(By Matt Pedigo, The Citizen-Times, Used with permission)
Scores from the spring 2017 sessions of the outgoing Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) state testing system give local schools good marks in many areas, while identifying reading as an area to work on.
Students in grades three through 12 take K-PREP tests near the end of each school year. The K-PREP system is outgoing, and a new assessment system is still under development and slated to replace K-PREP beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. For this cycle, composite scores comparing schools with one another were not issued, nor were the past ratings terms like “proficient,” “distinguished,” “school of distinction” or—toward the other end—“focus” schools.
However, numerical school scores were issued, and the District had several numbers to highlight, Director of Instruction Rick Fisher noted. The Allen County Primary Center’s (ACPC) overall score was up 3.4 points, to 75.9. The Allen County Intermediate Center’s (ACIC) score was up seven-tenths of a point, to 72.3.
James E. Bazzell Middle (JEBMS)—last year’s K-PREP School of Distinction in the District—was the only school in this year’s cycle that showed a decline. It was down 1.7 points, to 74.6. However, JEBMS was still the second-highest scoring school in the district. Allen County-Scottsville High School (AC-S) was up 1.9 points, to 62.1.
ACIC gained 3.7 points in reading, and 4.9 points in writing.
ACPC posted the district’s largest subject-area advance: 10.9 points in math. AC-S had two large jumps: 7.7 points in math and 8.1 points in writing. ACIC had two smaller gains: 3.7 points in reading, and 4.9 points in writing.
“This was the year we wish we’d have had a competitive score,” Fisher said. “I’ve got a feeling that math score at the high school would have been very competitive across the state.”
Fisher credits a new system in place for AC-S math students, including 10-th-grade Algebra 2, with some of that success. Also, all AC-S 11th-graders take the ACT. The school posted solid gains in that composite score, which is now up to 19.6. That’s enough to get AC-S students into many major universities.
AC-S also met its goal of improving its graduation rate, which climbed from 89 percent for the 2016 K-PREP cycle last year to 92.2 percent in the 2017 cycle.
For the improving numbers, Fisher credits the people involved.
“Numbers are nothing without people,” he said. Without the hard work of our teachers, principals and staff, we couldn’t make progress. I’m proud of the work our teachers, principals and staff do, as well as our bus drivers and office staff. There’s a great deal of passion for teaching and learning in our schools. And there’s a lot of hard work on the students’ part, too. A lot of kids work hard to improve themselves. We’ve got a successful school district, and I’m proud of it.”
With the exception of ACIC, however, all schools showed declines in reading scores. That will be an area to focus on going forward, Fisher said.
The New System
Senate Bill One was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly (Senate bill One) this year, scrapping K-PREP and creating a new assessment system. More details are set to be known next year on the system and its benchmark data measuring. One certainty at this time is that the new assessment system will be substantially different from K-PREP.
Fisher has been attending instructional events and studying the forthcoming new system, noting potential pros and cons. He likes the focus on critical thinking skills. For example, science students will be faced with real-life scenario questions that they must find the answer for—and not on the internet.
“It’s a different kind of test,” Fisher said. “We science people like that. It helps kids become better scientists—they learn to think like scientists, and write like scientists. If you can find it on Google, it’s probably not on the test. It’s not a knowledge-based test. It’s good for thinking.”
An example of one question regarded students assessing a stream to determine where its greatest potential for falling-water electricity generation would be. Fisher noted that local teachers would conduct “model” testing next spring with samples of the new format, which allowed students and educators alike to get a taste of the new system.
The new system will also return emphasis on civics and social studies—a need illustrated by a recent survey by the Annenburg Public Policy Center in which in which only 36 percent of survey participants knew America’s federal government—the executive, legislative and judicial—or could name them.
“It’s important that we teach social studies and knowledge of history,” Allen County Schools Superintendent of Schools Randall Jackson said. “It’s very relevant in this country, and we’re all for that.”
The system throws out elements of K-PREP, like labeling schools and comparing schools’ scores and ranking them against the scores of other schools. Rather, it will install Kentucky Department of Education goals, to which schools—and districts overall—will be compared. Jackson adds that, once the new system’s scores start to come in, a star ratings system will be added, similar in principle to that which travelers might find for a hotel. However, lower-performing schools will still receive KDE support.
The new system will keep some other elements of K-PREP such as assessing achievements, “gap” scores—trending score differences between sub-groups of students, like free and reduced lunch or non-English-speaking—growth, (for middle and elementary schools only) college and career readiness and graduation rates (high schools only, baed on academic and technical achievement, ACT, Compass tests).
All juniors will still take the ACT, but sophomore preparatory ACT testing won’t be conducted—one “con” Fisher noted.
Still, Jackson said, there was plenty of reason for optimism in this year’s numbers.
“Overall, we’re pleased,” he said. “We’re quite pleased with the rise in ACT scores.”