JCS graduation rate climb outpaces state average

Published 12:41 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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From staff reports

Kentucky has rolled out a new five star accountability system for 2019 and Jessamine County Schools graduation rate is once again higher than Kentucky’s average.

The new system uses a rating of one to five stars for each school and three separate star ratings, one for each school level (elementary, middle, and high) for the district.  In this first year of the new system, the Jessamine County School District received a rating of three for each of the three school grade levels.

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The star rating is a combined overall score, considers proficiency, separate academic indicators, and growth at the elementary and middle school levels and proficiency, separate academic indicators, transition readiness, and graduation rate at the high school level.   According to information provided by the Kentucky Department of Education, the star ratings do not reflect the entirety of a complex education system and are not intended as a summative assessment of schools and districts but are instead meant to begin conversations on what is working well or needs improvement.

In 2019 results, Jessamine County’s graduation rate is higher than Kentucky’s average, 91.1. The district’s graduation indicator, an average of the four- and five-year graduation rates, jumped a full percentage from 2018’s rate of 93.1 to this year’s 94.1.

Supt. Matt Moore says that the district’s focus on high-quality instruction, meeting each student’s individual learning needs, and prioritizing relationships is continuing to impact student achievement.  “From preschool to high school, our district staff works tirelessly to prepare students for that next step, and this huge growth in our graduation rate is a celebration for our entire district family.”

Results in the area of transition readiness help to demonstrate the district’s commitment to preparing students for what comes next.  The district score increased from 67.2 percent to 70 and is higher than the state average of 66.8.  The district’s high schools also outperformed the state average in the remaining two indicators as well, proficiency and the separate academic indicator, science and writing.  Jessamine High Schools’ overall ACT composite score was also higher than the state total in 2019.

In addition to the successes in secondary school results, large gains are also evident at the elementary level as well.  Moore said that he is particularly pleased with the improvement in reading, as a higher number of students scored proficient/distinguished in that subject, as well as in math and writing, in 2019.  Moore added that these solid foundational skills help students to grow and improve in other subjects, saying that “learning to read is necessary before reading to learn.”

Moore said he is very encouraged by the strong results at the elementary level, stating, “Our scores validate much of the work that has been going on in our district in recent years and echoes what we’ve seen in our more frequent internal learning assessments.  In the last two years, more K-2 students have been reading on grade level than ever before.  Our teachers and students are going to continue to build on that solid foundation as students progress to the next grade levels.  We are investing the time and resources necessary to address individual student needs and provide support as early as possible and our efforts are paying off with solid growth at the elementary level.”

One significant change from previous years is that achievement gap is no longer considered an indicator but may lower the star ratings of four- and five-star schools.  Gap groups are identified by the state and include students who qualify for free/reduced meals, English language learners, special education students, and certain racial/ethnic groups.

The new accountability system includes measures to determine how well students in these subpopulations perform and schools with one or more of these demographic groups that are under-performing are categorized as Targeted Support and Intervention (TSI) schools.

In the 2018 accountability results, five JCS schools were identified as TSI schools and received additional support from the district, targeted to the specific needs of the underperforming gap groups.  In the 2019 results, all five of the district’s TSI schools met the criteria to exit TSI status.  JCS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michele Reynolds noted that she views this development as an indicator that the additional district support is meeting student and staff needs, increasing student capacity and improving achievement.

While Reynolds and Moore are encouraged by the gains and recognize the hard work to move schools from TSI status, they say that the district still has work to do to improve the performance of gap groups.  Reynolds noted, “We have seen very promising results, perhaps not as rapidly as we would like, but we are certainly progressing.”

With goals to reduce the number of students scoring in the “novice” category and increase the number of students scoring “proficient/distinguished,” the district saw large gains with several gap groups which include: the number of elementary students scoring novice in reading was reduced in four of the five gap categories (African American, Hispanic, English Language Learners, and students qualifying for free/reduced lunch); the number of high school students scoring novice in reading was reduced for both African American students as well as students qualifying for free/reduced lunch; for high school math, the number of students scoring novice was decreased for African Americans, Hispanics, and free/reduced lunch students; the number of elementary students scoring proficient/distinguished in math increased in all five gap groups.

Moore said the district will utilize school and district strategic plans to address concerns and improve, offering additional support structures based on areas of need.  Coaching and other specific supports will continue to be implemented to help special education students to become more independent learners.

Reynolds says that the district will continue to use a multitude of internal methods to guide instruction and assess learning for all students.  “State assessment results are one of many important tools that we use to gauge growth and to gain feedback and we will use these results, along with data from other sources to determine our opportunities for growth and resource allocation.”

Moore said, “Our results show that we are improving student performance at the elementary level, supporting students through to graduation at a higher rate than our state, and graduating students who are well-prepared for the transition to that next step.  The important thing is that our students are prepared for success, whether that’s college, a trade or vocational school, entering the workforce or joining our country’s armed forces.”

Moore said that he is proud of the work of JCS’s fourteen schools and that the district’s long-term improvement plan is reaping results.  “Our action plans are data-driven and built around systems and deeper initiatives to drive improvement and address challenges.  Getting to the root cause, implementing a thoughtful solution, and seeing results can take time.  We’re committed to continuous improvement, because our students deserve it.”