In most areas, Kentucky schools have not made much progress at all in the last five years, Kentucky Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said in releasing statewide accountability results for 2017-2018.
The assessment results released Wednesday show academic performance has remained largely flat in Kentucky public schools, including areas such as reading and mathematics, he said.
Lewis said it was “extremely troubling” that only half of elementary and middle school students tested in the state were at the level of proficient or higher. In a news release, he said achievement gaps persist for different groups of students, including students with learning disabilities and students of color.
“There are not a lot of positives here. For the past five years, there has been virtually no movement. We are not improving,” Lewis said in a news release. “And achievement gaps between student populations continue to be incredibly disturbing.”
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Kentucky’s ACT scores, which are based on all public school juniors taking the test last spring, also “mimicked a national downturn,” officials said in a news release, with declines in English, mathematics, reading and science. Lewis said the results reinforce the state’s current efforts to address lagging student achievement in areas such as reading and math.
“This is a daunting moment of truth for our state. We cannot lie to ourselves about what these scores mean any longer. While the data are sobering, it allows us to get an accurate picture of where our schools are and strengthens our conviction in what is needed in the months and years ahead,” Lewis said. “Instead of being discouraged, this is a call to action for schools, districts, educators, parents, students, and community and business leaders. We must take bold and immediate action for the benefit of our students.”
Kentucky gives state tests known as K-PREP – Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress – tests. All students in grades 3 through 8 take reading and math tests. Student performance on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress was for the most part flat.
At elementary schools, performance “held steady” in reading, but dropped in mathematics, social studies and on-demand writing, the state’s news release said. At the middle school level, scores were flat with the exception of on-demand writing, which saw a significant improvement, officials said.
A Herald-Leader analysis found that Fayette and Jefferson school districts had multiple elementary schools among the top performers in reading and math.
Others with more than one school among the top 20 included Murray Independent, Floyd and Monroe counties.
Four-year graduation rates fell below 90 percent in 35 high schools, including Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar, Bryan Station, Tates Creek and Douglass in Fayette County and 11 high schools in Jefferson County. The lowest level was 62.7 percent at Iroquois High.
Only six schools, including Harlan High School in Eastern Kentucky, graduated 100 percent of their students in four years.
Several Eastern Kentucky schools emerged as stars in the accountability results. Betsy Lane in Floyd County was notable for its improvements in scores. It was the only school among the biggest gainers to improve in the elementary and middle grades and the only school to have its middle grades among the biggest improvers.
Only two schools — SCAPA at Bluegrass in Fayette County and Dorton Elementary School in Pike County — had no students scoring at the lowest level, called novice, in reading.
“The bottom line,” said Pike County Schools Chief Academic Officer Sherri Heise, “is that we have achieved the results we have achieved because we are a collaborative district. ...it is a collaborative, systemic process that has taken time and energy and dedication. It didn’t just happen overnight.”
In 23 schools more than half of the students tested couldn’t read beyond a beginner or novice level. Most of those schools were in Jefferson County, with one — William Wells Brown — from Fayette County.
Only two schools — SCAPA at Bluegrass in Fayette and Marie Gatton Elementary in McClean County — had no students scoring at the lowest level in math.
Nineteen schools had more than half of those tested performing at the lowest level in math. Sixty-three schools had 40 percent or more of the students tested performing at the bottom level, including Bryan Station High School, William Wells Brown Elementary and Booker T. Washington Elementary in Fayette County.
In addition to Fayette, six school districts had multiple schools with poor math scores, the Herald-Leader analysis showed.
At a news conference, Lewis, a highly visible charter school advocate before he became interim education commissioner, was asked to respond to critics who asked if his pointing out school failures and flat student achievement was the first step in hastening the opening of charter schools.
“I think its a ridiculous argument,” said Lewis, who maintained that charter schools are just one reform tool. “... If we would focus much more of our attention on ensuring that our kids are in fact learning at high levels and implementing reform strategies doing the things we need to do collectively ...if we could focus much more on that and less on preventing charter schools, I think we would be a whole lot further along.”