Valley High School exits Priority Status????

Last week the media in Louisville trumpeted the announcement that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt had declared the Valley High School in the Jefferson County Public School District was no longer in Priority School Status (see WDRB’s coverage here).

That sounded interesting, so I decided to take a quick look at the latest performance in this school for math and reading testing. I looked at math and reading because performing in the lowest five percent of all schools for these two subjects was supposed to be the primary cause to enter Priority Status back in 2010 when these low performing schools, which originally were called “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools,” first started to be identified.

Well, my quick look turned up a puzzle.

This first table shows the lowest 20 performing standard (Class A1) high schools on KPREP End-of-Course testing in Algebra II and English II. These two KPREP tests are used to gauge reading and math for federal reporting purposes. The table shows the combined percentage of students who were rated either Proficient or Distinguished in Algebra II in the first data column and then lists the combined percentage of Proficient and Distinguished students in English II in the middle data column. The next column, on which the table is ranked, shows the average of these two percentages.

Table 1

Valley High KPREP Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

As you can see, Valley High School ranked in the bottom five percent of all high schools in Kentucky that had data reported, ranking at 218 out of 227 reporting high schools.

But, the original testing that got Valley High in trouble (it was named a Persistently Low-Achieving School in the spring of 2010) was the now defunct CATS Kentucky Core Content Tests. Since those tests don’t even exist in 2016, I decided to give Valley another chance by looking at its performance on math and reading in the 2016 ACT testing of Kentucky’s 11th grade students. Table 2 shows how that turned out.

The first data column in Table 2 shows the percentage of students in each school that reached or exceeded the Benchmark Score set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) for ACT testing that indicates students will not have to take remedial courses in math. The next column shows the percentage of students that met the CPE’s ACT Benchmark for reading, which also avoids a requirement for college remediation in that area. The two Benchmark percentages are then averaged together in the next column and the table is ranked on this combined average column.

Table 2

Valley High ACT Math-Reading Combined Ranking 2016

Incredibly, if we look at the average of the percentages of students meeting the CPE’s College Readiness Benchmark Scores for the ACT, Valley High ranks even lower than on KPREP!

So, this is a real puzzle. I know the actual method used to determine Priority Status uses a more complex approach than just looking at a single year of data, but when we see Valley High’s latest performance in both Tables 1 and 2, something just doesn’t feel right.

Should Valley High be off the hook?

In any event, based on its latest year’s performances on both KPREP and ACT math and reading, Valley High remains a very low-performing school. I think the public deserves to know that even if our educators are letting Valley off the hook.

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Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work

No, that isn’t our headline. This comes direct from the Washington Post!

Such candor from the Post regarding one of former President Obama’s signature efforts, the School Improvement Grants program (SIG), is very attention grabbing.

Reports the Post:

“Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.”

I went to the actual report from the US Department of Education that triggered the Post’s article. Here are some findings from Pages 60 through 64 in the report:

  1. SIG-funded models had no statistically significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment
  2. There were no statistically significant impacts on student outcomes within student and school subgroups
  3. In elementary grades, there was no evidence that one model was more effective at improving student achievement than another
  4. In higher grades, we found larger student achievement gains in math for the turnaround model than the transformation model, but factors other than the model implemented may explain these differences

Basically, this isn’t a glowing report.

So, another $7 billion of our tax dollars has gone down the education system drain. This shows once again the folly of just throwing tons of money at our country’s education problems while not closely monitoring if that money is really creating improvements. It’s a lesson folks in both DC and Frankfort need to learn, and heed.

Senate Bill 1: Squabbles are on

The most sweeping education reform bill since the 2010 advent of the Common Core State Standards in Kentucky is now under consideration as Senate Bill 1 from the 2016 Regular Legislative Session (SB-1/2016). This 90 plus-page bill (including amendments) impacts a host of important areas, including:

• Changing the way Kentucky’s education standards and assessments are developed, reviewed and actually implemented.

