Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 4, 2012

The first results

Scores indicate just how much state's schools need to improve

The Independent

ASHLAND — It surely comes as no surprise to area residents that Russell and Ashland are the top two school districts in northeastern Kentucky based on the results of the new statewide tests.

Among the nine area school districts, only the Russell Independent,  the Ashland Independent, Carter County and Greenup County schools systems  were above the state averag for college and  career readiness.

 Even the best schools in the state exhibited much room for improvement on how well they are preparing graduates for success after high school. For example, 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.

While Russell can boast of being one of the best public school districts in Kentucky based on its test scores, the same scores also  show that 35 percent — or more than one out of every three students  — are still graduating from Russell High School unprepared for college work or for entry into the workforce. While that’s much better than the statewide average of 47.2 percent, it still is unacceptably high.

While a majority of area schools showed graduation rates higher than the state average, one wonders just how important valuable a high school diploma is if graduates still can’t do what is expected of them in college or in a job.

The data is based on accountability test scores from the 2011-2012 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.

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. 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.

There is no question that Russell and Ashland are both excellent school systems, but the real message from the first round of testing is that even the best schools have much room for improvement.

The goal should not be to compare schools with each other, but with every school showing continual improvement based on its own test results. For example, the class of 2013 at Elliott County High School may not be able to compete with the graduating class at Russell High, but it should be better than the class of 2012 at Elliott County. In fact, getting better and better should be the goal of every school from the worst to the best.

We dream of the day when the vast majority of graduates of all area high schools are ready for successs in college or in the workplace. We’re still far from achieving that, but that is what we should expect off all high school graduates.