work. We will look at students individually and make a plan. I also want parents to know that they are our partners in their child’s education. It takes all of us working together to improve academic achievement.”

To see a breakdown of the overall school’s for each school in Grant County, see the chart on page 22.

For detailed information about an individual school’s report card, go to http://applications.education.ky.gov/SRC/ and select a district and school.