• Eliminating other types of evaluations used to judge school performance. Gone from state level accountability would be the highly inflated Program Reviews in areas like Arts & Humanities, Practical Living & Career Studies and Writing.

• Eliminating state-level reporting of the assessment of the performance of teachers and principals, which also became a highly inflated scoring game.

Following what is going on with SB-1/2016 is a challenge, because things are changing fast with this bill.

For example, the original version of SB-1/2016 eliminated social studies assessments at the state level. Now, a filed floor amendment to the bill from primary sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, retains social studies assessments in the mix.

Wilson’s original bill additionally called for the entire set of test questions to be released to schools each year, a potentially expensive proposition as entirely new tests would have to be created each year. Now, another of his Senate floor amendments, also approved today, says only “an operational subset of test items” will be released, which will save a significant amount of money.

SB-1/2016 is getting lots of attention, so much attention in fact that Kentucky Tonight scheduled a focused show on rather short notice to discuss the bill with four legislators, including Wilson himself.

Wilson gave an adequate overview of the bill (as it existed earlier this week) in the early minutes of the show, pointing out that SB-1/2016 is intended to deal with implementation problems from another Senate Bill 1, the one from the Regular Legislative Session in 2009 (SB-1/2009). Wilson correctly noted that there are a lot of concerns that what SB-1/2009 actually required didn’t happen while other things not authorized in that earlier bill did get included in Kentucky’s education program.

Despite some good provisions in the legislation, the future of Wilson’s bill is far from certain.

Wilson certainly wasn’t able to push past concerns of other show participants, including those of Sen. Gerald Neal. Neal, D-Louisville, has major heartburn with almost all areas of the bill.

Neal charged that it’s premature to consider this legislation right now because the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind, has only very recently been reissued as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is a massive bill running to hundreds of pages in length which makes many changes to former mandates regarding education. Neal correctly said the US Department of Education says it will take about a year before the new federal regulations to implement ESSA appear.

Wilson’s interesting counter to Neal’s concern about ESSA is Kentucky writes laws to comply with federal laws, not regulations.

In any event, Neal further demonstrated his frustration by introducing yet another floor amendment to SB-1/2016 that replaces the bill’s language completely. Instead, Neal’s amendment calls for the Kentucky Department of Education to set up a study group on all the issues and then report its findings by October 9, 2017.

Neal is a minority party member of the Senate, and his amendment failed to pass when SB-1/2016 was voted out of the Kentucky Senate today. However, his ideas might get very serious consideration once SB-1/2016 reaches the House. And, SB-1/2016 isn’t going to become law unless the House goes along.

As far as SB-1/2016 is concerned, some of its changes are badly needed. For sure, as we have discussed previously, the inflated Program Reviews and the also overblown Professional Growth and Effectiveness System need to go. These were nice-sounding ideas that never proved economically practical. Economic realities meant both had to be scored by the very same teachers and principals being held accountable for the scores, and inflation inevitably resulted.

While a few educators resisting SB-1/2016 believe that repeating these teachers grading themselves experiments will somehow provide different results, human nature indicates inflated scores will always result when humans are held accountable in this ineffective manner.

In any event, the Kentucky Senate sent SB-1/2016 on to the House today. As we said earlier, the fate of this bill in that chamber is very uncertain.

Charter schools do outperform across the nation if students attend long enough to benefit

Since Governor Bevin’s election, the discussion about public charter schools has ratcheted up several notches. Kentucky’s new governor publicly supports charter schools as one tool that can help boost the currently lagging performance in the state’s public school system, especially for minority students.

Still, anti-charter sentiment from adults in our existing education establishment remains strident, with people throwing all sorts of data around claiming that charter schools really don’t perform well.

While much of this is political “noise,” we do see some important evidence in a series of reports from The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University that charter-school students nationwide are pulling away from their traditional public-school counterparts. Furthermore, this finding helps explain why a lot of reporting on charter schools doesn’t get the analysis right, treating charters unfairly in the process.

