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State education chief calls out Fayette board member, refutes ‘lies’ about school testing

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Lies are being spread about Kentucky’s new 5-star accountability system, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said Thursday at the state school board meeting, and he blamed one of them on a Fayette school board member.

Results from the new system that includes statewide test scores were released Tuesday. With five stars being the highest rating for the 2018-2019 school year, 89 schools in Kentucky received one star; 251 received two stars; 643 received three stars; 233 received 4 stars; and 56 received 5 stars.

Four main lies are being spread by a small group of people, Lewis said. He did not immediately identify those people as he talked at the state board meeting held at London. A spokesperson later said the lies are circulating on social media.

He said the lies are:

Kentucky’s new accountability system reduces schools’ performance to a single rating.

Schools and district ratings are based on a single test on a single day.

That the commissioner designed the accountability system to put 35 of 50 schools designated for comprehensive support and improvement in Jefferson County.

Low-income children and black children cannot learn. Lewis said some previously low performing Fayette County schools that have improved showed that lie was wrong, and he credited Superintendent Manny Caulk.

Lewis said much of the lies are coming out of Jefferson County and that “one is coming from the social media of a FCPS (Fayette) board member,“ according to Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Fletcher.

Fayette Board member Tyler Murphy took aim at the so-called CSI schools that get extra help for particularly bad scores. The superintendent also takes control of those schools from a school council.

“Good news for FCPS that 6 of the 7 schools identified as ‘CSI’ shed that erroneous label,” Murphy said in that tweet, “now we must work to restore local control and the (site based decision making council) structure to those schools. I’m confident in the leadership of their staff and teachers to implement the turnaround plans in place.”

Lewis said of Murphy’s Twitter remarks, “The hypocrisy of some of what he said is on one side he wants to undermine the accountability system and spread lies that it’s being created by me and the governor and then on the other side he wants to point to the progress of schools that have exited CSI and advanced in the accountability system, the accountability system that he’s trying to tear down.”

“The call is to be truthful with the people of this state and the people of your district and let’s use the data to get better,” Lewis said.

In response to Lewis’ criticism Thursday, Murphy said the CSI designation is given to schools in the “lowest performing 5%” which means 5 percent of Kentucky’s public schools will always receive that designation.

“That’s simply a matter of mathematics. I do have a problem with a system in which a school leaving CSI status is contingent on another school entering it. Educating our children should not be a zero sum game,”Murphy told the Herald-Leader. “My invitation to Commissioner Lewis from several months ago to meet and discuss these and other nuances of educating our children —which I witness as a teacher every day —remains open.”

Murphy, a Boyle County high school teacher, said his Monday Facebook post summed up his views. In it, he said, children do the best they can “even as they arrive to school with unique and diverse needs.” Educators work hard to provide the best education, he said, “sometimes in the face of extraordinary circumstances.” The work isn’t always reflected in a standardized assessment, he said.

“The true success of our public schools is reflected not in data but in innumerable and unmeasurable ways every single day,” he said. ” . . .This is true no matter how many ‘stars’ a school receives. The real stars are the children, educators, support staff, and village it takes to build relationships and shape young lives.”

To answer the other “lies” about the school assessment system, Lewis said the new accountability system provides more data about schools than ever before. For instance, elementary schools are measured on improvements or growth in test scores and high schools get credit for students’ career and college readiness.

The most “insidious” lie — that people imply so often that it “sickens” him — is that poor and black children cannot learn, “that if you had a disproportionately high percentage or number of black children or poor children then you can’t help but be at the very bottom of the state’s accountability system,” Lewis said.

“It’s a lie and it’s wrong,” he said.

He said people working in districts serving poor and black children who believe those children can’t learn “should leave your job today because you can’t serve black children or poor children well.”

Saying that a disproportionate number or percentage of poor or black children in a school is the reason a school is a CSI school “is racist, it’s absolutely racist,” Lewis said.

“Every single one of us needs to have the courage to call it out,” Lewis said.

He said there’s proof that black or poor children can learn in places like Perry County, Fleming County and Yates Elementary in Lexington.

Lewis encouraged people to have a conversation with Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk, because he has been successful. “Ask him what he’s doing, what they are doing in those schools,” Lewis said.

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