Education

On Tuesday, the Kentucky Department of Education released report cards for all public schools in the state. It’s a massive data dump, and it can be hard to sort through the alphabet soup of acronyms that you’ll see.

But one of the acronyms that you won’t see is “TSI,” which stands for “Targeted Support and Improvement.” That designation was previously used to flag schools that had an achievement gap that left one group of their students performing in the bottom 5 percent of all Kentucky students.

This year, the TSI designation has been replaced by one called “Additional Targeted Support and Improvement,” or “ATSI.” And because Kentucky went from 408 TSI schools last year to 11 ATSI schools this year, odds are, you won’t see “ATSI” on a report card either. But that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily been drastic improvement — or really, any improvement in reading and math test scores — among the schools that exited that status.

TSI And ATSI

Federal guidelines in the Every Student Succeeds Act require states to pay close attention to achievement gaps in schools.

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.

Flagging achievement gaps is one way to say that a school can’t really excel if some students are being left behind. By identifying student groups that are falling behind, the idea is that educators can focus more attention on bringing those students up to speed.

In the past two years, Kentucky has begun identifying schools for additional support and monitoring based on their achievement gaps. However this year, Kentucky flagged significantly fewer schools for support despite the fact that in many cases, underperforming student groups did not improve.

Last year, Kentucky education officials identified 408 schools for Targeted Support & Improvement (TSI) status, because those schools had an achievement gap that left one group of their students performing in the bottom 5 percent of all Kentucky students. This year, no schools were labeled TSI and only 11 schools were flagged for a similar status, Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI).

Let’s recap:

408 TSI schools in 2017-18 → 11 ATSI schools in 2018-19

How did that happen?

A state law passed this spring sought to narrow the criteria for TSI designation. Then the U.S. Department of Education informed the Kentucky Department of Education that the state’s TSI guidelines were out of compliance with federal law, putting federal funding for schools in jeopardy.

The Kentucky Department of Education renegotiated its agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to align Kentucky’s school accountability system with federal guidelines. Here is a letter Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis sent superintendents to explain the change.

As part of that agreement, this year, schools that showed improvement in any area were able to exit TSI status. Those areas include any school-wide improvement in:

  • overall proficiency
  • separate academic scores
  • transition readiness or graduation rate (high schools) or
  • growth (elementary and middle schools)

Schools that did not show improvement among any of those markers were relabeled ATSI.

Under these new exit criteria, 373 schools that were previously flagged for TSI status were able to exit and leave behind the extra monitoring that goes with it. (Fourteen other TSI schools entered Comprehensive Support and Improvement status, because their overall proficiency fell into the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.)

“The exit criteria just refers to improvement,” said Rhonda Sims, director of Assessment and Accountability at the Kentucky Department of Education. “If a school improved on any piece they were allowed to exit out.”

But  in order to exit TSI, the underperforming group of students — the reason the school was flagged in the first place — did not have to improve. If, for example, a school was identified for TSI the previous year due to students with disabilities who scored low, those students did not need to show improvement — the school merely had to improve its overall school scores in any area.

“It’s quite broad,” Sims said. “It allows Kentucky to have a bit more of a reset of the system, since the system has changed this year.”

What Did The Change Mean For JCPS?

Many schools across Kentucky and JCPS exited TSI/ATSI status this year without showing improvement in their overall proficiency on state standardized tests, and without their underperforming student group showing improvement. Instead, they marked improvements in another category like graduation rates or transition readiness.

Alexandra Kanik | wfpl.org

Of the 49 JCPS schools that exited TSI, 28 schools (57%) declined in overall performance, 9 (18%) schools saw improvements in their overall performance and 12 schools (24%) saw no meaningful difference in performance.

Almost half of JCPS schools that exited TSI/ATSI status listed a proficiency gap between African American and white students as a reason for being on the TSI list during the 2017-18 school year.

Three of those 24 schools experienced decreased total proficiency and worse gaps between white and black students in reading and math.

  • Crums Lane Elementary
  • Eisenhower Elementary
  • Farnsley Middle

Ten of the 24 schools experienced worsening gaps between white and black students in reading. Seven of the 24 schools experienced worsening gaps between white and black students in math.

Next year, the Kentucky Department of Education will once again identify schools for TSI status, potentially under new criteria the Kentucky General Assembly may set in the next legislative session in order to comply with federal guidelines. No new schools will be identified for ATSI status next year, though remaining ATSI schools may once again be able to exit if they show improvement along any marker.

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.