Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 2, 2012

Area schools receive their grades

KDE: Region has higher than average grad rates; falls short in career, college prep

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Most Northeast Kentucky schools showed lower rates of college and career readiness than the state average, according to figures released today by the Kentucky Department of Education.

All but two of nine area districts is classified as needing improvement.

However, a majority of area schools showed graduation rates higher than the state average, and school officials interviewed were generally pleased with what they saw.

The data is based on accountability test scores from the 2011-12 school year; students were tested in reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing under a new system that will be used for both state and federal accountability requirements.

The new system emphasizes college and career readiness and is based on newer and tougher academic expectations.

The KDE figures show only two districts with college and career ready percentages above the state average of 47.2 percent. They are Ashland, with 51.4 percent and Russell with 65 percent.

But six of nine area districts posted graduation rates higher than the 79.6 percent statewide average.

The new system also ranks schools statewide, and that pleased some local educators whose districts ranked highly. Russell’s rank of 92 signifies its scores are higher than all but eight percent of Kentucky school districts. Schools whose rank is above 70 percent are considered proficient, and Ashland was the only other area district to achieve that level with 77.

“We are generally pleased with the results of the scores,” said Richard Oppenheimer, Ashland’s curriculum coordinator.

Five of Ashland’s seven schools also were classified as proficient and one of them, Hager Elementary, is in the top one percent in the state. That makes its classification a school of distinction.

The data reveal areas Ashland needs to improve, including closing achievement gaps among certain demographic groups, mainly low income.

Officials in the Carter County district were delighted with the district’s ranking of 62. Although that means the district as a whole is classified as needing improvement, East Carter High School’s ranking of 71 gives it a proficient classification — a dramatic turnaround in a school that had been classified as persistently low achieving.

“We’re very excited,” Superintendent Ronnie Dotson said. “The new system is a more balanced approach.”

The rankings are useful to educators in assessing the district’s progress compared to other districts with similar demographics and resources, Dotson said.

Greenup County, where the high school also was designated as persistently low achieving, also is encouraged by its college and career readiness rate of 51.3 percent and its 82 percent graduation rate. Greenup ranked 30, however, putting it in the bottom third of Kentucky schools.

But the scores show Greenup is digging out of the low-achievement hole, said assessment director Diana Whitt. The new data is more thorough and also will tell her which student groups need more help.

It is important to remember the data represents a new start in tracking school performance, said Boyd County assessment coordinator Marilyn Mayo. “We’re starting with a new baseline,” she said. It will take a couple of years before trends show up.

Boyd County’s rank was 54, putting it in the needs improvement category, but its graduation rate is an impressive 91 percent.

Kentucky is the first state to test students under the new and rigorous common core standards that are on their way to becoming educational benchmarks nationwide, said Russell Superintendent Susan Compton. “We’re laying a foundation and this is the first step,” she said.

Parents should not be overly concerned that scores are almost certain to be lower in math and language arts, according to Compton. Partly that is because scores are based on a scale of 0 to 100 instead of 0 to 140.

All the data is available on the education department’s web site but in a week or so, parents will see the individual scores of their children and that is where they should look closely, Oppenheimer said.

Then they can talk to school counselors to discuss the results.

Also important under the new system is working toward improvement in all students, Russell chief academic officer Debbie Finley said. That is particularly true in a district like Russell, with many high-achieving students. “We have to look at each student because even the high-performing ones are expected to show growth,” she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.