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Ky. Commissioner of Education Says ‘Lies’ Spreading About School Report Cards

Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis
Kentucky Department of Education
Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis says he thinks there are a number of “lies” being spread about the latest test scores and school report cards released for public schools this week. 

Lewis told the Kentucky Board of Education Thursday he believes there have been “intentional efforts” by a small group of people to spread these misconceptions about the state’s accountability system: 

Each subhead is a direct quote by Commissioner Lewis. Here is a video of his report.

“The first lie is that Kentucky’s new accountability reduces school’s performance to a single rating.”

Kentucky school report cards now give schools a 1 to 5 star rating that is actually a compilation of a variety of factors. Critics have said the ratings oversimplify school’s performance. Proponents of the rating say it helps parents and the public see the “so-what” among a slew of data available on the report cards.

As Commissioner Lewis argued Thursday, the latest report cards do in fact offer more data than ever before — especially more information about achievement gaps between different groups of students. The reports also include details about student demographics, performance in other subject areas, behavior incidents, per-student spending and efforts to make students “transition ready” through career and technical education.

For more on what’s in the school report cards and how to read them, see our video:

“Lie number 2: Schools and districts ratings are based on a single test on a single day.”

While math and reading scores are a big component of the star rating, scores in other subject areas, as well as improvement on tests (known as growth), transition readiness and graduation rates are also factors. 

All of these indicators are also factors in identifying schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), according to a Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson.

When test score data is released, you hear a lot about these schools that performed in the bottom 5 percent of the state. These schools are labeled CSI — a federal designation that offers schools additional funding, monitoring and support. High schools with graduation rates below 80 percent also automatically fall into CSI status.

In the future, a measure for school climate and safety will also play a part in star ratings. Below is a table of how different factors weighted into the overall five-star score for the 2018-19 school year.








“Lie number 3: The Commissioner designed the accountability system to place 35 of the state’s 50 schools designated for comprehensive support and improvement in Jefferson County.”

Lewis said that based on feedback, he believes some people in Jefferson County think he rigged the accountability system so that 35 of the state’s lowest performing schools would fall in JCPS. He did not specify where he had heard this, but said it did not come from JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio.

“First of all, let me say, I don’t know how to do that. So folks are giving me credit that frankly I’m probably not smart enough to figure out how to do,” Lewis said. 

Neither the tests, nor the cut-off points for students’ proficiency ratings have changed. The Kentucky Department of Education did change the way that growth is calculated last October, to make the calculation more transparent. The former growth score was based on a projected estimate of improvement, and the new growth score on this year's report cards is based on actual improvement students made between years.

In regard to the new five-star rating system, Lewis said the method for creating it has been “the most transparent and inclusive process” in the department’s history. A panel including 15 superintendents, principals and other educators from across the state helped decide the cut-off points for each rating. The Department of Education applied those recommendations to the star rating system without any changes.

"The 4th lie, which I believe is the most insidious one of all … and it is this notion that poor and black children cannot learn."

“This notion that if you have a disproportionately high percentage or number of black children or poor children, then you can’t help but be at the bottom of the state’s accountability system — it’s sickening,” Lewis said.

Lewis did not say where he had heard this remark, but said he thought it was often implied and rarely stated in those exact terms. 

Throughout his report to the board, Lewis referred to schools across Kentucky where school officials changed their instruction and attitude and saw positive results for disadvantaged students.

“You haven’t changed their parents. You haven’t given them more money. You haven’t changed their neighborhood. You haven’t changed any other factor. You change nothing but what we provide to them when they come to school — you see improvement,” Lewis said.  “That’s all we’re asking.”

Across the state, schools with higher percentages of students in poverty generally have lower star ratings. That pattern is especially strong in Jefferson County, where black students are also statistically more likely to be poor.

Lewis acknowledged that these patterns exist throughout the state and the country, and that many students come to school carrying the effects of poverty.

“To expect that schools can erase the things that kids come to school with is unreasonable — completely unreasonable,” Lewis said. “But to be OK with kids coming with the challenges that they come with, and we throw up our hands and believe they can’t learn is unacceptable.”

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.

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