One of the more important features of the impending revision to Kentucky’s public school assessment and accountability program is the ending of the state’s current Priority Schools program, which started life back in 2010 as the Persistently Low-Achieving Schools program. Since its inception in 2010, a total of 47 schools have entered Priority/Persistently Low-Achieving status, as data in this table, obtained from the Kentucky Department of Education through an Open Records request, shows.
Note in the list above that 31 of the schools have never exited Priority status. Among those, four schools were actually closed while in Priority status and the remaining 27 schools remain in Priority status today.
A large proportion of the schools in the table – 31 total – also lost their School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) authority. Of these 31 schools, 20 up to the present have not received their SBDM authority back.
Notice, as highlighted in the table, that Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS) accounts for the lion’s share of schools in the listing above. A total of 24 JCPS schools, more than half of the total of 47 schools in the table, have been in Priority status at one point or another. Of those, three were closed while in Priority status. Only three other JCPS schools ever exited Priority status. That leaves 18 JCPS schools currently in Priority status, a clear majority among all of the 27 schools currently still in Priority status. For a bit of reference, based on enrollment figures (membership) in the 2016-17 Kentucky School Report Cards, JCPS enrolled 96,744 students out of a statewide total of 656,588 students, or just 14.7 percent of all students. So, the fact that a majority of all the Priority Schools are in JCPS is clearly a problem.
So, what is going to happen to the Priority schools?
Apparently, the program is just going to end, essentially letting the schools still in Priority status off the hook.
For the 20 Priority schools that lost their school council authority and still have not regained it, the Kentucky Department of Education advises training in School Based Decision Making will be conducted in those schools and they will then get their authority back.
In other words, these schools will never earn their way out of Priority status nor in the cases where SBDM authority is still suspended will they ever earn the right to self-govern with their own school councils. It’s all just going to be given back to these schools.
And, the extra assistance these schools were getting and certainly still need apparently will go away, too.
Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea, but there is more to the story.
The Priority/Persistently Low-Achieving Schools are going away because the new assessment and accountability system will be using a different approach. The new accountability law, KRS 160.346, no longer talks about Priority Schools. Instead, the new law lists “Targeted Support and Improvement” and “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” categories for schools with problems, with the comprehensive category being more serious.
Under the new law, a school gets into the Targeted Support category in 2018-19 if:
“The school has at least one (1) subgroup, as defined by ESSA, whose performance in the state accountability system by level is at or below the summative performance of all students, based on school performance, in any of the lowest-performing five percent (5%) of all schools.”
Once two years of data are available in the 2019-20 term, Targeted Support entry rules change and the law says a school will then go into targeted support if:
“The school has at least one (1) subgroup, as defined by ESSA, whose performance in the state accountability system by level is at or below that of all students, based on school performance, in any of the lowest-performing ten percent (10%) of all schools for two (2) consecutive years.”
So, Targeted Support concerns a school doing really poorly for a student subgroup such as students with learning disabilities or African-Americans.
The more serious and general Comprehensive Support and Improvement category is entered when a school is:
“(a) In the lowest-performing five percent (5%) of all schools in its level based on the school’s performance in the state accountability system;
(b) A high school with a four (4) year cohort graduation rate that is less than eighty percent (80%); or
(c) Identified by the department for targeted support and improvement under subsection (2)(a) of this section and fails to exit targeted support and improvement status based on criteria established under subsection (9) of this section.”
The new law leaves it to the Kentucky Department of Education to develop a regulation that discusses how schools exit the Targeted and Comprehensive categories and also includes provisions for increasing sanctions when schools remain in Targeted or Comprehensive status for three years or more or when schools don’t make progress after two years in status.
Other important actions for a school entering Comprehensive Support and Improvement include the conduct of a management audit and the transfer of the school council’s authority to the local superintendent.
Returning to our concerns about the old Priority schools just getting a pass for accountability, it is quite possible these schools will trip over the new program’s requirements and enter into a support category right away. If not, then the schools have basically risen above the bottom of the heap. The Kentucky Department of Education advises that the new accountability program will start after the KPREP results from spring 2018 testing come out, probably in the September-October 2018 time frame. At that point, the Priority Schools program will be no more, but whether those schools fall right under the new Targeted and Comprehensive program remains to be seen.