While the brew continues to boil about a potential state takeover of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), some are asking questions about how other state takeovers in Kentucky have worked out in the past. I wasn’t sure, so I decided to look at several Kentucky systems that were taken over some time ago but no longer are in state management. They are the Floyd County, Letcher County and Pike County school districts. I compared their latest educational performance measures to those for JCPS and the statewide averages. The results are in Table 1.
Very briefly, where you see scores highlighted in green in Table 1, those scores exceed the statewide average. Scores highlighted in pink are below state average but by less than five points. Scores highlighted in bright red are more than five points below state average.
It isn’t hard to see how JCPS stacks up against these three former takeover school districts as of 2017, but if you want more details, just click the “Read more” link.
The Herald-Leader reports that Kentucky took Floyd over in 1998 following more than a decade of performance issues including very low test scores. The state’s takeover ended in 2005, and as the Herald-Leader reports in its 2015 article:
“Ten years after its time in state custody ended, Floyd County has not only survived but thrived. When statewide standardized test results were released recently, they validated Floyd County’s status as a district to watch: 12th in the state, with three elementary schools in the state’s top 10 and the state’s top middle school.”
Refer again to Table 1 and it is clear that Floyd continues to perform very well compared to Kentucky in general. So, the takeover news in at least this case is good. But, what about the other takeover districts?
The Letcher County system was taken over in 1994, and Pike County was also subject to a takeover during the early days of KERA back in the 1990s. At the time these districts were taken over, none was doing well.
There isn’t a lot of performance data available for Kentucky’s schools in the 1990s. Current measures like the College and/or Career Ready statistic, the Cohort Graduation Rate, and Kindergarten Readiness had yet to be developed.
However, I looked at some old paper records with corrected results for the overall Accountability Index scores from the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS) for the second two-year testing period (the 1994-1996 Biennium). This Index represents a single average score derived from performances on state reading, math, science and social studies tests along with other measures such as writing portfolio scores and even results from the long defunct Performance Events items.
Table 2 shows the Combined 94-96 KIRIS Accountability Index scores for all of the districts in Table 1 along with the statewide average index.
As you can see, all the districts performed notably below the statewide average around the time that Floyd, Letcher and Pike were taken over, and performance wasn’t very different among these four districts, either. In fact, JCPS virtually tied Floyd and outscored Letcher in this old assessment program. JCPS was not taken over at this time due to some unusual scoring rules for KIRIS, rules which ultimately contributed strongly to the demise if KIRIS in 1998, by the way.
As we have already seen in Table 1, things are now quite different from what was going on back in the mid-1990s. Floyd, Letcher and Pike generally perform above state average on most modern performance measures while JCPS continues to lag.
Detailed Discussion of Table 1
The first columns in Table 1 examine KPREP math and reading proficiency rates (Percent Proficient plus percent scored Distinguished) by school level. As previously mentioned, the results for each district are color-coded to make it easy to see how a district’s performance in each area compares to the statewide average performance.
For example, Floyd County’s elementary school level reading proficiency rate of 76.7 percent notably exceeds the statewide reading proficiency rate of 54.3 percent for this school level. Letcher County’s elementary level reading proficiency is less than five points below the statewide average (it’s actually not much different – exactly 1.0 point lower), earning it a color code of light pink. Letcher County’s elementary math proficiency rate is more notably below the statewide average, 6.8 points lower, earning a more dramatic bright red highlight.
By the way, both Floyd and Letcher have high school math proficiency rates only 0.4 percent below the statewide average. This is a trivial difference and both could really be coded green or a very pale pink color to show that, but I decided to keep this simple.
Now, look at the JCPS reading and math results in the far-right column. There is no green here! In fact, when it comes to math and reading performance in JCPS, most of the cells in the table earn that really undesirable bright red color because the scores are more than five points below the statewide average.
The next row in the table examines the percentage of high school graduates in 2016-17 who met Kentucky’s formally defined criteria to be considered either college and/or career ready. All three of the former takeover districts earn green colors here. JCPS gets another bright red badge of shame.
Next on the report is the high school graduation rate for 2016-17, which uses the current, Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate statistic. Again, all three former takeover districts are in the green, and JCPS is once more in deep red trouble.
The last row in the table shows the results for Kindergarten readiness for each district’s state-funded preschool program graduates. This is the only area where JCPS is in the green. This is a reflection of preschool activity rather than K to 12 program effectiveness, of course. Still, the districts run these preschool programs and it seems reasonable to include the data. Note, however that both Floyd and Pike County’s K-Screen results are better than JCPS’ even in this lone area where JCPS performs above statewide average.
The important takeaway from this is that Kentucky’s past experience with state takeovers of school districts seems to paint a much better picture than we hear about from some of the reporting about takeovers in other states. It might be that takeovers are an area where our state performs better than elsewhere, and that needs to be considered as our state board of education gets ready to decide if a takeover of JCPS is really the right thing to do. After all, the takeover is going to happen in Kentucky, not some other state miles away from our borders.
The 2016-17 performance data comes from the Kentucky School Report Cards “Delivery Targets” section for each district.
As mentioned, the KIRIS data no longer seems to be available online and came from paper copies of reports. The statewide average KIRIS Accountability Index came from Page 1 in the “Kentucky School and District Accountability Results, Accountability Cycle 2 (1992-93 to 1995-96), Briefing Packet,” Kentucky Department of Education, October 23, 1996.
The individual district KIRIS Indexes came from the “Kentucky School and District Accountability Results, Accountability Cycle 2 (1992-93 to 1995-96), School and District Listing,” Kentucky Department of Education, October 23, 1996, Revised Edition.