Test scores rise, but half of Kentucky’s high schools fail to reach goals

2011 file photo of Liberty Elementary on Liberty Rd. in Lexington.
2011 file photo of Liberty Elementary on Liberty Rd. in Lexington.

About 100 more Kentucky public schools performed at the highest levels of “proficient” and “distinguished” in the state’s accountability system, according to statewide test data released early Thursday.

But fewer high schools in 2015-16 managed to meet their annual goals of up to a point increase in their scores. Half of the state’s high schools did not meet their goals.

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Kentucky Department of Education officials said in a statement that the number of students graduating from high school and considered college- and career-ready continues to increase, and more students are scoring at higher levels in most grades and subjects since the state launched its assessment and accountability system five years ago.

In 2016, the college- and career-readiness rate was 68.5 — up from 66.9 last year and 62.5 the previous year. The four-year graduation rate is up to 88.6 — from 88.0 percent in the 2014-15 school year.

Students’ performances on tests in multiple subjects like reading and math are combined with assessments of achievement gaps, college readiness, graduation rates and more academic data in a complicated formula that results in an overall performance score for each school and district.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said at a Wednesday news conference that he’s proud the graduation rate continues to go up and that schools are getting more students college- and career-ready.

But he said he was disappointed by the state’s achievement gap between minority, low-income and disabled students and other students. The results continue to underscore the state’s struggle to reduce the achievement gaps for students in groups that have lagged behind their peers across multiple content areas and grade levels.

“We saw some improvements overall in scores, but there are still huge gaps between groups of students,” Pruitt said. He said the problem called for a culture change at the Kentucky Department of Education and across the state.

“We’ve got to rethink our approach to the problem altogether … what are these students not getting that’s leading to the achievement gap,” he said Wednesday.

Source: Kentucky Department of Education

The numbers of schools and districts performing at the highest levels are up from last year. A total of 802 schools and 138 districts are classified as either proficient or distinguished, the statement said.

The percent of students scoring at the proficient and distinguished levels has increased in nearly every subject and at every grade level since 2012, the first year of the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress assessments. The state’s overall score as well as elementary and high school scores also improved over last year. The overall score for middle schools declined.

For 2015-16, there were 461 schools statewide classified as needs improvement, 298 classified as proficient, and 504 as distinguished, state officials said.

Murray Independent was at the top of Kentucky school districts, according to a Herald-Leader analysis.

Silver Grove Independent was at the bottom.

Menifee County and Breathitt County, the two districts under state management -- they have been taken over by the Kentucky Department of Education -- ranked in the bottom ten districts in the state.

Jefferson County’s Brown School was the top-ranked high school in the state. But Jefferson County’s Klondike Lane Elementary saw one of the biggest declines among elementary schools of 22.2 points.

Phelps High School in Pike County, Christian County High School and Cordia High School in Knott County saw some of the biggest gains among high schools.

This is the fifth and final year the state will report results from Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning Accountability System, which will be phased out and replaced with a new accountability system. It is being created as a result of Congress’ reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in December 2016. The new law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, gives states more flexibility and provides for state and local control.

Pruitt has created an Accountability Steering Committee to redesign the state accountability program, and Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk is on that team.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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