Jefferson County Public Schools are performing worse than nearly 75 percent of Kentucky public school students outside the district, according to new state accountability measures — including tests, graduation rates and other indicators — released Friday.
JCPS is ranked in the 23 percentile in Kentucky under the new “Unbridled Learning” school accountability model — part of the state’s most sweeping education reforms of the past two decades.
“Jefferson has some of the highest performing high schools and some of the lowest performing high schools,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said.
On the high-side are DuPont Manual and Male high schools, which are both in the upper 90th percentile. But 94 of the districts 138 measured schools are below the state average and nearly half of those schools are near the bottom 10th percentile.
Of the five categories measured, JCPS’ elementary and middle schools fell below the state average in most area. But JCPS high schools ranked higher on “achievement” “gap” and “growth.”
Holliday says the reason may be in part from the district’s career- and technical-themed schools, which teach students in differently than most schools.
New Labels Being Given
The state is giving new labels to schools and districts. Schools and districts given labels such as “Schools/Districts of Distinctions,” “Highest Performing Schools/Districts” and “High Progress Schools/Districts” will receive certain recognition and other promotional materials.
Other labels like “Priority Schools/Districts” will replace what many know as “Persistently Low-Achieving” schools. Finally, a school may also be labeled a “Focus” school, which Holliday says isn’t necessarily a negative label.
These schools could be performing well but certain groups of kids like African-American students or special needs students need more help in bringing up their achievement levels.
Being a focus school means school leaders will have to revise their school improvement plan within 90 days and must show how they’re funding programs to reach these students. If they aren’t closing the gap, the state education department will put sanctions in place.
JCPS has 57 “focus” schools, 18 priority — former “Persistently Low-Performing” — schools.
Nearly 70 percent of Kentucky schools fall in the “needs improvement” category, and they can improve each year to get to that proficient level, Holliday said. Each school and district must develop a plan based on state education department targets to get to that level, he said.
Holliday said he met with JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens recently and he was pleased with the district’s new strategic plan to oversee student achievement.
Further, Holliday said the new accountability system should make it easier for parents to follow their child’s path to college and career readiness from the third grade.
“We hope this really activates a lot parent attention, a lot of community attention and a lot of support for our schools as they struggle to meet these more rigorous standards,” he said.
How, Exactly, Did JCPS Do?
Here’s some raw data on how JCPS measures up to the state average.
Educators and local officials have all warned the community that the number of students deemed proficient under the new system is likely to drop significantly.
“The proficiency scores dropped, but not as much as we predicted,” Terry Holliday.
Below we show the percentage of students proficient in math and reading and compare those results to the state average (in parentheses)
Elementary math: 35.5 (39.5)
Middle math: 32.8 (40.5)
High math: 46.6 (40)
Elementary reading: 42.4 (47.9)
Middle reading: 38 (46.8)
High reading: 51.3 (52.2)
However, proficiency is measured in other subjects which are part of the state’s “achievement” category. Here’s how JCPS fared in the “achievement” category:
Elementary: 61.2 (69.9)
Middle: 56.7 (67.4)
High: 56.9 (56.7)
College and Career Readiness
The college-and-career-ready indicator is measured through the ACT benchmarks, college placement tests and career measures at the high school level. In JCPS 45.2 percent of students are college and career ready, while the state average is 47.2 percent.
Gap students are members of one of the individual student groups: African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, students with disabilities, free/reduced-price meals and Limited English Proficient.
Here’s how JCPS measures up to the state (in paretheses)
Elementary Reading: 32.4 (37.5)
Elementary Math: 25.9 (30.3)
Middle Reading: 27.6 (34.8)
Middle Math: 22.4 (28.7)
High Reading: 38.4 (38.4)
High Math: 35.1 (27.9)
Growth measures the percentage of students at a particular school and district that are making growth year over year. JCPS did better than the state average overall in this category.
Here’s how JCPS measures up with the state (in parentheses).
Elementary: 61.7 (60.5)
Middle: 58.4 (60.4)
High: 61.3 (58.5)
These were made public earlier this year. The state graduates students at a 77.8 percent while JCPS is at 67.8.
How “Unbridled Learning” works
The “Unbridled Learning” model is a result of Senate Bill 1 in 2009. Since then, the Kentucky Department of Education began moving toward the new system. It was fully implemented last year.
The results released Friday are the product of student performance in the 2011-2012 school year in the following five areas.
- Achievement: Test results labeling students novice, apprentice, proficient or distinguished
- Gap: Schools will look at achievement gaps among minority groups and other groups like low-income and English language learners.
- Growth: This score will measure how students improve year over year.
- College and Career Readiness: Includes a combined ACT-related test and includes the number of certifications earned.
- Graduation Rates
The state had already been tracking much of this data but the Unbridled Learning model focuses on college and career readiness and growth while allow schools to be measured to their peers statewide.
These five areas are given different weight for elementary, middle and high schools but they all add up to points awarded to individual schools and districts. Those points are then converted to a state ranking so schools and districts know where they stand.