Education

The Kentucky Department of Education’s latest accountability scorecards for public school districts show Jefferson County Public Schools is struggling to keep up with state averages.

The district lagged behind the state in nearly every measurable academic category for the 2015-16 school year, including graduation rates, college and career readiness, and overall accountability performance, according to the report released Thursday.

The district netted an overall accountability score of 63.1 for the previous school year. That’s just slightly lower than the 2014-15 school year (63.2). The state, as a whole, earned a score of 67.7, per the report.

Accountability scores are calculated using a handful of metrics, including state test scores, school curriculum and graduation rates.

The district also failed to meet target goals in the number of students reading at proficient or distinguished levels, graduation rates and the rate at which students graduate ready for college or a career, the data show.

Reading

Just about half of the district’s some 97,000 students read at proficient or distinguished levels, according to the scorecards.

For the district’s 22,270 elementary students, just more than 48 percent are considered proficient or distinguished. For the 20,604 middle school students, the rate is lower (45.5 percent).

And while 50 percent of high school students are considered proficient or distinguished readers, nearly 40 percent read at a novice level.

Across the state, about 56 percent of students are considered proficient or distinguished readers, according to the report.

District superintendent Donna Hargens put a positive spin on the reading score data in a news release. She emphasized that 439 more students “scored proficient or higher on reading assessments” compared with the previous school year.

“That’s an entire elementary school of more proficient students,” she said.

Still, despite the increase, more than 72,000 students are below the mark of a proficient reader.

For gap group students — which include non-white students, students living in poverty, English learners and those enrolled in Special Education — the rate of proficient or distinguished readers is even lower, the data show, despite slight gains compared with previous years.

Math and Science

Less than half of district students are considered proficient or distinguished in mathematics, despite minor gains in scores in elementary, middle and high schools, according to the data.

In elementary schools, 48 percent of students are considered proficient or distinguished in math. About half of students are considered such across the state.

Nearly a quarter of JCPS middle school students earned novice marks for mathematics performance, the data show. Statewide, about 16 percent of students are novice in math.

Despite lagging behind the state average, both elementary and middle school students improved their overall math scores, the data shows.

Jefferson County high school students outperformed students across the state in math, the data show. About 47 percent of JCPS high school students are considered proficient or distinguished, compared with just 42 percent of students statewide.

The biggest boost in proficient or distinguished students came at Central High School, which increased the number of higher performing students by more than 23 percent.

Science performance levels are calculated only for high school students. Overall, students failed to make gains in science.

In Jefferson County, about a third of high school students are considered proficient or distinguished in science, and about 22 percent are novice, the data show. Statewide, about 37 percent of students are proficient or distinguished and 19 percent are novice.

The most noteworthy improvement in high performing science students came from Southern High School, which gained more than eight percentage points from one year to the next. Six other schools improved science scores, the data show.

Writing and Language Mechanics

JCPS students struggled to improve scores in these subjects. About 40 percent of students can write at a high level in district elementary and high schools, the data show, lower rates than the prior year.

Writing scores dropped in all but three district high schools, the data show.

And the rate at which students perform in these subjects at a proficient or distinguished level varies, the data show. For instance, 16 percent of students at Valley High School are proficient writers per the scores. At DuPont Manual, nearly 80 percent of students have such skills.

As for language mechanics, the number of high performers dropped in both middle and elementary schools, the data show.

Other Notes

Jefferson County boasts the state’s largest public school student population. The some 97,000 students reported in the 2015-16 school year filled more than 150 schools across the county, according to the report.

The district’s five-year graduation rate improved slightly, to 81.5 percent, according to a news release. The state’s graduation rate is 88.6.

The report also shows more than 63 percent of JCPS high school students are considered “college and career ready,” which is a 32 percent increase since 2010, according to the release. Statewide, 68.5 students are considered prepared.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.