Wayne Lewis

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis (right) talks with school officials in March at Warren County Area Technology Center.

For the first time – and after nearly four years in the making – parents, educators and students may now see how their schools perform under Kentucky’s new 5-star rating system.

The system, which launched Tuesday with the release of 2018-19 state assessment results, emphasizes equity by making performance disparities between student groups more visible than before.

Each school and district’s star rating and assessment results are now live at kyschoolreportcard.com.

During a media briefing Monday, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he believes Kentucky has entered an “era of greater transparency” with the debut of the new system.

Along with the overall star rating, an online dashboard allows parents and educators to examine individual indicators that inform a school’s star rating. Those indicators – developed by education stakeholders over the last four years – include proficiency in reading and math, proficiency in science, social studies and writing, student’s academic growth year after year, transition readiness and high school graduation rate.

What’s different about the new system, however, is the weight it gives to achievement gaps. A school that would have been rated four or five stars was instead docked one star for statistically significant achievement gaps between student groups. Those gaps could be between black and white students or English learner students and native speakers, for example.

Locally, Bowling Green Junior High School, Drakes Creek Middle School, and South Warren Middle and High schools would otherwise have been 4- or 5-star schools if they did not have statistically significant achievement gaps.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, 81 schools statewide had their overall ratings reduced due to significant achievement gaps, including as many as 16 schools that would have otherwise been 5-star schools but were lowered to four stars because of their performance disparities.

Student performance is still measured with the novice, apprentice and proficient and distinguished levels. Proficient is generally considered to be grade-level.

Lewis told reporters Tuesday the novice label is often misunderstood, describing students who fall into that category as having “little to no understanding” of grade-level content. Those students, he said, “are in a state of academic emergency.”

Kentucky has work to do in novice reduction – this year’s results show novice reading and mathematics levels for elementary students have increased by almost a full percentage point since 2015.

The gap between white and black students is even more stark. Only about 16 percent of white students statewide are scoring novice in reading, but it’s 40 percent for African American students. Mathematics proficiency isn’t much better. More than a third of the state’s African American students scored at the novice level in math, compared to about 11 percent of white students.

This year’s results show slight improvement in novice reduction for reading and math at the middle school level compared to 2015. However, achievement gaps in reading for black students and English-learner students compared to their white peers remain serious at that level.

Under the new system, schools can only achieve a 4 or 5-star rating if all of their student groups are performing at high levels. Statewide, only 56 schools earned a 5-star rating. A total of 233 schools earned a 4-star rating and 643 earned three stars.

As many as 251 schools fell into the 2-star category statewide. Locally, Parker-Bennett-Curry, Jennings Creek, Richardsville, Warren and Natcher elementary schools received the 2-star rating. Moss Middle School and Warren Central High School also received those ratings.

Across the state, only 89 schools received one star. That group includes Oakland Elementary School, which was the only area school to receive a 1-star rating.

According to the School Report Card, Oakland Elementary scored either “low” or “very low” across the individual indicators of proficiency in reading and math, growth in reading and math from one year to the next and on its “separate academic indicator,” which is defined as skill in science, social studies and writing.

Asked about Oakland’s rating Monday, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said the district is still in the process of studying its assessment data.

“One of the things our schools will do, as we’ve done each year before, is look at the assessment data and really break it down and look for clues,” he said, adding the data could reveal curriculum issues or other room for improvement.

“There’s not one singular answer,” he said.

Generally speaking, Clayton said students across his district face several barriers to learning that have nothing to do with the classroom, such as low kindergarten readiness or a family that moves between schools frequently.

Additionally, Clayton emphasized the diversity of the district’s students. Many of its students are English language learners. Many black students, for example, are refugees who do not speak English as their first language. Clayton said the district will continue to train its staff in cultural competency, trauma-informed care and offer support programs, such as its summer literacy academy for students not proficient in reading.

Schools that earned a 3-star rating were not docked one star for achievement gaps, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have work to do in that area.

Bowling Green High School stands as one example. BGHS was given an overall 3-star rating while possessing achievement gaps for black students, students with disabilities and English learner students.

Warren East Middle School, Warren East High School and Greenwood High School also fell into that category. Those schools earned 3-star ratings but also had achievement gaps for students with disabilities (WEMS), black students and students with disabilities (WEHS) and English learner students (GHS).

Asked about Parker-Bennett-Curry’s 2-star rating, Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields said this year’s results actually show “the needle is moving” at the school.

“They were very close to being a 3-star school,” Fields said. “We need to make sure that the students, the parents and the staff know that they have moved the needle and our expectation is that needle’s going to keep moving.”

Elisa Beth Brown, director of instructional programs for BGISD, said the school has seen success with its growth metric, for example. The district has seen “tremendous growth” with about 80 percent of students there through routine assessments it conducts.

“We don’t wait just for this report to come in. … We’ve been measuring that all year long,” she said. “What that has done is it’s validated the teacher’s work, and this year they have even raised their own expectations for where they want to be at the end of this year.”

District officials said work to improve equitable outcomes for students continues and will take several years.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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