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Oldham County Schools is the highest-ranked county district in the state, according to accountability measures released Friday.
The district is ranked in the top 4 percent of public school districts across the state under the new “Unbridled Learning” model, part of the biggest change to Kentucky education in more than two decades.
Oldham County is ranked seventh-highest overall, with six independent districts ranked higher — including Anchorage Independent, which scored highest.
Seven of the districts 17 schools received Schools of Distinction honors, awarded to the top 5 percent of schools at each education level.
Superintendent Will Wells said he’s pleased with the results.
“All of our schools are distinguished in some areas and need improvement in others,” he said. “We’re about continuous district improvement. We want to continue to grow.”
Getting a lasso around Unbridled Learning
Unbridled Learning is part of 2009’s Senate Bill 1, the most sweeping education reforms since the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990.
The new system takes into account scores for achievement, gap, growth, college and career readiness and graduation rate.
Elementary schools are scored only on achievement, gap and growth.
Middle schools have those three plus college and career readiness. High schools are scored on all five.
Achievement is based on student performance on tests in reading, math, science, social studies and writing.
Gap compares students who are members of traditionally underperforming groups — ethnic minorities, special education, poverty and limited English proficiency — to overall performance.
Growth compares an individual student’s score to the student’s peers to determine if typical or higher levels of growth have occurred.
College and career readiness tracks students who have reached a certain level on a number of exams related to those areas.
Graduation rate is the percentage of on-time graduates.
The categories are weighted differently for each education level.
A big change from the previous CATS testing model is a lower highest score — scores are now based on a 100-point scale, not the previous 140-point scale.
While “distinguished” and “proficient” labels remain, the cutoffs for those are much higher than before.
The distinguished label is applied to the top 10 percent of scores. Those in the next 20 percent are labeled proficient.
That leaves the remaining 70 percent to be labeled as “needing improvement.”
However, this year’s percentiles are being used to determine standard scores for future years, according to information released by the Kentucky Department of Education Friday.
Starting with 2012-13, scores will be compared to standard scores for elementary, middle and high schools.
Oldham County is the state’s eighth-largest district, so to be ranked in the top 10 is an honor, officials say.
All three education levels scored above state averages in all areas.
However, gap scores for elementary and middle schools in Oldham County are near the state averages.
Gap scores compare the test results for African-American, Hispanic, Native American, special education, low income and limited English proficiency students — all combined into one gap group — to results for other students not in those categories.
The state average gap score is 12.2, out of 30 points. The district averaged 12.7 across its 10 elementaries.
For middle schools, the state average was 10.6 out of 28. Oldham County schools averaged 11.0.
Despite scoring above state averages, officials are optimistic college and career readiness scores will improve in upcoming years. It is possible Advanced Placement scores will be used in future college-readiness calculations — an area in which Oldham County ranks amongst the nation’s highest.
District officials are also considering changes to career-readiness assessment offerings.
Statewide, college and career readiness is up almost 9 percent — about 47 percent of students are considered college and career ready.
The district ranks only 41st in terms of graduation rates; however, the calculation used changed this year and will change again next year.
District Assessment Coordinator Leslie Robertson has called the current calculation “not honest” because it is based on the assumption that a district’s population remains steady over time. And, the rate doesn’t include students who have an individualized plan in place that allows them longer than four years to graduate.
Of the district’s 10 elementaries, three scored distinguished, two proficient and five needing improvement.
Goshen Elementary and Harmony Elementary were both named Schools of Distinction, the highest honor. That level was given to 40 elementaries across the state representing the top 5 percent.
Buckner Elementary also received a distinguished label and was in the top 10 percent.
Camden Station and Locust Grove are labeled as proficient.
The remaining five elementaries, Kenwood Station, Crestwood, Centerfield, Liberty and La Grange, are labeled as needing improvement.
Middle school scores are based on the same categories as elementary schools with the addition of career and college readiness.
Three of the four Oldham middle schools scored in the top 10 percent — South, East and North.
However, Oldham County Middle was labeled as needing improvement.
All three high schools scored in the top 5 percent of state high schools.
High school scores take into account all five categories and weigh them equally.
North was ranked the state’s eighth-best public high school, with South and Oldham County close behind in 10th and 11th, respectively.
South Oldham High is considered a focus school — the district’s only — because of a gap between on-demand writing scores from special education students compared to the rest of the school.
Robertson said the school is already looking at individual student data and targeting ways to improve.
And, she said, staff are reviewing individual scores for red flags that could indicate a scoring error.
Unbridled Learning’s impact
Wells said K-PREP supplies more data than the old testing model and that the district will use that data to identify areas to improve.
“The state has raised the bar,” he said. “We’ve embraced that.”
In fact, the new accountability system is good for Oldham County, he believes.
“The new, rigorous standards are not just based on kids in Kentucky — they’re national standards,” he said.
Wells says Unbridled Learning will be a good indicator of student progress.
“If they do well on these standards, we know they’ll be ready for prestigious colleges, high-demand jobs and becoming innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.
Anita Davis, the district’s chief academic officer, said the results came much later than officials hoped.
The state had said scores would be released more than a month ago — instead, district officials couldn’t talk publicly about the results until 51 days into the school year.
“It’s a shorter period of time to put changes into effect,” Davis said.
Davis reminded parents in attendance to not be surprised by lower test scores when students receive their reports — the standards for achieving proficient or distinguished status are much higher now, she said.
Individual student scores will be sent to parents in upcoming weeks.
From there, principals will help explain what the scores mean at the student, school and district levels.
Parents had their first opportunity to discuss the data with district officials and school board members at a meeting Monday night.
And, officials encouraged parents to contact school or district administrators with questions.
“We all need to support each other in trying to understand this,” Davis said.