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Studies Favor JCPS Turnaround Model “Project Proficiency”

Part 1 of WFPL’s series this week looking at three collaborative studies on Project Proficiency from JCPS administrators.For the first time, studies are showing the affects of Jefferson County Public Schools’ "Project Proficiency," the district’s response for turning around student achievement in its persistently low-achieving (PLA) schools, according to the No Child Left Behind Act. The effort ensures all students understand the top concepts in math and reading in depth, and it requires teacher collaboration to move the lowest achieving students forward.Three practicing JCPS administrators recently collaborated on a capstone to earn their Educational Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Organizational Development from the University of Louisville. The team included Marty Pollio, principal of Jeffersontown High School, Joe Burks, assistant superintendent for JCPS high schools, and Glenn Beate, former principal of Doss High School and currently JCPS high school liaison.The capstone challenged Project Proficiency's assumed success by looking at student math scores from the 2010-2011 school year and comparing those scores with control groups.Pollio’s portion of the study looked at grading practices. Project Proficiency is shifting, like many school districts, from grading based on more subjective measures like student participation and extra credit, to more standards-based grading, said Pollio.“I remember back when I was in high school, teachers would give extra credit points for coming to a ball game, or coming to the school play,” he said.Now, that’s changing. Under Project Proficiency, teachers are expected to give the most weight to learning the top three concepts in reading and math over a six-week grading period. Teachers must make sure all students are scoring at least 80 percent on assessments. If they aren't, there are interventions in place.Each school and each teacher is responsible for making sure students receive a respectable level of competency. This allows teachers and students to own the learning experience, said Pollio.Ideally, students will concentrate on certain core ideas, like understanding quadratic equations in Algebra, instead of concentrating on the two points needed to get a certain grade.Part of proving the success of standards-based grading, is proving the other teaching method isn’t working.When Pollio looked at whether students who scored high in the classroom also scored high on the state’s standardized test (Kentucky Core Content Test) , he found some surprises.“Seventy-five percent of the students that got an A or a B [in class] did not get a “proficient” or a “distinguished.” They got instead an “apprentice” or a “novice,” which is the lowest two categories of score,” he said.Of the approximately 500 students that got an A or B in Algebra II, only about 25 percent received “proficient or distinguished" on the KCCT.After Project Proficiency was introduced, the number of “proficient” or “distinguished” students rose to 55 percent, said Pollio. Further, Pollio looked at science scores on the KCCT and compared those to math scores. Project Proficiency was only implemented for math and reading, so “the very same students did not have Project Proficiency in science that year.”Science scores remained at around 25 percent “proficient” or “distinguished.”Pollio argues the result can be attributed in large part to the standards-based grading of Project Proficiency.WFPL's series will continue tomorrow with a conversation with Joe Burks who looks at how Project Proficiency affects the most at-risk students.