By Greg Bird
McCreary County Schools saw an overall increase in students testing at proficient or distinguished last year according to data released by the Kentucky Department of Education last week.
The School Report Cards, issued every year and available to the public, compiles data from test scores in certain content areas and other factors for students ranging from third grade on, and provides a detailed look at how schools and districts are performing.
According to the data 53 percent of county elementary students are testing at the proficient/distinguished level in reading, up more than 7 percent from 4 years ago. The state average was 54.3 percent. Middle school scores rose by more than 9 percent to 53.6 percent, with the state averaging 56.9. High school scores rose by more than 10 percent to 55.3, with the state score at 55.8.
Elementary math scores outperformed state averages with 49.8 percent testing at p/d compared to 49.1 percent in Kentucky. Middle school scores were at 45.2, an increase of more than 8 percent. High School scores came in at 25.4, up from 12 percent, and behind the state average at 38.1.
Elementary and middle school social studies scores both outperformed the state average, while high school scores were just below the average. Both high school and middle school scores were more than 10 percent higher than four years ago.
For writing on demand all three group scores were above state norms, especially at the high school and elementary school levels.
In closing the achievement gap all schools saw an overall improvement over last year in reading scores with more students testing at a proficient or distinguished level, while all but McCreary Central High School had similar gains in math.
McCreary Central showed a significant increase in students testing proficient/distinguished in science, social studies and writing- with writing scores exceeding the state average.
McCreary Middle School saw gains in all four content areas: reading, math, social studies and writing; and also surpassed state averages in the last two categories.
Pine Knot Intermediate scores in social studies and writing drop from last year, but improved in reading and math, which also scored higher than state totals.
Whitley City Elementary also showed gains in reading, math and social studies, while writing scores fell by just 0.1 percentage points from last year. Both writing and social studies scored higher that the state norm.
At Pine Knot Primary reading and math scores showed impressive improvements over last year and both categories were above state averages.
The reporting system is different this year than in past years as Kentucky is in the process of implementing a new accountability system created this year by state and federal Legislators.
The new system enacted by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Kentucky Senate Bill 1 is still under development and expected to be in place by the next school year, with the first accountability reporting in 2020.
Due to the change the report this year does not include overall accountability scores or rankings for schools or districts, but instead looks at achievement, gap, growth, college and career readiness and graduation rates.
The report still includes target data for schools and districts, but the Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt has indicated that those figures should not be considered in looking at the current scores. The targets were set a few years ago under the old accountability system and will be modified or updated when the new system is put in place.
It is difficult to compare data from previous years to this one due to the many changes in the accountability systems. Each system from KERA, to No Child Left Behind and the Commonwealth Accountability system had different benchmarks and focus areas. But, looking at the percentage of students testing at higher levels can provide an overall glimpse at performance.
McCreary County Schools Superintendent Mike Cash said the administration is very pleased with the results of last year’s assessment.
“According to all the scores and data, if we were under the same accountability system as we were last year, the McCreary County School District would have been rated a Distinguished District,” he said. “These are the highest test scores the District has seen since the accountability era established by KERA in 1990.”
The main focus for Kentucky schools this past year has been focusing on reducing the number of students testing at the novice level as well as increasing the number at the proficient and distinguished level in content areas.
In several cases McCreary County students tested above state averages.
According to the data more than half of all elementary and middle school students are testing at the higher levels in reading and math, an increase of more than 12 percent over four years ago.
Elementary students are testing higher than the state average in those content areas, while the middle school group is only 1.7 percentage points behind the state.
“We met 100 percent of our novice reduction goals set by the state,” Cash said. “The changes and initiatives implemented over the past two years have really started to show results. All indications are that they will continue.”
There are areas of concern identified in the report, District officials say.
Only 25.4 percent of high school students tested at the higher level compared to 38.1 percent of high school students statewide, for example.
Assistant Superintendent Aaron Anderson said the test data identified areas where extra attention is needed and changes have already been made to address those shortfalls. Math has been identified as a priority need for the district.
Still, Anderson points out, scores have dramatically risen over the past four years.
“Looking over the past four years it is hard to find an area where we are not making significant gains,” he said. “We are not perfect, and we are always looking to get better.”
In math, Anderson points out, only 12 percent of high school students were testing at the higher level in 2014, which represents a 20 percent increase overall to this year.
Anderson says the majority of the credit for the improved scores goes to the students and teachers themselves.
“The kids have done really well,” he said. “They try hard on the test, and the teachers do not get enough credit for the work they do with each individual student to prepare and encourage them.”
Other data revealed in the report cards include:
McCreary Central’s College and Career Readiness scores fell to only 61.3 percent of students testing as college or career ready, down from 66.5 last year. The current score is only .3 percentage points below the specified target. State wide 65.1 percent of students tested as ready, also down from the previous year.
The CCR scoring will also get a significant overhaul with the new accountability system.
McCreary Central saw a significant increase in their graduation rate, with 95.8 percent of students who attended for four years earning their diploma. The state rate lags behind at 89.8 percent.
The District overall showed only a 90.8 graduation rate, still above the state level, but school officials say variances in how students at the McCreary Academy are reported in the system accounts for the drop, and that number should rise as the data is refined.
The schools’ and district’s report cards can be viewed on line at www.education.ky.gov.