The county school board meets regularly at the VanHoose Education Center. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This story has been updated.

Almost half of Jefferson County Public Schools need added support from state and district officials, according to state accountability results released Wednesday.

The report is the first under Kentucky’s new standards system, which almost completely reset the old system to align with new federal regulations under the Every Students Succeeds Act and Kentucky Senate Bill 1, both passed in 2017.

The new and old systems are “fundamentally different,” making comparisons difficult, interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis said in a media briefing Tuesday. Under the new standards system, schools are no longer labeled “priority schools” and instead receive a label of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI), or no label at all.

Marty Pollio

Around 37 percent of Kentucky schools were labeled either CSI or TSI. JCPS’s figure is higher, with 85 of the district’s 172 schools, or 49 percent, garnering one of those labels. Under the old system, JCPS oversaw 18 of the state’s 24 priority schools.

“I know the work ahead of us is substantial,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said in a news conference Wednesday morning, adding that he’s confident the district has laid the groundwork for improvement.

In a news release Tuesday, Pollio said, “Significant investments have been made to ensure that students will succeed.”

“There is more instructional support in schools than ever before in this district, and I have no doubt we will see results and success,” Pollio said.

Two JCPS priority schools under the old system — Byck Elementary and Roosevelt-Perry Elementary  — are listed as no longer needing additional support under the new system.

In a separate news release about the results and last year’s test scores, Lewis noted that the report showed minimal improvement in test scores statewide, especially in terms of the achievement gaps among students with disabilities and African-American students.

“There are not a lot of positives here. For the past five years, there has been virtually no movement. We are not improving,” Lewis said in the release. He called the results are “a daunting moment of truth for our state” and a “call to action” for those involved in Kentucky schools.

“Test scores are not the end-all-be-all … but they are an indicator,” Lewis said during Tuesday’s media briefing. Standardized tests are the only indicator Kentucky has to compare its students to each other, Lewis added.

Graduation rates relatively stagnant before expected decline
Wayne Lewis

Statewide, the high school graduation rate remained high at 90.8 percent. JCPS’ overall graduation rate moved from 81 percent in 2016-17 to 82.4 percent last school year.

Multiple education leaders, including Lewis, believe the graduation rate will drop initially once new proposed graduation requirements pass.

Around 60 percent of Kentucky’s high school graduates last year were transition ready, according to the report. That number drops significantly, however, when looking only at student subgroups; just more than 24 percent of disabled students were transition ready, and 32.3 percent of African-American students met the requirement.

Around half of JCPS graduates were considered transition ready in 2017-18. Like at the state level, that number drops among subgroups, to 17 percent for students with disabilities and 30.7 percent for African Americans.

Lewis told reporters he doesn’t “put a whole lot” into this year’s transition readiness rate because it isn’t “fully functional” yet. Schools weren’t tracking dual credit and work experience in 2017-18, but both will count towards the rate next year. This leaves out a “significant portion” of students that may otherwise be transition ready, Lewis said.

Before the results were released, some critics on social media said that the standards change and the subsequent increase of support schools is part of a larger plan to bring charter schools to the state.

Lewis, a charter school proponent, called the claim “ridiculous.”

“The notion that we are pointing out our lack of growth, our lack of progress in kids’ learning in order to make the case that there ought to be charter schools is completely ridiculous,” Lewis said.   

Comprehensive support hits JCPS high schools hard
The Academy @ Shawnee | Courtesy of JCPS

Twenty-one of JCPS’ 172 schools — 10 elementary, seven middle and five high schools — were deemed Comprehensive Support and Improvement.

A school is listed as CSI if it is in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools across the state, had a graduation rate below 80 percent, or both. Three JCPS high schools, Western, Academy @ Shawnee and Iroquois, were among the bottom 5 percent, as well as did not meet the graduation rate requirement.

“Being on this list means that a significant shift must be undertaken to better address student learning,” Lewis said in the release. “This is not about shaming schools, leaders or teachers, but these schools can neither continue doing what they have always done nor make only minor adjustments.”

Ten of 18 now-former priority schools in Jefferson County qualified for the comprehensive support designation. Two schools that recently left priority status — Waggener and Valley high schools — were labeled CSI. Overall, JCPS made up 30 percent of CSI elementary schools, 64 percent of middle schools and 83 percent of high schools in Kentucky.

Statewide, 51 schools were designated CSI.

Wednesday morning, Pollio said it is an “ambitious goal, but it is our goal” to have a year in the future without a CSI school. However, the district faces several challenges as a large urban district, Pollio said, including high numbers of students on free and reduced lunch and around 6,000 homeless students.

JCPS’s CSI schools tend to fall in predominantly African American areas with lower median household incomes, where students may need additional support.

Disabled, African-American students underserved

The Targeted Support and Improvement designation means at least one student subgroup did not meet all of its benchmarks, identifying achievement gaps in what could be an otherwise strong school.

A school needs to have at least 10 students in a grade level’s subgroup in order to determine if they made the benchmark. For example, if a school only has five Hispanic seventh graders, they can’t statistically determine their performance.

JCPS board member Chris Brady and JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio joined in for reading time at Wheeler Elementary, now a TSI school. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Statewide, 418 schools qualified for targeted support, with many having issues with more than one subgroup.

An achievement gap among students with disabilities was the most common reason for a school to be placed on TSI, with over 300 instances of disabled students missing the necessary score benchmarks across the state. In JCPS, the state’s largest district, that held true, with schools also being listed as TSI because of an achievement gap among African-American students.

