Even the Prichard Committee agrees!
In what looks like a clumsy attempt to get the Jefferson County Board of Education to override its vote to replace the school district’s superintendent, Sheldon Berman, the Courier-Journal’s editors have managed to impressively demonstrate their blindness to the plight of their own readership’s children.
On Sunday, December 5, 2010, the Journal’s editors published “Stop and Think,” a major diatribe against the recent school board action.
The Courier’s editorial staff writes:
“The sudden decision to oust Dr. Berman gives the impression — to parents, to students, to teachers and to prospective employers who might move to Louisville — that Jefferson County’s public schools are stagnating or in decline. That is quite simply not the case.”
Among other items the paper mentions to support this broad-sweeping assertion is a claim that “percentages of students testing proficient in basic academic skills have risen steadily while students rated novice have dropped sharply.”
Let’s add a bit more to what Prichard has to say.
This table (click on it to enlarge, if needed) shows the proficiency rates for elementary schools on Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT) by subject and test year.
It starts with 2007 data, which was the last school term prior to Berman’s arrival in Louisville.
Note that between 2007 and 2010 Jefferson County’s performance (area shaded in yellow) fell in every subject area except math.
I then calculate the gap between the state proficiency rate and the rate in Jefferson County in the area shaded pink. Note the district’s elementary schools have fallen farther behind the state average in every area in the past four years, often sinking to double-digit gaps.
Now, we know the KCCT, particularly in high schools, does not give us a good picture of how well our schools are preparing our students for college and careers. That is why the KCCT program is being disbanded in another year in favor of better tests aligned to those student needs.
Some of those replacement tests are already in use in Kentucky. They are the ACT, Incorporated’s EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT tests, which are now given to all eighth, 10th and 12th grade students, respectively. We started using EXPLORE and PLAN with all students in 2007, and the ACT was first given to all our 11th grade students in 2008. Here is how those test results look for Jefferson County Schools versus the statewide average scores.
There is an additional consideration for the high school scores, which tends to hide even more of Jefferson County’s gaps.
Jefferson County’s 2009 ‘on-time’ high school graduation rate is almost ten points lower than the statewide rate (68.4 percent versus 76.7 percent), based upon my quick calculation using the credible Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate formula from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Because a higher proportion of the district’s kids drop out by 11th grade, that tends to inflate the district’s PLAN and ACT scores more than the state’s high school scores get boosted from dropouts.
Worst of all, the district is falling behind the rest of the state more and more over time. The Jefferson County – Kentucky gaps for EXPLORE, PLAN and the ACT are growing.
Finally, the editors at the Courier have the audacity to label NCLB a “one-dimensional” assessment while they jumped all over the dubious high school rankings from Newsweek magazine.
At least NCLB looks at all kids.
Newsweek, by comparison, only looks at kids who take Advanced Placement courses, totally ignoring the rest of each high school’s students as well as a huge, but often very different, percentage of students who drop out of various high schools. Thus, in a sense, Newsweek’s assessment of high school quality is less than even one-dimensional, but that didn’t stop the Courier!
By the way, according to Newsweek, the very troubled Holmes High School in Covington, Kentucky, actually makes it into the listings!
I won’t show them here, but just take a look at Holmes’ performance on anything from ACT, PLAN to even CATS testing, to see how very out of line Newsweek’s rankings actually are – except to the ‘less-than-one-dimensional’ fans at the Courier. Holmes is also one of the first schools in the state to loose it’s School-Based Decision Making Council due to CATS scores! But, don’t tell Newsweek!
So, I agree with the Prichard Committee on this one. The Courier’s editors got it wrong. VERY wrong! And, the Courier does a great disservice to their readers by trying to mislead them about the really marginal performance of this troubled school system. The kids of Jefferson County deserve better.