By Valarie Honeycutt Spears | Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky schools, including charter schools, would be rated from one to five stars, with five being the highest, under a proposed new accountability system discussed this week at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting.

Under the current system, schools are rated with designations such as “needs improvement,” “proficient” or “distinguished.” Those would be eliminated. Concerns have been raised about the complexity of the current system and its unintended consequences. Passage of the education reform bill called Senate Bill 1 in the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly effectively ended the current system.

The board on Wednesday gave a first reading to the state regulation that would implement the proposed accountability plan. The board will consider final approval in August and the system, if approved, would be implemented for the 2018-19 school year.

Under the proposed new system, schools and districts would earn the star rating based on their performance and also earn a designation that would show whether they are closing achievement gaps.

Schools and districts would be rated based on various indicators including a students’ proficiency, their academic growth, whether they are ready to transition to the academic next level, whether schools are eliminating the gap — the disparity in performance between student groups — and whether schools give students equal access to school programs.

In the past, a school’s classification or label under the state accountability system has been released each fall.

But the school year 2017-18 is being viewed as a transitional year between the current system and the new system. Under the education reform law, schools and districts will not receive in fall 2017 an overall accountability score or the category labels.

Instead of an overall score and label, the education department will release “report cards” this fall with test scores, data on the achievement gap, whether students saw academic growth, college and career readiness information and graduation rate, said Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Becky Blessing. If schools submitted scores for program reviews, which are self-assessments of whether schools are offering rigorous programs, those will be included as well.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said this fall, the public will still be able to see “a dashboard” that will provide them with a variety of achievement and other data on how the schools are doing. The dashboard allows for comparisons between state, district and school data in each category, she said.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said her group is concerned about the change in what will be released this fall.

“Citizens deserve to know how their schools are serving students every year,” Ramsey said. “A rating is how the majority of citizens know how their schools are doing. Some type of rating is simply basic transparency and accountability to the public. The committee supports the state going away from the 1-173 ranking of schools but we still want to see a quality rating system.”

The latest proposal includes goals to increase student proficiency rates significantly for all students by 2030, and decrease the achievement gap of lower-performing student groups by 50 percent by 2030.

At Wednesday’s meeting, board members questioned whether the goals were ambitious enough, or whether the goals would be attainable if set higher.

“If we adopted the basic model that is here today, I’m confident it is infinitely better than the accountability model that came before it,” board member Gary Houchens said.

After hearing about the proposal for the new system, Ramsey said it “needs more work.”

Ramsey said some areas of the proposed plan warrant urgent attention, including how schools will be identified as needing intervention from state officials.

Ramsey said another area of concern is how benchmarks will be set for schools and districts, how they will be set for individual student groups such as racial minorities, the low-income and disabled, and how goals will be incorporated into school ratings.

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