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JCPS Marks Progress, In Face Of Poor State Test Scores

Liz Schlemmer

With less than a year before JCPS faces another state audit, school board members are reviewing the latest metrics that tally the district's progress.

There are plenty of promising signs. Suspensions and referrals for bad behavior are down. A higher percentage of students are considered "transition-ready" — a measure of whether they're prepared for college or the workforce. Students are showing continued growth on nationally normed MAP tests used to track their progress throughout the year. The JCPS 4-year graduation rate is at an all-time high.

In the face of that good news stands the latest release of state KPREP test scores.Thirty-five JCPS schools scored in the bottom 5 percent of Kentucky students.

Tuesday, the school board heard updates on all these metrics — and several board members pushed back on the significance of the state KPREP test scores.

After hearing a report on the test scores, board member James Craig thanked district staff for preparing the report but said, "I don't think it's really meaningful for any of the work that we're doing."

Craig said he places more importance on the goals laid out in the JCPS Vision 2020 strategic plan:

"'That our students should graduate prepared, and empowered and inspired to reach their full potential and contribute.' That’s what we’re trying to do in this district. We’re not trying to create as many proficient students as possible on KPREP scores," Craig said.

In comments after the meeting, Craig said he does take the KPREP scores seriously, but that he considers them a "single-day snapshot" of how students are doing. He compared that to MAP tests that students take 3 times a year to track their individual progress.

Chris Brady made reference to a blog by Bellevue Superintendent Robb Smith that critiqued the Kentucky Department of Education's assertion that the state accountability system's new star rating should be "a conversation starter."

"'The problem with that conversation is that it began long ago'," Brady read from Smith's blog. "'Before the latest iteration of accountability, before rewards and labels, before most of us even earned our degrees. It is what teachers do, and to insinuate otherwise is a slight to the profession.'"

The board also discussed progress on the Vision 2020 strategic plan and the Corrective Action Plan designed to avoid a state takeover.

Small Gains Across Most Areas Of Vision 2020 Plan

JCPS students have shown gains in a number of key metrics of the district's strategic plan during the first six weeks of the 2019-2020 school year. Here are some highlights:

  • MAP testing: The percentage of students who met their benchmark goals on the fall MAP tests, taken three times a year to chart student growth, rose in elementary reading and elementary and high school math. Other grade levels held steady. All grade levels showed an improvement in all subject areas.
  • Student behavior: Student discipline referrals dropped by 11 percent and suspensions dropped by 4 percent overall. Suspensions and deferrals decreased more for African-American students compared to others.
  • Staff diversity: The percentage of new JCPS hires who are people of color is higher than the overall staff population.
  • Transition readiness: The percentage of high school seniors who are considered "transition-ready" based on their work experience, industry certifications and/or ACT scores was up this spring compared to the previous year, and this year's seniors are outpacing their predecessors.
  • Attendance: Student attendance overall held mostly steady with small drops in attendance among middle and high school students for the first 6 weeks.

In his monthly report, Superintendent Pollio also celebrated that the JCPS 4-year graduation rate hit an all-time high in the 2018-19 school year. He also reported that the district is 68 percent complete with its Corrective Action Plan and on track to finish all actions by next fall.

Many of the improved measures the board reviewed had inched up by a few percentage points compared to the previous year. Superintendent Pollio celebrated these gains, but called for more urgency.

"I know none of us ... in this organization are looking for small change or incremental change, we are looking for substantial change," Pollio said.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.