Looking at the stars: Most area schools in middle of new accountability rating system
BY MIKE JAMES
Reprinted with permission from the editor of THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
The rollout of Kentucky’s new education accountability system with its five-star rating system shows most schools in Boyd and Greenup counties in the middle of the pack. Star ratings in the Ashland, Boyd County, Fairview, Greenup County, Russell and Raceland-Worthington districts show 15 schools with three stars, seven each with two and four stars, and two with a single star. None of the schools received five stars. The new system also continues to identify schools in the bottom 5% of Kentucky public schools. Fairview Elementary and Fairview High both were identified in that category and will be targeted for Comprehensive Support and Improvement. That means they have additional responsibilities for improvement but are also eligible for additional funding and resources for improvement. The star ratings are based on proficiency, growth and other academic indicators, and at the high school level graduation rates and readiness for college or careers is factored in. The ratings are shown on the online school and district report cards, which also include easy-to-read charts and graphs showing where districts are doing a good job and where they need improvement. Also shown are indicators including state test performance, academic growth since the previous year, graduation rates and transition readiness. The report cards also list for achievement gap groups for each district. Gap groups can be based on race, income, disability and other factors. Several area districts showed achievement gaps for the disability category. The star system and the revamped report cards were designed as tools useful to parents and other non-educators, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. “They are probably more beneficial to the general public. They are a very simplistic way of looking at schools and districts,” said Ashland Superintendent Sean Howard. “That’s not a drawback. The data is still the data. We know the areas we need to improve in and the areas we did well in.” For instance, “it tells me in the very near future we need all the elementaries to be in the high threes and fours, and the middle school and the high school as well,” he said. “In its inception, the state wanted something simple for folks to understand, and you can’t get more simple than a star rating system,” said Russell Superintendent Sean Horne. “What I hope folks take from this is regardless of stars, to dive into the data ... there are a lot of moving parts and I hope folks take the time to look at it.” Russell’s performance was better than average — three of its four schools received four stars and one got three — but the numbers show the district needs improvement in at least two categories — “In free and reduced lunch and special needs, these are areas we know we want to take a hard look at so we can meet the needs of these kids,” Horne said. The underlying data shows a need for mathematics improvement, Greenup Superintendent Traysea Moresea said. It is a need mirrored across the state, she said. Where data comparison becomes useful is when it reveals one school in her district — McKell Middle — excels in math. “We’re going to look at what they’re doing so well and what our other schools can do to improve. Something they are doing is working, so let’s do it,” Moresea said. Greenup also needs to work on its achievement gap, which is in the free and reduced lunch category, she said. Dealing with an ever-changing accountability system is challenging, Moresea said. “We’re learning a whole new system each year,” she said. “It’s very difficult to aim for a goal if you don’t know where the finish line is.” Statewide, 89 schools received one star, 251 received two, 643 received three, 233 received four and 56 received five. The closest school to receive five stars was Blaine Elementary in Lawrence County.