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About one month removed from the state’s announced scores in the first year of Kentucky new assessment system, districts and individual schools are beginning to understand their scores more clearly.
Shelby County’s overall district score was a little better than the middle of the pack statewide, falling in the 56th percentile and four schools earned proficient classifications, ranking in the 70th percentile or above in the state.
However, it was Southside Elementary, the smallest school in the district, that had the most eye-opening results.
Although three of the district’s four highest performing schools were elementary schools, Southside was the lowest-performing school, ranking in the 14th percentile.
The Collins eighth-grade class ranked in the 13th percentile, but that is misleading because the single class was ranked against all middle schools.
The sixth- and seventh-grade classes at West Middle were the district’s fourth proficient classified school. The school was also classified as a Focus School, because its proficient and distinguished scores in Gap categories (ethnicity, free and reduced lunch, special education and limited English proficiency) were too far from the student population score based on a formula.
SCPS Superintendent James Neihof described the score as “surprising” when it came out.
“Overall, the score obviously was not what we wanted,” said Lisa Smith, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for the district. “But we’ve already started to put things in place to work on it.”
With the new test came new levels of rigor that students were asked to learn, and Smith said Southside missed the goals.
“We have several things we’ve started to look at,” she said, “including instruction. Are our teachers meeting the needs for students to master the new standards?”
One issue the district has noticed as it goes deeper and deeper into the standards is the unusually high number of students scoring apprentice at Southside, which is on a scale of novice, apprentice, proficient and distinguished levels.
Among elementary schools, scores were provided in reading and math for third grade, and reading, math, science and language mechanics in fourth grade and reading, math, social studies and writing in fifth grade.
At Southside, the percentage of students scoring apprentice was the highest in five of the 10 categories, and novice was the highest percentage in four other categories.
To help advance those students one or more levels to proficient and distinguished, Smith said the district is trying to find what works and incorporate that concept at all the schools.
“One thing we’re trying to do is track the scores down to each individual child and see exactly where that child is struggling,” she said.
“Another thing we're doing, which we started on this summer, is writing common units and assessments. That way there is continuity across the district. And at Southside, especially in grades four and five, we’ve started to work on departmentalization.”
Smith described that as having teachers focus their efforts in one subject. While all teachers in elementary school will work with home rooms on language arts and reading, using departmentalization can allow teachers to focus their work outside of homeroom on math or science.
“That way a teacher can intently focus on one set of standards, allowing them to understand that set better,” she said.
Both Painted Stone and Wright Elementary schools, Smith said, use departmentalization with fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
Smith said teachers and administrators already are starting to see some results, but this process is going to take time.
“I think things are going very well,” she said. “We are not wasting time. There is certainly a sense of urgency to see Southside and all of our schools continue to improve.
“This was a benchmark year, the first year of these tests. With the old accountability standards, we could use MAP [Measures of Academic Progress] tests to kind of predict where students were going to place, whether it was apprentice, proficient or distinguished. But we haven’t figured out how to predict that yet. It’s something we’re working on.”
Smith said the schools are also working together, teaching successful methods to one another.
“We’re learning more from each other,” she said. “If something or someone is doing something right, we all want to learn how to do it. [Southside Principal] Mrs. [Susanne] Burkhardt has had teachers visiting other classes and with other teachers to try and see what has been successful in their classrooms.”
But what will be most important is getting students, at Southside and the rest of the schools in the district to continue to improve.
“We know what the mark is for the standards, and our children should be able to hit it,” Smith said. “We need to make sure our students display a mastery of the standards at the level intended.”