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Scores say most local schools must improve

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State moves to new testing method for students, five of six local schools need improvement

By Calen McKinney

Five of the six public schools in Taylor County need improvement, according to the state's new testing system.

The first results from the system, a state-mandated overhaul of how school districts are measured, were released on Friday.

And since the test scores are part of an entirely new testing system, school officials say they can't be compared to previous scores, but tell the district where they need to improve.

Changes to the testing system were spelled out in legislation approved in 2009, though they didn't go into effect until the 2011-2012 school year.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, the new testing system is called the Unbridled Learning: College/Career Readiness for All, anchored with the goal that all students become college or career ready by the time they graduate high school.

The new system of tests in the Unbridled Learning system is known as K-PREP, or the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress.

Public school students in grades three through eight take K-PREP tests in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, writing and language mechanics, according to the KDE release. High school students take K-PREP tests in writing and language and end-of-course assessments in English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History.

Performance on K-PREP tests is categorized as novice, apprentice, proficient or distinguished, though they account for only a portion of school's overall scores.

Overall scores for districts and individual schools come from points received in several categories on a 100-point system.

High schools are measured in five areas, including achievement, gap, growth, college/career readiness and graduation rate.

Middle schools are scored in achievement, gap, growth and college/career readiness.

Elementary schools are scored in achievement, gap and growth components.

The achievement area includes scores from the K-PREP tests.

The gap component compares test results of black, Hispanic, Native American, special education, low-income and limited English proficiency students to those students who don't fit into those categories.

For the growth category, student scores were measured to see if they improved from year to year.

College/career readiness scores tell how many students are ready for college or a career, based on their test scores and other data.

The graduation rate reports how many students are able to graduate within the typical four years of high school courses.

After an overall score is tallied, schools and districts are ranked in percentiles. The percentile ranking tells schools and districts how many others had scores lower than theirs.

And based on the percentile rankings, schools and districts are named as "distinguished," "proficient" or "needs improvement."

According to the KDE, the average statewide overall school score was 55.2.

For elementary schools, the average was 57.3. For middle schools, the score was 53.5 and for high schools 54.8.

Campbellsville School District received an overall score of 53.5. Campbellsville Elementary School received a 56.1, the middle school received a 52.8 and the high school a 51.9.

The district's score qualifies it as in the 41st percentile, falling in the "needs improvement" category. The same is true of the district's three schools on an individual basis.

Taylor County School District received an overall score of 58.4. Taylor County Elementary School received a score of 57.8. The middle school scored a 60.5 and Taylor County High School received an overall score of 56.9. All of the scores are higher than the state averages.

The district's score of 58.4 qualifies it in the 71st percentile, which makes it one of 35 districts in the state to fall in the proficient category. TCES and TCHS fall in the needs improvement category, however, though the middle school falls into the proficient category.

More than two-thirds of Kentucky's schools qualified as "needs improvement" schools, according to the KDE news release.

In addition to receiving a percentile ranking based on their overall score, schools can qualify into several rewards and assistance categories, from schools or districts of distinction to highest performing schools or districts, focus schools or district and priority schools.

Based on its results, Taylor County High School also qualifies as a "focus school," meaning it had a particular category of students score lower than the state average.

Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook said his district is proud of its proficient distinction.

"But I was hoping that we would have been a school of distinction. Our teachers are working hard and I am proud of them," he said.

"The 58 does not sound like it is too high, I know, but it sets our benchmark so hopefully every year from here we can increase."

Cook said the state has set a goal that each school fall into the proficient category.

"It is nice to already be there, but now we have to improve and become a district of distinction," he said.

Cook said he believes the new scores give schools an idea of how they compete with other schools throughout the state and the nation.

Campbellsville Superintendent Mike Deaton said district staff members aren't pleased to be in the "needs improvement" category.

"We are not discouraged by the label, as we are acutely aware that we have areas upon which we can improve."

Deaton said some of the district's scores were surprising, but considering the state's new system, officials knew it might be difficult to cover all material on the K-PREP tests.

"But keep in mind that we had many, many students that had great success stories, and it is important now for parents to talk with their principals to know how their child performed and in what areas we want to see growth.

"The new system is complicated and there are some kinks that will need to be ironed out over the next couple of years, but it does provide a wider range of assessment in order to give a better picture of what is taking place in our schools."

Deaton said the district has already implemented some strategies to focus on curriculum concerns.

"But the most important thing we are already doing is targeting individual students for intervention and after school opportunities so they may get the individualized help they need in order to be successful.

"I think it is important to keep in mind that over the past four years, CMS ranks 54th in the state in Explore test progression and that CHS ranks 52nd in the state in ACT test progression. I always like to look at how we fare compared to the independent districts across the state and we sit 24th out of 50 that contain an elementary, middle and high school."

The overall scores of each of the six schools follow, along with comments about the scores from principals.

Campbellsville Elementary School

CES scored a 19.8 out of 30 points in achievement, 11.7 out of 30 points in the gap category and 24.6 of 40 in growth points.

CES Principal Ricky Hunt said his school's scores give staff members a good starting point to move forward.

"Our needs improvement label puts us in the same boat as the majority of elementary schools across the state. The next steps for us will be the development of our comprehensive school improvement plan," he said.

Initiatives have been implemented this school year to increase student achievement by reading using Lexia and Reading Plus.

"These are web-based instructional tools used to increase phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension."

In math, the school has adopted the Math in Focus series, which requires students to build on higher-order thinking skills and develop a strong foundation in problem solving.

"We have also scheduled time in the school day for each grade to provide interventions for any students needing the additional assistance."

Campbellsville Middle School

CMS scored 18.6 out of 28 points in achievement, 11.2 out of 28 in gap, 16.4 of 28 points in the growth category and a 6.6 in the college/career readiness category.

