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The first year of rankings for the Unbridled Learning accountability model, the newest form of statewide school assessment, places three local school districts in the top 25 out of 174 districts tested.
West Point Independent School was tied with Meade County at the 16th spot with a composite score of 63.5 while LaRue County Schools finished 20th at 63.1. Elizabethtown Independent Schools was ranked 23rd with an overall score of 61.8.
Schools and districts receive one overall score, on a scale of 1 to 100, that is created using the data from five areas — achievement in various subject areas, student growth in reading and math, college and career readiness among high school students, graduation rates and the proficiency of at-risk student populations. Schools and districts also receive specific data in each of the five categories.
The tests are based on the more rigorous Kentucky Core Academic Standards in English and math, which have been in place for a little more than a year.
West Point was the highest-ranked district in Hardin County in what turned out to be a transformative year. Garnering some of the lowest scores in the state in certain areas last year, the school district turned around its fortunes with a “distinguished” mark this year.
Schools in the top 30 percent of scores are labeled “proficient” while the other 70 percent are labeled “needs improvement.” The top 10 percent of schools earned a “distinguished” mark. This is recalculated every year based on how the scores fall.
Hardin County Schools was tied with Bourbon County and Mayfield Independent in the 59th spot with a score of 57.8. HCS spokesman John Wright said the district is not dissuaded by the rankings because 70 percent of districts in the state are labeled as “needs improvement.”
Wright pointed out HCS was only six-tenths of a point from a proficient ranking and is focusing more on growth than labels. Wright said there is a possibility the district’s score could improve by several points next year but still fall below the proficient ranking depending on performances of other schools.
“We still don’t like the label of ‘needs improvement,’ but we saw growth, so that’s good,” Wright said.
West Point Superintendent Pam Stephens said the district has created a reading program and improved the district’s comprehension for social studies, a subject in which it scored last during the previous year.
Principal Lee Ann Mik said new guides have been incorporated within the district to coincide with the new standards. Mik also meets with each teacher once a week and sends staff members to observe teachers in other districts to help ensure best practices are followed. The district hopes to be among the top five in the state by 2016.
“We never let down our guard,” Mik said. “We always challenge our students and we put a lot of faith in them. They’re all very talented individuals.”
Stephens said West Point was challenged to change the culture and is working to peel back a stigma placed on the small district.
“That’s the (scores) we hope we can keep up in the district for years to come,” Stephens said.
LaRue County Schools saw a large gain this year, too, jumping from the 41st position last year. Superintendent Sam Sanders said the district has seen sweeping improvements in the past 10 years, when LaRue was ranked 131st in the state.
Sanders said the district has installed new programs, but success was attained through the resources of human beings.
“We’ve put our emphasis on people,” he said.
Sanders said the district has hired the best administrators and teachers it can find and successfully retained them as employees because of a competitive salary schedule that ranks among the best in the state.
“Our goal for a long time was to make top 10 percent, which is distinguished,” he said. “We only missed that by three tenths of a point.”
Gary French, superintendent of Elizabethtown Independent Schools, said the district finished in the 87th percentile, falling just a few percentage points short of a distinguished ranking.
The district fared well in the achievement and growth categories, French said, but it recognizes the need for improvement in the category of achievement gap. French said he hopes the scores are reflective of the district’s desire never to deviate from its mission of reaching each child every day.
“If we do that on a daily basis, then these test scores take care of themselves,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or email@example.com.