Back on September 23rd, Jim Waters, the BIPPS CEO, issued “Bluegrass Beacon: Site-based concept failing schools, students.” This Beacon article is about problems in general with Kentucky’s School Based Decision Making (SBDM) system. Waters points out that even in what, by Kentucky standards, is the high performing school district in Boone County, the SBDM system creates serious problems and notable confusion for even highly experienced educators.
Most notably, Waters’ article never even mentions Jefferson County or Louisville. The article is directed at a statewide problem that impacts all Kentucky school districts.
But, staying on topic doesn’t matter in the Twittersphere. The very same day that the Beacon article was released, a Tweet showed up criticizing BIPPS for “attacking” urban districts (think Jefferson County here) while calling Boone County “high performing.” The tweet alleged that Boone County had the same issues as Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), though “diluted” (whatever that might really mean). The Tweet’s implication was that educational performance in Boone County wasn’t materially different from Jefferson County’s.
Never mind that the article never made such comparisons.
In any event, the idea that folks in Jefferson County, which certainly isn’t performing well for its students, believed their school district was somehow equivalent to Boone’s performance was troubling. So, I collected 2016 ACT score data from the Kentucky School Report Card for each district and assembled that into the table below. Click the “Read more” link to see that.
As you review this table, keep in mind that the ACT is scored on a fairly small, 36-point scale. What looks like a small score difference is therefore more significant than it appears.
For example, based on data published in Table 2.1 in the 2017 ACT Profile Report for Kentucky, a two-point score difference between 16 and 18 on the ACT Math test equates to a percentile score difference of 18 points. That’s a pretty good difference.
Of particular note in the table above are the scores about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom for students eligible for free and reduced price meals. The scores for each subject favor Boone by about 1.4 points. That is a notable difference.
The overall average scores for all students at the top of the table favor Boone even more. Jefferson County folks would excuse this overall average score difference by saying that the Louisville area has a much higher proportion of poor kids, thus trotting out the old poverty excuse, once again. That is unfortunate because as long as some are allowed to use poverty as an excuse, nothing much is going to change in our schools. But, even when we only look at poor kids in both systems, Boone’s advantage is clear. So, poor kids can do better than those in Jefferson County.
Is this to say that Boone County’s performance is adequate? Certainly not. But, trying to make the much worse performing Jefferson County schools somehow equivalent to Boone just doesn’t agree with the data, either. Believing the “wrong stuff” also tends to remove pressure on Jefferson County to improve. And, that just isn’t the right thing to do for kids.