Test results mixed in Fayette County

Results from statewide student tests released Wednesday offer the Fayette County Public Schools both some things to cheer about and some things to mull over.

Among the county system's bright spots: it had four of Kentucky's top five scoring elementary schools; five elementary schools and one middle school in the top 10; 25 schools exceeded the benchmark of 100 on the statewide transitional index.

On the downside, Fayette high schools continued to struggle. Once again, no public high school in the county reached adequate yearly progress goals under the No Child Left Behind program. Other concerns: index scores fell at six schools; district reading targets for African-American students were missed; and six schools that made NCLB targets last year failed to do so this year.

Superintendent Stu Silberman called some of the bright spots "amazing."

"I think it shows we're doing a pretty good job with the kids at the top. But we have to find ways to get more kids engaged," he said. Silberman pledged continued efforts to strengthen weak areas.

Twenty five Fayette schools scored 100 or better on the new interim index being used this year in lieu of the old CATS system. That's up from 18 last year. Most of the success again came among elementary schools. Twenty-one Fayette elementary schools scored 100 or better; only four middle schools reached that level, and no high school made it.

Winburn Middle School, which made its NCLB goals for the first time last year, did it again this year. That means Winburn no longer faces federal NCLB sanctions.

Another success: Harrison Elementary. The inner-city school not only made its NCLB goals for a third straight year, it also racked up double-digit gains in the Kentucky Core Content Test in social studies, writing, science and math. Harrison's index score, just 77 two years ago, jumped to 94.

Mike McKenzie, the Fayette County high schools director, called the high school NCLB results "disappointing," noting that officials had anticipated improved outcomes this year. He contrasted the test results with the fact that 44 Fayette County high school seniors are National Merit semifinalists this year.

"The challenge in front of us is how do we modify what we're doing to get all our kids performing at those high levels," McKenzie said. "We know we have good kids and great teachers. I think there were some pockets of change this year. But we need systemic change, not pockets of change."

Overall, 14 of 50 schools in the Fayette County system, or 28 percent, fell short of NCLB standards That includes six elementary schools, three middle schools and all five high schools.

Nine of the schools that didn't make the cut are considered Title I (that is they have large numbers of low-income students). As a result, they will face federal consequences. The five non-Title 1 schools will be eligible for state assistance, under legislation approved by the Kentucky General Assembly last spring. The five are Bryan Station Traditional Magnet Middle School, and Henry Clay, Lafayette, Dunbar and Tates Creek high schools.

Around the area, 32 schools in the counties ringing Fayette failed to meet NCLB requirements. That amounts to 42 percent of the ring schools. Twenty schools in surrounding districts scored 100 or better on the interim index, two more than in 2008.

At Winburn Middle, Principal Tina Stevenson said students and staffers were basking in being free of NCLB sanctions.

"It's a huge load off everyone's shoulders," she said. "I think it affirms all the work and educational structure we put in place. And our students embraced expectations for proficiency. They just would not give up."

Harrison Elementary Principal Tammie Franks attributed her school's impressive KCCT improvements to several factors , including $650,000 in "Turnaround" money that Harrison received from the Fayette Schools. Harrison used it to expand the instructional day last year, devoting the extra time to social studies and science instruction.

"The school board gave us the resources we needed, and our teachers worked tremendously hard to move us toward proficiency," Franks said. "We did goal-setting with each and every child. Each child knew where he or she needed to go, and they all worked very hard to become proficient."

William Wells Brown Elementary School, which also got Turnaround money, didn't do as well. Brown missed NCLB goals and was among Kentucky's lower performing elementary schools.

Silberman said Fayette County would quickly "reassess" the situation at Brown and "turn that around."

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