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.

By the way, WDRB’s article mentions two other Jefferson County schools that have exited Priority Status. They are Waggener High and Fern Creek High.

I checked how these two did in the 2016 KPREP and ACT, as well.

On KPREP, Waggener ranked 170 and Fern Creek ranked 167 out of those 227 regular Kentucky high schools that reported scores. That is around a quarter of the way up from the bottom of the listing.

However, in ACT testing, things didn’t look so hot for Waggener. While Fern Creek ranked 177 out of the 228 schools that reported scores, Waggener, as you can see in Table 2, ranked at 216, among the bottom 20 of all high schools in Kentucky for its ACT combined math and reading Benchmark Score performance.

In fact, Waggener’s 2016 ACT performance in math and reading was scarcely higher than the bottom five percent cutoff.

So, Kentuckians need to understand that just exiting Priority Status really might not mean very much to the kids who actually attend these schools. In Valley High, for example, as of the latest ACT results, only a dismal 13.9 percent were adequately prepared in math and only about one in five students had the reading skills needed for college and for success in most living wage non-college track careers, as well.

Tech Notes:

The scores used to assemble Tables 1 and 2 came from the “Data Sets” Excel Spreadsheets for the KPREP End-of-Course and ACT results from the Kentucky School Report Cards web site.