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Is there more educational genocide in Louisville’s school system?

Dr. Dewey Hensley
Those of us at the Bluegrass Institute are still reeling from the shocking announcement yesterday that Dr. Dewey Hensley, one of the real educational stars in Kentucky, is quitting his post as the chief academic officer at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).

For sure, Hensley’s resignation letter makes it very clear: he isn’t leaving on happy terms. He fumes about “indecision” plus “marginalized voices, eroded credibility and a great deal of time devoted less to developing quality schools for children and more about managing perceptions for adults” that he sees in the obviously troubled JCPS. Hensley bristles about the “pseudo-innovation” going on in Kentucky’s largest school district and the fact that he feels set up to be the scapegoat for continued failure when he clearly has not had the ability to make real change.

Hensley certainly had a positive track record with the challenge of a seriously under-performing, inner city school. As the principal of the J.B. Atkinson Elementary School in the heart of Louisville, he produced dramatic improvements despite his school’s way above poverty and minority enrollment. He did that at a time when most educators seemed clueless about what works for these children.

Without question, Hensley was highly regarded by many.

He received a number of key awards, such as the Dr. Johnnie Grissom Award, for his performance at Atkinson, and for good reasons. He was a fan of innovative techniques like digital learning. He was willing to take Jefferson County to task for questionable school staffing decisions and was not afraid to challenge “the culture of can’t.”

In fact, when he ran Atkinson Elementary, it was far more than just a rapidly improving elementary school. It was a place that brought everyone, staff members, union leaders, and even college professors and students together to learn what worked for kids and how to carry that message out to a wider audience.

But, the JCPS can be a grinding, disheartening place to work. When the district hired Hensley away from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2012 to become its chief academic officer, I expressed concern that Hensley might not survive the do-nothing politics that seems to infect the district’s central office, writing at that time:

“It remains to be seen if the Hargens/Hensley team can overcome strongly entrenched adult interests in Jefferson County to effect real change for the system’s students.”

Sadly, it looks like those entrenched adult interests have won, again. And, the latest victim of the continuing academic genocide there is one of the few adults who showed some promise as a way to end the mess.

Of course the real losers in all of this are the students in Jefferson County. Their interests are being subordinated to the selfish concerns of adults in their school system – adults that Hensley clearly feels are more interested in the status quo and looking good than in actually doing good things for kids.

If ever there was a great argument for parents to have more school choices in Louisville, this has to be it.

Terrible, low bang-for-the-buck education idea in Louisville

Do you think building and operating a really expensive mockup of a NASA space center and mission launch control in one of our schools is a great educational idea? Well, as the Courier-Journal reports today in “Challenger Learning Center ‘on hold’ by JCPS,” the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) did exactly that. Inevitably, this costly idea has now failed to successfully launch in what is a spectacular example of lousy bang-for-the-buck planning.

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Kentucky needs charter schools in more places than Louisville!

A lot of people understand that Kentucky’s largest city would benefit from more school options for students including charter schools operated independent of the stifling restrictions from bureaucracy and union influences in Louisville.

Now, however, another hot prospect has emerged with a vengeance, and this time it is Lexington – not Louisville – that becomes the newest poster child for the need in Kentucky of charter school legislation.

The Herald-Leader just came alive with an article, “Education commissioner warns of state action if Fayette doesn’t support low-achieving schools,” which discusses the deplorable support the Fayette County School District has been providing to some of the very lowest performing schools in the Lexington area. The article links to a really disturbing letter from Education Commissioner Terry Holliday that charges the Fayette County Board of Education with some really significant management shortfalls.

I wonder if the commissioner would like to turn some of those schools that the Fayette County School District doesn’t seem interested in or capable of helping into charter schools. Too bad we don’t have a law right now that would allow him to do that.

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State reviews of Jefferson County Persistently Low-Performing Schools raise questions about the reviews

New “Diagnostic Reviews” of what is happening in four troubled Jefferson County Public Schools have been released, but the findings seem inconsistent. While the principal in only one school, Doss High, has been recommended for removal, test data for another school seems essentially the same, and just as dismal.

