The Kentucky Department of Education unrolled its new five-star accountability system on Tuesday that was five years in the making.

The release of the 2018-19 state assessment scores through the new Kentucky School Report Card comes several ups and downs for area school districts, with some fairing much better than others.

One district in particular that shined bright was McLean County Public Schools, and in particular Sacramento's Marie Gatton Phillips Elementary, which was one of just 56 schools in the commonwealth to be rated five out of five stars in the new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new rating system rates schools from one star to five, one being the lowest and five being the highest possible score.

One thing that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis said to keep in mind is that while this is a new and more transparent way to understand how schools and districts are performing, it is meant to close achievement gaps. A school's star rating does not reflect how much funding that school will be receiving, however, Lewis said.

"As usual, there are Kentucky schools and districts that are improving," Lewis said. "We should celebrate their success and learn from their transformational approaches to teaching and learning. But the data also show that as a whole, our system is not yet ensuring each and every student -- regardless of socioeconomic level, disability or race -- is empowered and equipped to pursue a successful future."

According to KDE, 89 scores received one star, 251 received two stars, 643

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received three stars, and 233 received four stars.

Something that most representatives from regional school districts said for parents and community members to keep in mind when reviewing the assessments data is that there are several things that go into a school's overall star rating.

Reading, writing, social studies, science, and writing proficiency, student academic

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growth and progress over the course of the academic year, transition readiness (historically referred to a college and career readiness) and graduation rates are all factored into the five-star system, according to KDE.

Daviess County

While the star rating is important, and there is much to be taken away from it, Jana Beth Francis, Daviess County Public Schools assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said it is necessary for families to "look beyond the stars" when viewing their child's school and district scores. If one only looks at the stars, they don't get the full picture, she said.

That being said, the district has 14 three-star schools and three two-star schools.

"So that does make looking at the data a little challenging because you are having to kind of dig deeper if you want to know more about it," Francis said.

In general, she said, the Kentucky School Report Card is highly robust and includes many great data points.

As a whole DCPS joins most of the state by scoring as a three-star district. One thing district officials are pleased to see is that none of the schools were placed in a federal category and listed a Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or a Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) school.

One thing to note, however, is that Daviess County Middle School, was in line to be a four-star school, but dropped to a three-star based on a significant achievement gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.

She said, as a parent, you always want to see how your child is doing in school, and that it's important to keep in mind that there is more to a school's success than a set of assessment results.

"It's an easy metric for everyone to be compared on the same assessment," she said. "But there are things schools can add to that as well."

At this point, she and other district officials are "rolling up their sleeves" and digging into the data, and focusing in on areas that need improvement, and those areas that are cause for celebration. Francis encouraged families to take a look at individual student scores when they are released in October.

Hancock County

Hancock County Schools Superintendent Kyle Estes said overall across the state, it seems like three-star schools and districts were pretty prevalent, and that HCS fell in line with those. Overall the school district has two three-star schools, one four-star school, and one two-star school.

As always, Estes said, there are areas across the district that need more conversation and planning around.

"We are doing that and we will continue to do that, in particular around our high school and some of the scores there," he said.

He said district officials are having a planning meeting later this week to look at some of the finer points of the assessment data.

The assessment data is a place to start a conversation about what is going on in Kentucky's schools, beyond the star system. The stars are an easy metric for families to, at a glance, see how their schools and districts are measuring up, but they are by no means the end of the data.

They are a good way for educators and families to see where they can address the needs of students together.

"It truly takes a village to educate a child," he said.

He said the growth in the HCS middle schools was the highest across the district, and that students scored very high. He said that one of the things district officials have been focused on in the past year.

He also noted that last year the middle schools were noted for having significant achievement gaps between students with disabilities and students without disabilities, and that the district has been very intentional about implementing co-teaching.

"They have been resolute in focusing on best practices, and we've been able to close that gap," he said.

McLean County

McLean County Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Burrough is very pleased with the results of the 2018-19 K-PREP assessment data, and he said all McLean Countians should be proud of the level of education MCPS students are receiving.

Overall the district had two three-star schools, three four-star schools, and one five-star school.

"We are very proud of all of our schools," Burrough said, adding that these scores reflect the hard work of students, teachers and staff across the district. "You can't beat what has come out here for us and where we have landed."

