Fayette test scores vary widely by school; district ranks 54th of 174 statewide

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 2, 2012 

Fayette County Public Schools recorded both highs and lows on Kentucky's new statewide student test, with two schools ranked in the state's top 10 and others trailing well down the list.

The district as a whole slipped into the "needs improvement" category in the results released at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

The Fayette district was only one-tenth of a point short of making "proficient" level in the complex new scoring system. The system's design automatically ensured that 69 percent of Kentucky schools and districts would end up in the "needs improvement" classification.

Among individual Lexington schools, Veterans Park Elementary ranked fifth statewide among elementary schools. The School for the Creative and Performing Arts was the second-ranked middle school in Kentucky.

Nine Fayette schools achieved "proficient" status. Seven others reached "distinguished" level and also were named "highest performing schools." Six Fayette schools designated as distinguished were also honored as "schools of distinction," the highest accolade a school can receive in the new scoring system.

On the down side, 20 Fayette schools were designated as "focus schools" as a result of low "gap" scores on the test indicating that some of their student subgroups — minority, low-income or special needs children — underperformed compared to peers statewide.

"Overall, our district did very well. ... We feel very good about where our schools are as they move forward," Superintendent Tom Shelton said. "But having 20 schools in the focus school category clearly indicates that we still have issues in the achievement gap areas. Those are areas in particular that we want to highlight and work on."

Fayette County ranked 54th out of Kentucky's 174 public school districts on the new K-PREP test, which students took for the first time last spring.

Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Kentucky, Boyle County finished in the top 10 of school districts statewide. Also making the top 10 were Pikeville Independent Schools, Science Hill Independent Schools and Corbin Independent Schools.

Boyle Superintendent Mike LaFavers said he was particularly pleased with his district's performance, given its student make-up. He noted that many high-performing districts are in affluent areas.

"Half of our kids live in poverty, one out of seven has a learning disability," LaFavers said. "We're a regular, Joe Bag-of-Doughnuts school district. We're probably only one of about three in the top 10 that look that way. That's the thing we're most proud of."

This year's test results mark a major change for Kentucky schools. The test is entirely new; it is tied to new, tougher standards in math and English; and scores can't be compared with those from previous years. Because of that, many school districts have been rushing to get out information over the past few days explaining the new system.

Nevertheless, Jessamine County School Superintendent Lu Young said she thinks the new scoring system will provide valuable information for both educators and parents.

"There are some peculiarities ... but it does seem to work," Young said. "It's certainly data rich, and much more multi-faceted than No Child Left Behind was.

"My only fear is that parents will just focus in on the percentile rankings or the single score. I'm hopeful that we can begin to show them that there's a lot more than just one piece of information ... information about their school and ways they can help support their school."

One of the "peculiarities" of the new system is that a school can be designated "proficient" or "distinguished" based on its performance, yet still be listed as a "focus school" because of a low "gap" score.

That happened to East Jessamine High School and to Beaumont Middle School in Lexington.

"We're kind of both top and bottom," Beaumont Principal Kate McAnelly said. "It's potentially confusing because it's two totally different labels."

Beaumont was the state's 11th highest middle school. But McAnelly said Beaumont's gap score was lower than expected because of reading results among its limited-English-proficient students. Many of them have been in the country only a year or two, she noted.

"That's where we have work to do," she said.

Veterans Park Elementary Principal Amy McVey said her school built on previous success to rank fifth in the state on the new test.

"We just felt like our staff really focused on the new standards and doing what was right for kids," she said. "We believe that all children can achieve at high levels, and we don't have any excuses. It paid off."

At the other end of the scale was Lexington's Booker T. Washington Academy, which had a total score of 39.2 out of 100 and ranked 714th among Kentucky elementary schools.

"Obviously we're very disappointed," Principal Wendy Brown said. "We're looking at the data individually by student and by classroom. When we did that we saw a lot of the great things. So, we're going to be working with the teachers who did the great things to replicate that in the future."

Shelton said there had been "a lot of apprehension" with the new scoring system.

"We're not making any excuses," he said. "But this will give us a good baseline of data that will help us set our targets from here forward." Lexington schools honored as "schools of distinction" were Glendover, Picadome, Rosa Parks and Veterans Park elementary schools, plus Morton and SCAPA middle schools.

Ashland, Athens-Chilesburg, Cassidy, Maxwell, Meadowthorpe and Stonewall elementary schools, plus Jessie Clark Middle School, were named "highest performing schools," which actually is a lower designation than "school of distinction."

Designated as "proficient schools" were Clays Mill, Julius Marks, Squires and Wellington elementaries; Edythe J. Hayes Middle School, and Henry Clay, Lafayette, Tates Creek and Paul Laurence Dunbar high schools.

However, Henry Clay, Lafayette, Dunbar and Tates Creek also were classified as focus schools. Bryan Station High was classified as a priority school based on its being in the lowest 5 percent of schools in the previous year's scores.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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