Much-anticipated test scores released

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District fares better than expected, but tougher assessment raises bar for all students

By Mallory Bilger

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about how Spencer County Public Schools faired in the first-round of the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress — known as K-PREP — assessment. The K-PREP assessment replaces the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, and, according to state and local educators, has raised academic expectations for public school students across Kentucky. This week’s story addresses the district as a whole, while next week’s story will address the scores of each individual school.

After some delays attributed to kinks in the new system, the much-anticipated Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress scores have been released and Spencer County Public Schools faired better than expected on the assess ment, with results that landed the district in the top 30 percent when compared to Kentucky’s other public school districts.
Under the new testing system, the district as a whole was classified as proficient, with an overall score of 58.7. That score put Spencer County in the 75th percentile, meaning 75 percent of Kentucky’s other districts scored at or below Spencer County’s level. When compared to the other districts in the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, of which Spencer County is a part of, the district placed third out of the cooperative’s 13 districts.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a staff than I am of our staff,” Superintendent Chuck Adams said. “Perseverance and remaining focused on the task at hand, they have been able to sustain that culture of improvement.”
One Spencer County school performed particularly well. Spencer County Elementary School, led by principal Dale Kleinjan, scored distinguished, with an overall score of 69.8, landing the school in the 90th percentile. The school was also given a reward recognition status of highest performing school.
Taylorsville Elementary earned an overall score of 63.1, was ranked in the 73rd percentile and was classified proficient. Spencer County Middle School scored 56.3, was ranked in the 59th percentile and was classified as needs improvement. Spencer County High School scored 52.5, was ranked in the 39th percentile and was classified as needs improvement.
Adams and Assistant Superintendent Norma Thurman agreed that the scores were not surprising, because the district’s elementary schools have historically scored higher on standardized tests, while the middle and the high school have struggled more.
“I think we’re on the right path for middle school and high school as well. Both schools have moved up in the rankings from where they were,” Thurman said, noting that frequent turnover and lower salaries than surrounding districts can affect progress. “We try to hire only the best. We do end up with a lot of brand new teachers because our salary is lower than Jefferson, Bullitt, Shelby, but that is fine. One of our challenges, I think, is pay scale. But we do the best we can with that.”
Adams said both middle school principal Ed Downs and high school principal Curt Haun have been working diligently to address achievement gaps, especially in areas such as writing, reading and math. Adams said when he came to the district six years ago, the high school was in the very bottom of high schools in the state.
“A few years ago, we were knocking on the door of the 10 lowest high schools in the state,” Adams said. “In relation to that, the 40th percentile, when you look at it from the bottom 10 percent, it’s what we would expect. Slow, steady improvement.”
Thurman said one positive aspect of K-PREP is that it takes individual student growth into account, even if a child does not meet a specific benchmark.
“Superintendents across Kentucky were pretty distraught about how this first year was going to roll out, because only the top districts were going to hit proficiency,” Thurman said.  
According to the K-PREP scoring system, districts receive a distinguished, proficient or needs improvement rating. Those classifications also apply at the school level. Distinguished districts or schools are in the top 10 percent as compared to other schools/districts statewide, while proficient districts or schools are in the top 30 percent and needs improvement districts or schools are any that fall outside of the proficient or distinguished categories and are not meeting identified annual measurable objectives.
K-PREP — administered for the first time during the 2011-2012 school year — is the assessment portion of Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning: College/Career Readiness for All accountability model. Because the program is new, faculty and administrators locally and statewide cautiously anticipated the scores, which are based upon the new accountability model.
The previous assessment model — the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System — has been scrapped. Spencer County Schools’ most recent scores and the 2010-2011 CATS scores cannot be compared to one another because of the differences in the assessment models. Previously, schools and the district were given an accountability index score of 0 to 140, with 100 being considered proficient. Schools and the district will now be given an annual measurable objective between 0 and 100. Individual schools and the district as a whole will receive a score that determines if they reached their AMO.
The 2011-2012 scores just released are a baseline for the 2012-2013 results. The Spencer County school district was not given an AMO for the first round of results, but one has been identified for the 2012-2013 results. The district’s AMO goal for the 2012-2013 year is 59.2 — 1/2 a point higher than the 58.7 received this year. Thurman said that might not seem like a very big increase, but all districts are expected to gain between .5 and 1 point in their overall score for next year.
Thurman said she overall feels more confident in the state’s new accountability system, mandated by Kentucky Senate Bill 1, which set forward expectations for vast changes in how the state assesses academic progress.
“I feel good about this new accountability system,” she said. “This is definitely an improvement over what we’ve been doing because of the growth factor. Before, it was just about achievement. You did not have that individual growth (factor).”


What you need to know about the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress Test
Information courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Education

Q: Why is there a new system?
A: In 2009, Kentucky’s legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which affected many existing laws related to public school assessment and accountability. The bill did away with the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, also known as CATS. Kentucky adopted the Common Core Standards in reading and math in 2010, and schools started teaching the new standards in the 2011-12 school year. Students were first tested on the new standards in the spring of 2012.

Q: What components go into the school and district classifications?
A: Classifications are based on five areas, including achievement, gap, growth, college readiness and graduation rate. Achievement includes the content areas of reading, math, science, social studies and writing. The gap is the percentage of proficient and distinguished students for all five content areas. The growth component is measured in reading and mathematics and includes the percentage of students at typical or higher levels of growth. The college readiness component is the percentage of students meeting state-identified benchmarks in three content areas on the EXPLORE test at the middle school level, and by the ACT benchmarks, college placement tests and career measures at the high school level, according to the department of education. The graduation rate is based on the average freshman graduation rate.

Q: How is the Annual Measurable Objective score — the individual school and district’s overall goal —calculated?
A: The AMO that will be required for 2013 is based on a statistical model that requires a school to have significant gain of scores over time. Technically, the AMO is based on a standard deviation, but that word is confusing for those not trained in statistics. Here’s a way to think of it: If the average overall score for elementary schools is 50, and there is a standard deviation of 21, it would mean a school’s AMO would require the school to move 7 points in five years (1/3 improvement over five years). School A is at a score of 29 (21 points below the average of 50, or one standard deviation below the mean. School A would need to move from 29 to 36 in five years. Annually, the school would need to improve approximately 1.5 points a year.