Marion County Public School district 'needs improvement'

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New statewide testing results released

By Stevie Lowery

State and local educators were anxious about what the results of Kentucky's new and more demanding statewide testing system would reveal about student achievement. The results, which were released Friday, show that the MCPS district "needs improvement."
"The 'needs improvement' classification applies to seven out of every 10 schools and districts in the state," Marion County Superintendent Dr. Chuck Hamilton wrote in an email to the Enterprise. "Even if all school scores were less than 10 points apart on a 100-point scale the same classification would apply simply because that is how the state set the system to report. We are concentrating more on the information specific to growth and gaps, which means looking at individual students and their needs."
St. Charles Middle School, Calvary Elementary School and West Marion Elementary School are the only schools in the district considered "proficient" based on a combination of their students' academic scores, growth, achievement gaps and college readiness and graduation rates. Only 20 percent of all schools/districts in the state fall into the proficient category. (The top 10 percent are classified as distinguished.)
Glasscock Elementary, Lebanon Elementary, Lebanon Middle and Marion County High, along with the district as a whole, are classified as "needs improvement." In addition, Lebanon Middle and Marion County High are considered "focus schools," meaning one of their target groups (low-income, minority, disabled or limited-English students) scored significantly lower than the rest of the student population.
According to Dr. Hamilton, the "focus" classification is linked to the fact that the MCPS district elected not to use readers with the special needs students on the state assessment, while many other districts across the state continued to do so.
"The state told us there would be a regulation in place for 2012-13 to disallow the use of readers with students with special needs on any reading comprehension assessment, so we did not want to skew the results for the baseline year of 2011-12," Hamilton wrote to the Enterprise. "We knew this would result in lower scores for this special population and create a wider gap than usual. So the resulting label of 'focus' was not a surprise."
However, Hamilton said the district just learned within the past week that the regulation is not going into effect after all, so readers will be allowed to assist those students with special needs this spring during the assessment. That alone should improve scores for students with special needs, and could result in the removal of the "focus" label, Hamilton said.
Hamilton also noted that some of the district's scores aren't correct, specifically scores regarding the district's College and Career Readiness index. Hamilton said 27 students met the criteria but were not counted.
"We have reported this to KDE, in fact before scores were released, but they were not fixed in the scoring," Hamilton wrote. "I do not know if or when this correction will be made."
The new testing results marked the first release under the "Unbridled Learning" accountability system, which replaced the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System (CATS). The new standards not only expect students to reach proficiency, but also be college or career ready when they graduate from high school. Currently, new standards are in place for reading, writing, speaking, listening and math. (Science and social studies standards have not changed yet.) Under the new system, schools received an overall score from 1 to 100. Overall, the district scored 56.4, compared to a 55.2 state average.
"Even if we had been labeled a 'proficient' district we would still be looking for areas that 'need improvement,'" Hamilton wrote. "As a school district we will continue to evaluate and make changes to programs and strategies as we discover what helps students best."
Editor's note: See next week's edition for more details about each schools' individual performance on the "Unbridled Learning" accountability testing system.