Overall, one is left wondering if it’s the reviews themselves that need some reviewing.

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2014 Priority (Persistently Low-Achieving) Schools report not that encouraging

When it comes to judging school quality, we know that parents and legislators want to know how schools are doing with the “bread and butter” subjects of reading and math.

We got more evidence of this priority when No Child Left Behind came along with its heavy focus on those two, pivotal subjects.

So, my interest was piqued when the Kentucky Board of Education received its annual report on February 4, 2015 on the progress of Kentucky’s “Priority Schools,” which used to be called the “Persistently Low-Achieving Schools.” How did things look for the bread and butter stuff?

As expected, the department tried to make as good a show of their data as possible. In fact, the Power Point used to brief the board was titled, “Priority Schools, Kentucky’s Success Stories.” There were a lot of figures from Unbridled Learning including a “hurrah” that five of the Priority Schools, once among the lowest performers in Kentucky, were now “Distinguished” schools. That sounded pretty amazing.

The presentation included hardly any negative comments. Most notably, there was no information on the math and reading performance. You have to dig into the full report to find that. And, you have to go to the very end of the full report – Page 40 and on, to be exact – to find out how the Priority Schools are doing with reading and math.

I slugged through that information for you to set up an Excel spreadsheet, Percentage of Students Rated P or More in Reading and Math Combined in PLAs for Gap and All Student Groups, so I could see what is happening. Here are some summaries of what I found:

• In 2014, out of the 39 schools still in the Priority Schools program, only 13 – just 33 percent – got a combined math and reading average proficiency rate above the statewide average for their minority and disadvantaged students (the department collectively calls these students the “Gap Group,” a term some of my friends in the minority community don’t like).
• All but one of the 39 Priority Schools had sufficient data to compute a desired 2014 target reading/math proficiency rate for their students who traditionally have under-performed. Only four of the 38 schools met their target in 2014.
• There also are average student scores for all students in each school. All 39 Priority Schools had reported scores in 2014, but only seven schools scored above the statewide average.
• There were targets for the all student scores, as well. Only five of the 38 schools that had data reached their combined reading/math proficiency rate targets.
• If we are going to move forward in these schools, it is obvious that proficiency rates in reading and math need to improve. So, I was particularly disturbed to find that 15 of the 39 schools actually experienced a decline in their combined reading/math proficiency rates for their traditionally under-performing student populations between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school terms.
• Even if we include the non-disadvantaged students in the Priority Schools, a total of 15 out of the 39 schools, or 38 percent, experienced a drop in their combined reading/math proficiency rates between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school terms.

There was one more bit of information. More than half of the 39 schools, 24 of them, did see a reduction in the gap between their disadvantaged students’ reading/math proficiency rate and the overall average reading/math proficiency rate for all their students. That seems impressive until you learn that 11 of those 24 schools only saw their achievement gap decrease because their “all student” scores decreased between 2011-12 and 2013-14. That’s not the way we want to reduce gaps.

The bottom line is that when we look at basic, bread and butter scores for Kentucky’s Priority School students, things don’t look that impressive. In far too many cases the math and reading performance is weak and even trending in the wrong direction. Clearly, we need to try something else.

Suspension chaos in Louisville’s “reformed” problem middle schools

Could a charter school system have worked better?

Louisville’s Robert Frost Middle School and Myers Middle School have been a major problem for years.

Frost was tagged as a Persistently Low-Achieving School (PLAs) in the very first “Cohort” named in the spring of 2010. Myers followed into Persistently Low-Achieving status about a year and a half later when Cohort 3 PLAs were identified in October of 2011. Since then, both schools have blazed a trail of continued mediocrity so bad that the Jefferson County Board of Education essentially closed them at the end of the past school term.

But, the fix adopted by the board already shows disconcerting evidence that failure to educate former students from Myers and Frost continues.

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