• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Education leaders react to accountability system changes

A new 5-star accountability system was introduced by state Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis earlier this month, and Woodford County school leaders are still trying to fully understand changes aimed at closing achievement gaps between low-income students, students of color and their peers.

Woodford County schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said he likes this latest change to the state’s accountability system because it gives schools a rating (one to five stars) based on proficiency in reading, math, science, social studies and writing. However, local administrators are still a bit confused about how a school can earn a 5-star rating if an achievement gap exists, said Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm.

“We definitely want to close achievement gaps for sure,” said Brehm, “but there’s always going to be some achievement gap even if that’s a nontraditional population – unless everybody achieves (at) the same (level) to a degree. So we’re not real clear on the wording …”

“What does it mean,” he added, “when they say if you have an achievement gap you’ll lose a star.”

In a news release, the state described its new 5-star school and district accountability system as a way to help Kentucky make gains in closing achievement gaps. It stated, “A school will not be rated as one of Kentucky’s best, with a 5-star rating, if it has not addressed significant gaps between the performances of groups of students.”

Brehm said local school districts have not received wording on what that means in terms of how much of a gap must be closed and what student groups or sub-populations will be considered to determine if a school earns a 5-star rating.

Director of Student Achievement Martha Jones, the district’s assessment coordinator, was slated to get more information about the most recent changes to the accountability system this week when she and other local school leaders meet with the state’s office of assessment and accountability, Hawkins said.

Arts and humanities are again not being assessed for growth or a proficiency rating in the current accountability system, but Brehm said Woodford County schools remain committed to teaching the performing and visual arts.

“We have a board of education and a community that values that,” said Brehm. He said the district will continue to place value on the arts because it’s right for students to give them that opportunity – whether or not the arts and humanities are assessed in the state’s accountability system.

“We haven’t had an assessment in those areas in a long time,” said Hawkins. “We had program reviews for several years where (a school) had to demonstrate what you were doing in those areas for students.”

The new 5-star rating system for schools will be a component of accountability results for the 2018-19 school year released by the Kentucky Department of Education in the fall of 2019, its news release stated.

“Effective instruction matters. Exposure to grade level content matters,” state Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said in the news release. “High expectations for all students, regardless of their background, matters. Leadership committed to closing and addressing gaps, not minimizing or ignoring them, matters.”

The state’s method of assessing student performance has changed on multiple occasions since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, but Hawkins said the district will not change its focus on “quality instruction every day in every classroom.” The district’s emphasis on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports also benefits academic performance no matter what state assessment system is used, added Hawkins. He and Brehm said the biggest frustration for educators by the constant changes to the state accountability system has been the difficulty educators have when explaining those changes when sharing results with the community

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