There is considerable interest in the performance of Kentucky’s “Priority Schools” under the state’s new school accountability program called Unbridled Learning. These schools were originally designated “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools” based on their absolutely bottom in the state CATS testing results in reading and math before Unbridled Learning took over in the 2011-12 school term.
Because of the interest, I decided to take a look at how these lowest-performing schools during the last days of the CATS assessments now perform on the new KPREP tests in reading and math. I focused on those two subjects because they were used in the original process that identified the state’s persistently low-achieving schools. I also took a look at the overall school performance classifications Unbridled Learning awarded each school versus each school’s performance in math and reading.
The table below shows what I found (click in the table to enlarge, or click here for a printable PDF version, and contact me at email@example.com if you want an Excel spreadsheet version).
First, let me explain the table. It shows each of the 41 Priority Schools along with the type of reform model being used in each to try to improve performance. I next list the 2013 Unbridled Learning school classification information for each school. Following that, I show the two years of reading and mathematics proficiency rates each school posted in late spring testing in 2012 and 2013. Those rates are listed for all students in the school and for whites and blacks only. When the proficiency rate stayed flat or declined for a group, I shaded the cells with the relevant scores in pink.
The Table is sorted by the transformation model used in each school. The top part of the table shows schools that used the “ReStaffing Model,” and the bottom section shows those schools that chose the “Transformation Model” (Briefly, the ReStaffing model required massive replacement of teachers and the principal in each school [unless the principal had been in place less than 2 years]. The Transformation Model required a number of changes including a principal replacement and holding teachers more accountable for student performance).
If you look at the pink shading for declining scores, it becomes very evident that schools that chose the ReStaffing reform model have not performed well in the past two years under KPREP testing. Almost all of these schools, 11 of 14, or 79 percent, experienced a decline in their white students’ math scores. In notable contrast, only 11 of the 27 schools (41 percent) that tried the Transformation Model saw a decline between 2012 and 2013 in their math scores.
In reading, six of the 14 ReStaffing Model schools (43 percent) saw score declines. In the Transformation Model schools, 10 of the 27 schools saw white reading proficiency slide between 2012 and 2013 (37 percent).
Of note, all schools that chose the ReStaffing Model are in Jefferson County. However, four other Jefferson County schools chose the Transformation Model, Only 2 of those 4 saw a decline in their white math scores, and none dropped in reading. That tends to indicate the lower performance for the ReStaffing schools is a model problem more than a district wide issue.
Now, let’s discuss some problems in the table for the school classifications awarded by Unbridled Learning for these schools. This will extend a discussion we started with our new report, “Kentucky’s ‘Unbridled Learning,’ Unrigorous School Accountability for African-American Students?” which we released on December 6, 2013. In that new report, which focused on achievement gaps in every school in the state, we said:
“Unbridled Learning isn’t getting the right messages out….”
Now, let’s examine how some of the Unbridled Learning school accountability classifications also obscure continuing problems in reading and math instruction in some of the Priority Schools.
Consider Lee County High School. Unbridled Learning identified this school as “Proficient” and “Progressing” in 2013. That claims Lee County High ranked among the top 30 percent of high schools in Kentucky.
Well, it may be that Lee County High made improvements in areas like science and social studies (which still use old, inflated CATS tests), but the unfortunate truth is that Lee County High saw a decline in both math and reading proficiency between 2012 and 2013. Even worse, the school’s 2013 proficiency rates for math and reading were well below statewide averages for high schools in 2013. For example, the All Student reading proficiency rate for Lee County High was only 46.7 percent in 2013 while it was 55.8 percent statewide. In math, Lee County High’s All Student proficiency rate was only 25.6 percent in 2013 but statewide the high schools posted a rate more than 10 points higher at 36.0 percent.
Lee County is far from the only disconcerting example of Unbridled Learning issues. Fleming County High and Lincoln County High also saw across the board declines in math and reading proficiency rates between 2012 and 2013 but were still rated “Proficient” under Unbridled Learning. In 2013, Fleming County posted both math and reading scores below the statewide high school averages, as well. Lincoln County also posted reading scores more than 10 points below the statewide averages, as well. Lincoln did slightly exceed the statewide math averages, but only by a point or two, which raises questions about Lincoln County High’s top 30 percent ranking per Unbridled Learning, as well.
There are other bothersome issues for Unbridled Learning.
Six Priority Schools got a superb school classification of “Distinguished” in 2013. However, three of those six schools saw declines in all their reported reading proficiency rates.
Several Unbridled Learning “Distinguished” schools in the table, including Hopkins County Central High, Leslie County High and Metcalfe County High, posted reading proficiency rates below statewide averages for high schools.
And, Pulaski County Central High, another “Distinguished” school in 2013, posted a reading proficiency rate for its whites below the statewide average, too.
There are even issues when we look at the schools that still “Need Improvement” according to Unbridled Learning. We are told that 13 “Needs Improvement” schools are “Progressing.” Really?
Not so much in math – Eight of the 13 schools saw declines in math proficiency rates between 2012 and 2013 for all the racial groups in the school. Several saw declines in reading for some of the listed student groups, as well. Except for blacks in reading, Doss High and Iroquois High saw proficiency rate declines for all student groups in the table in both subjects. Fern Creek Traditional High saw declines in every area except for white reading. Somehow, that just does not square with the idea that these schools are “Progressing.”
To sum up, just as we found in our “Kentucky’s ‘Unbridled Learning,’ Unrigorous School Accountability for African-American Students?” report, an examination of the math and reading proficiency rate trends since Unbridled Learning took over raises a lot of questions about the overall classification of schools from this new public school accountability program. With Unbridled Learning’s focus on only an overall average score from all subject areas in a school, we are losing sight of some rather disturbing performance problems in individual subjects. That loss of focus is something the federal No Child Left Behind Law, despite its faults, managed to keep centered in the crosshairs fairly well. Most importantly, it’s a loss of focus that serves our students very poorly while – once again – just as we experienced with both the now defunct KIRIS and CATS assessments, the state plies us with school performance ratings that imply all is well.