By Wayne Lewis
Starting this month, you’ll begin hearing much more about our new school accountability system and what it means for each district, school and student.
With the implementation of any new system, especially one as big as this, there are always growing pains and questions. I would like to take a few moments to discuss Kentucky’s new accountability system, what it will mean for schools and students this academic year, and help prepare you for this transition.
The new system has been in development for quite some time. It came about in response to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan law enacted by the 114th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2015; and Kentucky’s Senate Bill 1 of 2017, which passed both the Kentucky House and Senate with bipartisan support and was endorsed by all of the state’s professional educator groups.
Kentucky’s new accountability system has been designed to promote transparency for parents and communities. It hold schools accountable for student performance, including their proficiency and growth on standardized examinations and their readiness for postsecondary education and/or the workforce. The system has several key goals:
- Promote higher levels of student learning and achievement;
- Reduce achievement gaps and ensure equity;
- Establish opportunity and access for students to receive a quality education;
- Build a culture of high expectations and continuous improvement; and
- Communicate a clear and honest understanding of strengths and opportunities for improvement in schools and districts.
The system uses multiple academic and school quality measures, not a single test or indicator. For example, schools at all grade levels will be measured by proficiency to ensure students are reaching the desired levels of knowledge and skills in reading and mathematics as measured on state-required academic assessments.
Elementary and middle schools will be measured by students’ levels of knowledge and skills in science, social studies and writing; and by students’ growth toward reaching the goal of proficiency and beyond. High schools will be measured by their graduation rate — the percentage of students earning a high school diploma compared to the cohort of students starting in 9th grade.
One component of the accountability system that I am particularly excited about is the transition readiness indicator for high schools. This indicator will help to ensure that graduating students are not just receiving a certificate of four-year completion, but that they are truly prepared for success in postsecondary education and/or a career.
This school year is a transition year for Kentucky’s new accountability system. Schools will not yet be rated using the new five-star rating system. Instead, they will be identified only for the federally required accountability designations of Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) and Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) based on 2017-2018 data for support this school year. The new 5-star rating is expected next school year.
TSI schools must have one or more low-performing student groups, while a school will be labeled for CSI if it scores in the bottom 5 percent of performance by level (elementary, middle or high); or has a four-year graduation rate of less than 80 percent. This year, all other schools will be designated as “Other.” Schools designated as TSI and CSI will be required to develop improvement plans and CSI schools will be provided additional support.
Like many other states implementing new accountability systems, we are anticipating a significant percentage of Kentucky schools being designated for TSI.
According to KRS 160.346(2)(a), the TSI designation will apply to any school with at least one student group whose accountability score is at or below the overall score for all students that are in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.
The ESSA-defined student groups for determining TSI designation include: African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaska Native, White, two or more races/ethnicities, free/reduced-price meal eligible, students with disabilities, and English learners.
As many as 40 percent to 50 percent of Kentucky’s schools could be designated as TSI based on the performance of one or more of its student groups.
Information on school and district performance on the various accountability indicators, along with results from spring 2018 testing, will be reported in late September and in a new online School Report Card later this fall. Parents/guardians will receive individual student results based on state testing later this year.
To be clear, a school’s designation as TSI does not mean the school is failing or a low-performing school. It does mean that work remains to be done with raising the achievement levels for all groups of students, and it makes reducing the disparities between the performance of student groups a top priority.
Any new accountability system or any new measure of school performance highlights new areas for growth, and that’s a good thing. That new area for growth for many of our schools will be reducing learning and performance disparities between student groups.
I have no doubt that Kentucky schools and educators will rise to the occasion, and develop and implement improvement plans for increasing achievement levels for traditionally underserved groups of students.
Wayne Lewis is the interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education.