Self-evaluations helped Fayette improve test score

Along with hard work, more favorable self-evaluations played a role in Fayette County Public Schools’ improved performance in Kentucky’s accountability system in 2014-15, acting senior director of academic services Marlene Helm said last week.

A total of 23 percent of a school’s and district’s overall accountability score comes from a school’s self-evaluation of how well it is teaching subjects such as arts and humanities and writing that don’t lend themselves to paper and pencil tests.

The self-evaluations are mandated, but state officials said recently they want to improve the process. They found out through a pilot audit that some districts outside Fayette County were scoring themselves too high.

For 2013-14, when Fayette County received an overall classification of “needs improvement,” the self-imposed ratings the district gave itself were lower than was typical in the rest of the state, Helm said. It was the first time that program reviews were counted as part of the state’s accountability system.

For 2014-15, when Fayette County rose to a “proficient” rating, local schools were much more focused on providing evidence to show that programs offered in Fayette County meet or exceed state expectations, Helm said.

Across Kentucky in 2013-2014, 64 percent of schools earned the full 23 points possible on program reviews while only 25 percent of Fayette County schools did. For 2014-2015, roughly two-thirds of schools in Fayette County — 35 of 52 schools

— had the maximum possible points.

“Our schools placed an emphasis on the program review process,” Helm said. “We feel that our procedure is strong and as a result, our scores are much more in line with the rest of the state.”

The self-studies are conducted by the staff at each school. In Fayette County, a team of district-level evaluators reviews the submissions from schools, compares the evidence collected to a set of standards established by the state and provides feedback.

Fayette was not one of the eight districts whose 2013-14 test scores were audited in a Kentucky Department of Education pilot and were found to be too high.

In a report released this summer about the districts outside Fayette, the audit team disagreed with the school self-evaluation score 63 percent of the time, with every disagreement being an “overscore” by the school.

The education department found instances in which schools scored themselves too high in areas such as kindergarten through third grade, writing, practical living/career studies, and arts and humanities.

One result is that the education department in 2015-16 is auditing three times the number of schools it audited last spring. Kentucky Department of Education officials did not name those schools at a June Kentucky Board of Education meeting where the issue was discussed.

Helm said Fayette County school staff were hard on themselves in the program reviews for 2013-14.

She said that the following year, “we put in better procedures and a stronger process to ensure that we were getting it right and getting closer to where we needed to be.”

“I think what you are going to see is a continuing fluxuation,” Helm said, “until we get it just right. That’s an area where we still have room to grow.”