Education

The newest school report cards released Tuesday in Kentucky have a brand new feature — a star rating, ranging from one to five stars, for every school.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis says the new ratings are intended to help parents interpret the big picture of what’s in the school report card.

“I believe we’ve entered an era of greater transparency,” Lewis said. “I think the 5-star snapshot gives parents, gives community members an overall way to think about the performance of the school.”

For elementary and middle schools, the star ratings are based on:

  • math and reading test scores (known as proficiency)
  • social studies, science and writing scores (known as separate academic) and
  • improvement (known as growth) on K-PREP tests.

For high schools, the rating is based on:

  • ACT scores
  • separate academic scores
  • transition readiness and
  • graduation rates.

The criteria for the ratings are set by the Kentucky Department of Education, and the cut-off points for each rating were set by a panel of Kentucky educators.

There are many combinations of factors that would lead to any given rating — two schools might receive the same rating, while one school has high proficiency and low growth and the other has lower proficiency but higher growth.

Kentucky Schools’ Star Ratings Fell On A Bell Curve

KENTUCKY

89   ⭐
251 ⭐⭐
643 ⭐⭐⭐
233 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
56   ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The most common star rating among Kentucky schools was three stars. Commissioner Lewis stressed that a 3-star rating should not be seen as a negative outcome.

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“My daughter’s school is a 3-star school, and I’m proud of that school and its progress,” Lewis said. “I don’t want folks to see three stars on any school in this Commonwealth and walk away feeling like this is not a good school.”

Officials at the Kentucky Department of Education have said the 5-star rating system was not designed to necessarily result in a bell curve. If, for example, half of all Kentucky schools met the criteria to earn five stars, they would all be awarded five stars. However, the distribution of stars did in fact result in a bell curve statewide. This was not the case in JCPS.

More Than Half Of JCPS Schools Received Only 1 Or 2 Stars

JCPS

49  ⭐
33  ⭐⭐
43  ⭐⭐⭐
6    ⭐⭐⭐⭐
7    ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

While some JCPS schools earned top star ratings, a majority of JCPS schools fell in the 1- and 2-star categories, with the largest number being rated with a single star.

In a press conference Monday, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said that includes some schools that have seen significant improvement.

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“I’m always concerned about labeling schools,” Pollio said, adding that he thinks accountability data is very important, but that it is not the whole picture. He pointed to schools like Marion C. Moore School, which rose out of the bottom 5 percent of schools, but is still receiving one star this year.

“And yet when you go in their schools, they’re doing incredible work every single day,” Pollio said.

“We want to give clear data to parents about the outcomes that students have inside of schools, but we do know that many of those 1-star schools are facing a lot of challenges that other schools aren’t.”

Those challenges include serving more students who face trauma, homelessness and high rates of poverty.

Pollio further urged parents to look beyond a school’s rating. He said he speaks from his experience as a former principal at Jeffersontown High School and Doss High School, talking to parents who compared those schools to better-performing adjacent schools.

“I always told them the same thing: ‘Look at those scores, they’re important’ … but what I would ask you to do is to come take a look for yourself. Walk into a school and judge what you see,” he said.

Overall Test Scores For JCPS And Kentucky Dipped

In general, Kentucky schools performed slightly worse in 2018-2019 compared to the previous school  year. The median proficiency for all students in the state dropped from 70.3 to 69.85.

STATE: Nearly 40 percent of Kentucky schools declined in overall proficiency between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Nearly 30 percent increased in overall proficiency. And just over 30 percent saw no noticeable change.

JCPS: Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, nearly half (46%) of JCPS schools declined in overall proficiency. 17% improved and 36% saw no meaningful change.

For JCPS students, median proficiency also dropped from 57.25 to 55.95.

And the bottom fell even further, for both JCPS and Kentucky. Iroquois High had the lowest proficiency rate in the state for each of the last two school years — and the percentage of proficient students fell from 18.2 to 13.7.

JCPS Has More Schools In The Bottom 5 Percent Statewide

Under federal law, state departments of education must flag the 5 percent lowest performing schools in the state and give them additional funding and support. The schools are labeled for Comprehensive Support and Improvement or CSI, a federal classification.

 

Click here to see a list of all of the state’s CSI schools>>

In Kentucky, about 50 schools have been designated CSI each year over the past two years. Last year, JCPS had 21 CSI schools. Based on 2018-2019 test scores, 36 JCPS schools qualified for CSI status; however, Gilmore Lane Elementary was disbanded under the district facility plan. As a result, JCPS will have 35 schools under Comprehensive Support and Improvement.

Some Schools Rose Out of The Bottom 5 Percent, But Are Still Struggling

Thirty-two Kentucky schools exited CSI status in 2018-19. Nine of those schools are in JCPS:

  • Cochran Elementary
  • Foster Traditional Academy
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy South
  • Johnsontown Road Elementary
  • Marion C. Moore School (middle school)
  • Semple Elementary
  • Slaughter Elementary
  • Valley High
  • Waggener High

Of the 32 Kentucky schools that exited CSI status, 15 have improved, 10 have declined in overall proficiency and seven have seen no meaningful change. Within JCPS, Foster Traditional Academy declined in overall proficiency and Marion C. Moore School, Semple Elementary and Olmsted Academy South saw no meaningful change in proficiency.

The reason a school could decline or see little change in its proficiency and still exit CSI status is because other schools fell below them into the bottom 5 percent. In 2017-18, the highest overall proficiency among CSI schools was 61.5; in 2018-19 the threshold fell to 59.5. High schools that do not graduate at least 80 percent of students within four years also qualify for CSI status.

81 Kentucky Schools Lost A Star Due To Their Achievement Gaps

The new star rating also highlights achievement gaps between different groups of students, by limiting the number of stars a school can receive if it has a statistically significant gap in proficiency. An achievement gap is when one group of students does not perform as well as their peers. Some common achievement gaps noted in the Kentucky school report cards are between students with disabilities and their peers, and between black and white students.

If a school has a significant achievement gap, it can be docked a full star. This rule applies only to schools that would otherwise qualify for four or five stars.

“We can’t identify schools as being one of our very best if we can’t ensure that all groups of students are learning at high levels,” said Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis.

Throughout the state, 81 schools lost stars for wide achievement gaps. Nine JCPS schools lost a star for their wide achievement gaps. All of these schools are either high or very high performing schools:

  • Atherton High
  • Brandeis Elementary
  • Dunn Elementary
  • J. Graham Brown School
  • Jefferson County Traditional Middle
  • Meyzeek Middle
  • Noe Middle
  • Stopher Elementary
  • Tully Elementary
Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.
Alexandra Kanik brings the numbers to life as the data reporter for WFPL News and the Ohio Valley ReSource.