Fern Creek High School, which recently exited priority status, was labeled TSI based on the performance of its English language learners.

JCPS had 64 schools labeled TSI, the most in the state. However, other large districts, including Fayette and Boone counties, also saw double-digit TSI counts.

There is no single fix to help students with disabilities, Lewis told media Tuesday. It’s an “incredibly complex problem” and deals with a diverse group of kids with wide-ranging disabilities, he added.

“If you start from the place of not believing that ‘those kids,’ whatever ‘those kids’ means, are incapable of learning, then the likelihood that you’re going to bring about improvement in student achievement is very slim to none,” Lewis said.

Next steps for schools: Improve

Whether a school has a CSI or TSI designation, the goal in the coming months is to fix the reason, or reasons, why it received the label in the first place.

To come off of CSI status, schools will need to “fundamentally shift” what they’re doing, Lewis said. CSI schools will receive state support, including state employees visiting those schools, this academic year.

Associate commissioner Kelly Foster has already contacted CSI schools, Lewis said. Each school is audited, then the state works with the school and district to fix problems identified. CSI schools also can apply for additional funding from the state to help.

Like priority schools, a CSI school’s site-based decision-making council power is given to the superintendent, Lewis said.

TSI schools will receive some resources from the Kentucky Department of Education, Lewis said, but most support will need to come from individual schools and districts. With an official recognition of some achievement gaps, Lewis said he hopes there is extra motivation to close those gaps, including shifting resources to help.

If you don’t exit TSI status within three years, you become a CSI school, he added. Pollio called the rule “very concerning” in a Wednesday news conference. 

Earlier this month, Lewis expressed concern that the state would not have enough resources to help all of the schools that need it due to the large increase in support schools between accountability systems.

Schools without a support designation will likely work on maintaining their current proficiency rates so they don’t receive a label in future years.

How are these labels determined?

A group of education leaders across the state, including JCPS Superintendent Pollio and University of Louisville College of Education and Human Development Dean Ann Larson, determined benchmark scores for both support levels in August.

Ann Larson

Benchmarks used to determine a school’s status depend on the school’s grade level. Scores are not adjusted to account for students’ socioeconomic status or other outside factors that could potentially impact their scores.

Elementary and middle schools use proficiency on state tests in reading and math; proficiency in science, social studies and writing; and a growth factor measuring students’ progress.

High schools did not use end-of-course exam scores this year and instead are using ACT benchmarks from juniors, as well as transition readiness and four- to five-year graduation rates.

Lewis acknowledged that Kentucky followed a national trend of scoring lower on the ACT than normal, adding that the state is working to figure out the trend’s cause. He said he is confident the assessment is fine to use as a comparison tool.

Before being approved by the state board of education in September, the benchmark recommendations went to Lewis. Lewis’ only change: A minor adjustment to ensure only 5 percent of schools were labeled CSI.

JCPS’s CSI schools (* denotes former priority school)

Elementary schools

  • Cochran Elementary
  • Foster Traditional Academy
  • Johnsontown Road Elementary
  • Maupin Elementary*
  • Mcferran Preparatory Academy
  • Price Elementary
  • Semple Elementary
  • Shelby Traditional Academy
  • Slaughter Elementary
  • Wellington Elementary*

Middle schools

  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North*
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy South
  • Knight Middle*
  • Marion C. Moore School*
  • Stuart Academy*
  • Thomas Jefferson Middle*

High schools

  • Iroquois High*
  • The Academy @ Shawnee*
  • Valley High
  • Waggener High
  • Western High*

JCPS’s TSI schools (* denotes former priority school)

Elementary schools

  • Alex R. Kennedy Elementary
  • Atkinson Academy
  • Auburndale Elementary
  • Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary
  • Camp Taylor Elementary
  • Chancey Elementary
  • Cochrane Elementary
  • Coral Ridge Elementary
  • Crums Lane Elementary
  • Dunn Elementary
  • Eisenhower Elementary
  • Field Elementary
  • Goldsmith Elementary
  • Gutermuth Elementary
  • Hazelwood Elementary
  • Indian Trail Elementary
  • Jacob Elementary
  • Jeffersontown Elementary
  • Kennedy Montessori Elementary
  • King Elementary
  • Klondike Lane Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts
  • Luhr Elementary
  • Middletown Elementary
  • Mill Creek Elementary
  • Minors Lane Elementary
  • Norton Elementary
  • Rangeland Elementary
  • Rutherford Elementary
  • Sanders Elementary
  • Shacklette Elementary
  • St Matthews Elementary
  • Trunnell Elementary
  • Watterson Elementary
  • Wheeler Elementary
  • Wilkerson Traditional Elementary
  • Wilt Elementary
  • Zachary Taylor Elementary

Middle schools

  • Carrithers Middle
  • Conway Middle
  • Crosby Middle
  • Farnsley Middle
  • Highland Middle
  • Johnson Traditional Middle
  • Lassiter Middle
  • Meyzeek Middle
  • Newburg Middle
  • Noe Middle
  • Ramsey Middle
  • Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy
  • Western Middle School For The Arts*
  • Westport Middle*

High schools

  • Ballard High
  • Butler Traditional High
  • Central High Magnet Career Academy
  • Doss High*
  • Eastern High
  • Fairdale High*
  • Fern Creek High
  • Jeffersontown High
  • Marion C. Moore School
  • Pleasure Ridge Park High
  • Seneca High*
  • Southern High*

Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth

Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy.Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern.Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies.Email Olivia at [email protected]