CMS Principal David Petett said that though his school is in the needs improvement category, students scored above the state average in several grade levels and subjects.

"We were very pleased that our overall gap score was above the state average, which reflects the job our staff is doing making sure all achieve at high levels."

Petett said CMS' growth scores show students are making strides to improve.

In the college/career readiness category, Petett said, middle school scores come directly from the previous year's Explore test scores.

"The good news for CMS is that we recently received our 2012-2013 scores and we topped the national average in all tested categories for the first time in school history and saw our composite score jump from 15.2, as reflected in [the interim scores] to a 15.9 which will be reflected in our results for next year."

Petett said his staff and students are working hard to identify their weaknesses to make gains.

"Fortunately for us, we are making strides in the right direction and believe with a few adjustments, we can see our scores move toward becoming a school of proficiency," he said.

The school is also working toward making gains in the K-PREP tests.

"We are not satisfied and won't be until we reach the top. I have a group of students and staff that are committed to seeing the vision for our school become a reality."

Campbellsville High School

CHS scored a 9.5 out of 20 in the achievement category, a 4.7 out of 20 in the gap category, 14.7 out of 20 points in growth, a 7.6 out of 20 in the college/career readiness category and 15.4 out of 20 points in graduation rate.

CHS Principal Kirby Smith said the school isn't pleased to be "needs improvement" and has set goals to move toward proficiency.

"The key for us to increase our achievement score is to decrease the number of novice students and continue to increase the number of proficient and distinguished students," he said.

Smith said gap students have been identified and staff members are working with those students to provide individualized instruction.

"CHS is well above state average in the area of growth," he said. "This score is a score that reassures CHS that we are moving students in the right direction."

And CHS is working on increasing its career/college readiness scores.

"This year, CHS has developed instructional time within the school day to provide seniors the opportunity to increase ACT scores for college readiness."

He said ACT recently reported that out of 169 schools listed, CHS ranks 52nd in progress made on ACT composite scores.

"We have also implemented during this time a chance for students to receive additional vocational and career credits. This plan will give our students more opportunities to become college and career ready."

Smith said his school will continue to analyze data, applaud its strengths and analyze the areas that need work.

"At CHS our goal is to be the best. Therefore, it goes without saying, we want our scores to be higher than what they are. With the staff, students and plans we currently have in place, I feel confident we will increase our scores."

Taylor County Elementary School

TCES scored 21.5 out of 30 points in achievement, 14.3 out of 30 points in the gap category and 22 of 40 in growth points.

TCES Principal Interim Principal Donna Williams said schools knew that scores would be lower than in the past because of the state's new system.

"Our score puts us at the 51 percentile in the state. We are scoring higher than 51 percent of the schools in the state and higher than many of the surrounding elementary schools.

"No matter the scores, we are always working to improve and analyzing data to determine our students' strengths and weaknesses. Our teachers are working hard to reach the needs of all students."

Williams said her staff members are examining the data to see what curriculum changes are needed to align with the state's new standards.

"We have modified our daily schedule to give more time for instruction," she said. "Additionally, we are continuing to differentiate instruction through our district's performance-based initiative and making sure students are working to their ability level and receiving a rigorous curriculum."

The overall goal, Williams said, is to be a school of distinction.

"We aim high at Taylor County Elementary School," she said. "We know we have the staff and the students to make this possible."

Taylor County Middle School

TCMS scored 21.5 out of 28 points in achievement, 13.7 out of 28 in gap, 17.5 of 28 points in the growth category and a 7.8 in the college/career readiness category.

TCMS Principal Tony Jewell said his staff and students are thrilled to be at the proficient level.

"We continually monitor student achievement and make adjustments to instruction, during our early release Fridays, as we strive to have all students working at a proficient level."

Jewell said rigorous Quad "D" lessons are developed and taught by every teacher.

"I am especially excited at the achievement score of 21.5, 77th percentile. In terms of achievement, this actually places our school near the top of all Kentucky middle schools."

Jewell said the scores provide great baseline data for TCMS to improve for next year's testing period.

"In fact, our district recently hired a college/career readiness coach to assist us with improvement in college and career readiness."

Taylor County High School

TCHS scored a 10.8 out of 20 in the achievement category, 5.9 out of 20 in the gap category, 11.6 out of 20 points in growth, an 11.1 out of 20 in the college/career readiness category and 17.5 out of 20 points in graduation rate.

Though TCHS scored in the needs improvement category, Principal Charles Higdon Jr. says his school still scored above the state average.

"When compared to 13 surrounding high schools, we faired quite well."

To become a proficient school, Higdon said, TCHS needs to raise its overall score by a point.

"Which I feel is well within our reach this school year," he said.

Higdon said TCHS has one of the highest graduation rates in the state and falls above the state average.

"This category is lagged a year and was based on the graduation rate total from two years ago. We already know that last year's graduation rate improved from the year before so we know that we have increased in this area even before next year's scores are released."

College/career readiness scores at TCHS are also up from last year's, Higdon said, as well as higher than the state average.

"We continue to add additional programs and opportunities for students to demonstrate college/career readiness," he said. "Our most recent additions are aviation/aviation mechanics, culinary arts, as well as MOS computer certifications."

TCHS' overall gap score is also higher than the state average, Higdon said, but staff members will use the data to determine a plan to close the gap.

In the growth category, Higdon said, TCHS' Plan and ACT test scores are both higher than the state average.

"We are performing well in these areas and will continue to focus on an individual plan to meet all student needs in order to have them eligible to pursue their college and career goals.

"In the achievement category, we must focus on challenging students and staff to set their expectations even higher in order to meet the proficiency requirements," he said. "I welcome the challenge and am excited that our state has raised the bar higher."