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SUPERINTENDENT: Oldham students, teachers excel

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Navigating information put out about schools is not easy. In these days of high-stakes accountability, there are many indicators of quality and effectiveness that may be considered. 

We are, and always have been, a district that celebrates our successes. We are also a district that is focused on managing by facts. 

We use facts and data to target improvement efforts in the appropriate areas to accomplish our priorities of ensuring the learning of each student and building the capacity of our teachers and instructional leaders.

It remains a challenge to develop an accurate picture of schools and districts based on measurements that are always changing. 

The state recently changed a few key measurements. This is similar to several years ago when the National Institute of Health changed its method of calculating body mass index.

An average woman with a height of 5’4” at 155 pounds under old standards would be considered “overweight,” however, under the revised calculation, that weight would drop down to 145 pounds. 

Under this redefinition of standards, more than 25 million people who were not previously deemed as “overweight” would now fall into that category, seemingly overnight without ever having gained a single pound. 

The same type of change has occurred in the method used by the state to calculate graduation rates. 

Simply put, in the past, the graduation rate was calculated mainly by looking at the number of graduates compared to the number of students who dropped out prior to graduation. 

According to that process, Oldham County’s graduation rate would continue to be ranked towards the top in the state, surpassed mostly by smaller independent school districts. 

Recently, however, the state began using a new method for calculating graduation rate. 

This new formula compares the number of students who began as freshman to the number of students who graduate with that same class of students in four years, presuming the total population of the class remains stable. 

Under the new formula, if students take longer than four years to graduate, the graduation rate will go down. 

This is true even if the student later graduates. We can’t simply compare the results of the old system to those of the new system and obtain an accurate picture of our graduation rates over time. 

Indeed, our number of dropouts remains comparable to that of past years, and yet the graduation rate appears to have decreased under the new system. 

Oldham County Schools have an experienced teaching staff and we are fortunate to have so many veteran teachers and administrators in our schools. 

Our teaching staff has an average of 12 years of experience, and only four percent of our teachers are new this year. The level of training and certification of our more than 780 teachers is exemplary. 

For example, 32 percent of our teachers have a Rank I certification, requiring 30 college hours above a master’s degree; 47 percent of teachers hold a master’s degree, and 21 percent have bachelor’s degrees. 

Oldham County also has the highest percentage of National Board Certified Teachers in Kentucky. 

We are extremely proud of our 161 National Board Certified Teachers and the more than 25 additional teachers who are on track to complete this prestigious, nationally-recognized certification during the current school year. 

Our teachers are exceptional and are focused on growing as professionals every year.

Research shows that Kentucky ranked 33rd among states in education, as late as last year, based on a variety assessments and factors including scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, ACT composite scores and dropout rates. 

While the state may currently rank at the lower one-third in education nationally, there is no doubt that Kentucky will continue to climb towards the top with the implementation of new content standards and a newly remodeled accountability system. However, characterizing our students’ achievement as high only when compared to other students in Kentucky is not accurate. Our students are high achievers both statewide and nationwide.

Oldham County’s class of graduating seniors scored a composite of 22.6 on the ACT, while the state average was 19.5 and the national average was 19.8. 

Oldham County students not only outperformed the state and national averages in all ACT areas, their performance also rank in the top 10 in national rankings compared to the highest scores in 4 out of 5 subject areas, and in the top 20 nationally in the remaining area. These are challenging times financially for families, businesses, and schools. We are all feeling the strain of the economy. 

Our board has recognized this and again decided not to raise taxes this year. In fact, our property tax rates have only increased 1.9 cents per $1,000 of property value since 2003. This means we will all be doing more with fewer resources. 

In spite of these challenges, our board members, instructional leaders, teachers and community leaders and families are focused not only on 2012 but on preparing students to be the business and service industry leaders we need to keep our country strong and competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. 

Will Wells is the superintendent of Oldham County Schools. He can be reached at 241-3500 or will.wells@oldham.kyschools.us. The views in this column are those of the writer.