The leadership of Harlan County Schools is growing increasingly concerned by the direction the state’s new accountability measures appear to be taking.
During Thursday’s special meeting, members of the Harlan County Board of Education were briefed by Superintendent Mike Howard and Assistant Superintendent Brent Roark regarding the new assessments and what they and the public can expect to see from them.
“Board members, school staff, parents and the community need to be informed of massive changes associated with the release of the 2012 assessment results,” Roark reported.
“(Kentucky Department of Education) Commission Dr. Terry Holliday has stated that proficiency rates may go down from 70-80 percent to 40-50 percent,” he added. “This drop is attributable to the new assessment, new common standards, and higher cut scores for proficiency.”
A “cut score” is the point at which a school or district moves from one category to another. Those categories are: Distinguished, Proficient or Needs Improvement. The new accountability scoring system is based on school performance in five categories: Achievement, Gap, Growth, Graduation Rate, and College/Career Readiness.
Under the new testing and accountability system, all schools will be compared to one another and ranked. All schools will receive a single number that indicates their overall accountability performance. All schools will be ranked based on their accountability number on a standard bell curve.
What alarms local leaders most of all is the declaration by Holliday and KDE that 69 percent of all schools will be labeled as “needs improvement” regardless of their score.
“If a teacher told their classroom they were going to fail 69 percent of them regardless of their scores, there’d be chaos in there,” Roark commented. “That’s what the state is doing to us.”
Districts will receive scores in early October and they will be released to the public later in the month, but no specific dates for either action have been announced.
The assessment results and accountability reports will be available within the new school report card, but some new rounds of testing have already been taking place. By doing so before districts know how their district has been ranked, teachers and supervisors have no way to determine how to improve student performance for the next year, Howard commented.
“This is a very complicated accountability model that will be a nightmare to explain to the public,” Roark told the board. “Questions still exist with exactly how the growth component will be calculated.”
Adding to the confusion, this year’s scores cannot be compared to scores from any prior year, including last year, Roark added.
And it’s not just student scores that are being brought under the magnifying glass. The evaluation system for staff includes a requirement for principals to take their exam, and they are permitted to fail it only once. They are locked out of the system after the second failure. The exams cost several hundred dollars each and there is a 60 percent failure rate among those taking the exam for the first time, Howard said.
This confusion over assessments and mounting pressure for accountability among public school districts has led to increased speculation that the political push for charter schools in Kentucky is driving much of the planning on this issue at the state level, Howard said.
Despite the growing caution, optimism remained in the great improvements being shown by students in recent testing.
“We know our Explore scores were fantastic,” Roark told the board. “We actually exceeded the state average. Our PLAN and ACT scores improved. This will be reflected under the category of growth with the ACT scores also contributing to the category of college/career readiness.
“Our graduation rate increased from 63.23 percent to 71.6. This will contribute to a very good score in the graduation rate category. We know our career ready numbers were greatly improved and this will contribute to a very good score in the college/career readiness category.
“We know our EOC individual scores were a ‘B’ average and above, and we are confident this will translate into good achievement and gap category scores for the high school,” Roark said. “Everything else hinges on performance on the K-PREP exam which was taken in the spring and we still have no idea of how our schools performed on it.”