Due to the troubling rate of improvement in a large number of Persistently Low-Achieving Schools (PLAs) found in Jefferson County’s public schools, the entire school district has been under a microscope for some time.
Concerns really started to ratchet up after the Kentucky Board of Education was told on February 6, 2013 that the worst progress in PLAs improvement was found in Jefferson County.
Things exploded several days later on February 10, 2013 when Education Commissioner Terry Holliday used the term “Academic Genocide” to discuss what was going on in Kentucky’s largest school system.
Following those shocks, it’s understandable that Jefferson County District staffers are eager to grab at anything that shows hope for their schools. Unfortunately, desperately gabbing at straws can create more problems than solutions.
Thus, when the school district issued a press release earlier this week claiming the high school graduation rate rose by 1.6 points (as mentioned in this WAVE-3 TV video) between 2011 and 2012, I got curious.
It turns out that while Jefferson County’s high school “Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate” (AFGR) did increase for all students from 67.8 percent to 69.4 percent between 2011 and 2012, the rate in 2011 had previously declined from the 69.3 percent figure posted in 2010.
Overall, in the past two years, Jefferson County has hardly made any progress in its overall high school graduation rate, just a scant 0.1 point improvement – hardly anything to cheer about.
In the interest of giving you a more complete picture, this table shows the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) latest information about Jefferson County’s high school graduation rates for the Class of 2009 through the Class of 2012.
There is a cautionary tale in this data. While the 2012 rates are mostly higher than those back in 2009 (exception – Hispanics), there actually were declines in graduation rates in Jefferson County between 2010 and 2012 for males, Asians and Hispanics. Whites made no improvement what so ever between 2010 and 2012, as well. That implies Jefferson County mostly hit a progress plateau after 2010.
African-Americans overall did make a 1.1 point improvement between 2010 and 2012, but the very low rate in 2012 needs to be considered in light of the data for males and females. Unfortunately, we don’t get disaggregated data by sex by race from the KDE, but with the huge gap in male-female graduation rates overall, it is very likely that the black male AFGR in 2012 in Jefferson County was less than 60 percent, a threshold number that a research team at the Johns Hopkins University uses to identify “Dropout Factory” performance. It is also possible that black males did not share the progress of black females.
The bottom line is that Jefferson County continues to have major problems. The school district will do better if it spends less time trying to gloss over that fact and more time on some of the good ideas that Superintendent Donna Hargens is trying to implement despite dubious help from her local teachers’ union.