This week the Kentucky Board of Education considers ending state assistance to the Robertson County Public School District. The situation provides a good example of how important decisions about education can be seriously hampered when a state school accountability system hides problems.
According to the “Executive Summary: Robertson County Management Audit” included with the school board’s meeting materials, “On October 8, 2013, the Kentucky Board of Education voted to enter Robertson County into state assistance so as to address academic concerns, financial systems, and financial strain on the district (emphasis added).”
So, academics in this system were definitely a concern.
However, in the most recent Unbridled Learning results, Robertson County looks like a real star, as these snapshots of the profile pages of its district wide Kentucky School Report Card and for its only school, the Robertson County School, readily attest.
The only indications of trouble are the designations of the middle school and high school grades at Robertson County School (the district’s only school) as a “Focus School.” However, it takes several years to get out of the Focus category and for 2016 all three school levels and the district overall are designated as “Distinguished/Progressing,” the highest classification.
So, based on these latest classifications from Unbridled Learning, you would think with Robertson uniformly progressing at all school levels and ranking “Distinguished,” it is time to remove the district from state assistance. And, that is what the Kentucky Department of Education is recommending.
However, the truth is that there are some serious problems hiding behind those overall Unbridled Learning classifications for Robertson. The school system continues to have some very disturbing academic issues, at least at the high school level. Let’s take a look at that.
Not long ago I put together a spreadsheet that ranks all of Kentucky’s regular public high schools for their combined math and reading average proficiency rates on the 2016 KPREP tests (technically, this is for Algebra II and English II, which are also used for math and reading score reporting).
As you can see in Figure 2, which only shows the very bottom of the spreadsheet, Robertson County’s only school, which includes Grades K to 12, did very poorly in this high school math and reading analysis. In fact, if the old No Child Left Behind law were still around, which required a focus on the ranking of math and reading scores for accountability, Robertson County School would officially be in trouble.
However, Unbridled Learning works differently, averaging together a lot of other “stuff,” including highly inflated Program Review scores we have severely criticized before, such as here and here in its inflated scoring scheme.
In fact, the Program Reviews now have such a bad reputation that Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session struck them for future use, as the introduction to the bill indicates.
I also broke out rankings for KPREP math and reading separately, by the way. In reading at the high school level, Robertson County School ranked 225 out of 227 schools with scores. In math, the school ranked notably better at 172 out of 227, though this is still well below average.
I examined how the school did on ACT math and reading, as well, as you can see in Figure 3.
Once again, Robertson County School ranks very low.
When I separately ranked the ACT reading results, Robertson ranked 223 out of 228 schools with scores. In math, it ranked 218 out of 228, both fall in the lowest five percent range for all schools with scores.
I didn’t do rankings for Robertson’s elementary and middle schools, but according to their school report card for 2015-16, the middle school math and reading proficiency rates are both below state average. Only the elementary school has math and reading performance above state averages. Both of the lower school levels do a very good job with social studies, writing and language mechanics, however.
And, that is the issue with Unbridled Learning. Good results in some measured areas can hide major problems in other areas. Especially when those problems involve math and reading, that doesn’t do our children a good service.