One of the main things that has contributed to the district's level of success is that last year each MCS educator came together to formulate a district plan, where they targeted and worked on reducing the level of novices.

He said there is always room for improvement, and the important thing is to maintain the level of success in the coming years. He also said to keep things simple, and don't try to change a lot in order to achieve varying results.

"We need to keep doing what we know, and just keep improving," he said. "We started out with a strategic plan, a central overall focus, and then we let the principals come in and decide where they want their numbers to be. They came up with their own targets and they took it to the teachers, who made strategies for how to reach those measures."

The result was the district scoring well, and focusing on numbers at the student level, he said.

"We have a little gold mine here," he said. "We have a lot of great things, and we are proud of it. Our kids are getting a great education."

Muhlenberg County

Muhlenberg County Schools Superintendent Robbie Davis said parents and community members need to note that there are several changes in the state testing system this year, both in the ways assessments are calculated and in the ways they are reported. He also commented that the star system makes it easy to make comparisons on the surface, but that it's a "very simplistic reporting of a very complicated and multi-layered accountability system."

He said district officials are taking the opportunity to examine the data and adjust district instruction to meet the needs they find with students. They are looking at the accountability system as a "long-range view" of how students are performing compared to prior years, and in comparison to schools similar to MCS in the region.

"We will continue to focus on gaps we find and work together to minimize them," he said. "Our schools are setting goals to improve in all aspects of accountability for this year, and we look forward to seeing those results when released next fall."

He said the district is also going to continue focusing on soft skills and mental fitness and health with all students.

Overall, Davis said he is proud of what's going on inside and outside of the classrooms at MCS.

"I know how hard everyone is working and how dedicated we are to our students," he said. "We'll look to continue to find ways to better serve our kids."

Ohio County

As a whole, Ohio County Schools Superintendent Seth Southard said he is proud of what the assessment test scores reflect, but that doesn't mean there aren't areas of improvement.

He said both the middle and high schools would have been named four-star schools had it not been for a significant achievement gap between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.

"We have some things to certainly celebrate, but as always, anytime you get the assessment you are able to identify those areas of need and see what we need to focus on and perhaps improve," he said.

He said several district elementary schools experienced high growth in many core content areas, and that the transition readiness score for the high school was very high.

Specifically, Southard said OCS teachers are targeting reading proficiency. Reading is the gatekeeper, he said, and statistics show that if students aren't reading on grade level by third grade that they are going to struggle their whole educational career. This school year the district has added a literacy coach to every elementary school to help bring up reading scores.

"(The literacy coaches) are trained in reading recovery for students, but also is working with the primary teachers in reading as well," he said.

He also said district officials will be working with kids at risk, and work with all staff to ensure they have the tools to ensure "students will get the best that we can truly offer."

Owensboro

Matthew Constant, Owensboro Public Schools chief academic officer, reiterated what many area district officials said regarding the new five-star rating system: it should not be seen like a typical, crowd-sourced five-star rating system. There are many qualities that go into formulating a school's star rating, and just because a school has a low star score does not necessarily mean it is a bad school.

District officials are overall pleased with OPS because while schools display a range in stars from two to four, when looking across the state and even in the region, the district falls in line with everyone else.

"It gives us a great starting point for all of our schools in terms of diving into the many, many sets of data that we have to analyze and figure out where we're going and how to get there," he said. "We are excited about where we are, but we are also excited about the progress we will be making."

One thing that hasn't changed within the accountability system is that students are still measured with novice, apprentice, proficiency, and distinguished in math and reading. Because of that, district officials are still able to look at patterns and trends across those content areas.

"We have noticed pockets in our district of real improvements in particular grade levels in particular schools," Constant said.

One thing to keep in mind when looking at OPS scores, Constant said, is that the district serves varying student population groups, and many of those fall within achievement gaps. There are elementary schools within the district that serve large transient populations, and large populations of students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Constant said the district is specifically targeting those students this year, from adding more special education teaching staff, to providing more resources early on in the school year for English language learning students.

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315.

(1) comment

Paul Morsey

[censored] Incomplete reporting! So why no detailed star information numbers for Owensboro Public and Ohio and Muhlenberg counties?

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