• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Students showing growth in state rating: District’s ‘learner score’ fifth in state

Woodford County Public Schools continued to reduce the number of students scoring at the novice level, while also increasing the number of students scoring at the proficient and distinguished levels, according to recently released state assessment scores in reading, math, science, social studies and language mechanics. “We know that we made some really big gains, but there’s still work to do,” said schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins on Monday. “We want to continue to work to reduce that novice (number).” The district’s “learner score” (achievement, gap and growth for elementary and middle schools; achievement, gap, college/career readiness and graduation rate for high schools), which is based on testing data provided by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), showed that Woodford County schools ranked as the fifth best school district in the state, Hawkins said. He said the district had not cracked the top-10 in state assessment rankings before this year. However, overall accountability scores for school districts in Kentucky were not released by KDE this year because a new accountability system is expected to be in place in the 2018-19 school year, according to a KDE news release. Still, Hawkins described the district’s rank as “pretty exciting … because what it shows is that all of our schools performed. A district doesn’t do well if all of your schools are not performing well.” “Like I said in my tweet,” he continued, “it’s a reflection of an outstanding staff and amazing students. And it truly is. And it’s across the board.” Huntertown Elementary School and Woodford County High School continued to make significant gains. State testing data showed “incredible” gains in algebra II, where only 5.6 percent of the district’s high school students scored as a novice on the end-of-course assessment compared to 26 percent, scoring at the novice level in the state. “…the work that’s going on with our high school math department – it’s phenomenal,” said Hawkins. In explaining the long-term benefits of teachers sharing their expertise with their colleagues, he said, “If our teachers work well in teams together, it drives everything.” Hawkins pointed out that WCHS was the fifth-ranked high school in Kentucky based on its overall assessment score. Huntertown Elementary was able to have its “biggest growth year … and they’ve been knocking it out of the park (in the last three or four years),” said Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm. “That’s not easy to do,” he continued. “That’s focus. That’s working your tail off for kids. And I don’t know another way to put it, but that’s teachers taking passion and working their tail off for every single child … It’s the only way to do that.” Huntertown Elementary Principal Elaine Kaiser credited consistency across grade levels for ensuring every student gets a quality education. In addition to making sure more students are engaged in classroom discussions and their individual needs are addressed so they can demonstrate academic growth, she said, “Every child … knows that we love them.” Northside Elementary improved its overall state assessment score significantly in part because of a system designed to look at school-wide testing data as well as ensuring students had academic support in addition to regular class time, said Hawkins. He said Simmons Elementary saw “a nice increase” in its scores by focusing on reading. Woodford County Middle School and Southside Elementary both maintained their level of performance, according to Hawkins. He said both have been performing well, and WCMS had “a huge jump” in last year’s state assessment. “So to be able to maintain that level (of performance) is always a positive,” he added. One factor that prevented Southside from improving its results from a year ago was reducing the number of students performing at the novice level, which Hawkins said, “has to be a focus for them.” Hawkins said literacy – more specifically writing – was an academic area that needs to improve across the district. Writing, he said, needs to become a part of every subject so students are better able to explain how they’ve solved a problem in math or science and every other subject. “We’ve got to recognize, and do a better job together, at seeing that reading is what we should do all the time,” said Brehm. “That’s where we’ve got to move … Whenever I need a student to reveal their thoughts, I ask them to put their pencil on paper and give me their individual thoughts. And it goes back to individualization of instruction. “There is no easier way to individualize instruction than giving students authentic writing tasks.” A writing task can be as simple as having a student write down a one- or two-sentence response to a question, added Hawkins. If the district stays focused on good quality instruction, as well as reducing the number of students performing at the novice level and increasing the number of students at the proficient and distinguished levels of achievement, Hawkins said,” It won’t matter what type of (assessment) system that we are in.” He cited two initiatives that will allow the district to continue reducing the number of students performing at the novice level, while also increasing the number of students at the proficient and distinguished levels. Each school’s staff reviewed its master schedule to build-in “a what I need time” during the school day to ensure every student receives intervention or extension time to meet their individual needs, said Brehm. “So if I already understand the content,” he explained, “that’s a time for me to go above and beyond the content. If I haven’t gotten it yet, it’s a time for me to get remediation … re-teach (that student) during the day. So we’re really targeting where you are as a student…” He cited higher-than-typical growth numbers in most every content area as evidence that “we are intentionally making sure all of our kids are getting that growth. “It’s not just interventions for the students who are behind, but enrichment for the kids who are ahead. And that allows those growth numbers to really expand and explode.” Also, every school’s staff has focused on the culture of their buildings by conveying clear expectations to students – both academically and behaviorally, Hawkins said. He noted that behavior can become a barrier to learning so interventions are available to ensure a student can experience success in the classroom. “And we’re even more intentional to make sure that we recognize kids when they are doing well,” added Hawkins. (School Report Cards for every school in Woodford County can be accessed on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website: education.ky.gov.)

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