Test results underscore that changes are working
Superintendent Caulk notes successes and calls for continued focus
Results from state and national tests taken by students in spring 2019 and released Oct. 1 by the Kentucky Department of Education confirm that Fayette County Public Schools is taking the right steps to improve targeted schools and expand access and opportunity for every student.
“Following an extensive audit last spring, the Kentucky Department of Education concluded for the second time during my tenure that our district has the capacity to drive improvement in our schools,” said Superintendent Manny Caulk. “Today’s release underscores that with the flexibility afforded to our district for the first time last year under changes to state law, we made substantive changes that are yielding results for students.”
Six of the seven schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement last fall based on performance in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state made improvements that moved them out of that status.
“Our district embraced the opportunity we were given to examine existing practices, reconsider current strategies, identify innovative solutions and make mid-course adjustments with the support of our school board,” Caulk said. “We’re pleased to see those gains, but we have to keep those labels in perspective as just one more piece of information to help complete the picture of student success in the Fayette County Public Schools.”
At the elementary school level, Fayette’s scores on the proficiency indicator, separate academic indicator, growth indicator, and overall weighted score are higher than the state. At the middle school level, Fayette’s scores on the proficiency indicator, separate academic indicator, growth indicator, and overall weighted score are higher than the state. At the high school level, the FCPS score on the proficiency indicator is higher than the state.
As a point of emphasis, KDE leaders have said the new star system is not designed to rank Kentucky’s schools. The rating also is not meant to necessarily be a judgment or negative mark, state officials caution. Rather, it is meant to start conversations about how to support student success.
Before the latest scores and brand new star ratings were released, FCPS had already launched additional plans to accelerate student achievement. For example, the two elementary schools rated as one-star schools by the state have already been transformed into “Promise Academies” in 2019-20.
“We certainly appreciate and respect the role that the Kentucky Department of Education plays in accountability,” Caulk said. “In addition to the information we receive from them, our journey to becoming a world-class system of great schools requires us to hold ourselves accountable by monitoring multiple data points and leading indicators throughout the year in order to make mid-course adjustments.”
Three years ago, Fayette County began using a national assessment to gauge student progress three times a year in every school and monitor growth to see if students are mastering the content they need to be successful in school and beyond. Results from the 2018-19 school year showed that in every grade level K through eight, FCPS students scored higher than the national average in both reading and math. They also posted growth higher than the national average in reading and math, which indicates that FCPS teachers are helping students achieve more throughout the course of the school year.
Data indicated especially high growth in the district’s former CSI schools and for kindergarten students, who posted more growth in math than 99 percent of the rest of the nation and more growth in reading than 97 percent of the country.
District and school leaders also review walkthrough data, family survey results, and classroom assessments.
In the spring of 2019, more than half of all families participated in the third annual FCPS Family Survey. According to those nearly 13,000 survey respondents: 91% said their child is engaged by the learning activities at school; 86% said teachers set high expectations for their child; 92% said their child is safe at school; 88% said their child enjoys going to school; and 87% would recommend their child’s school to a friend or colleague.
ACT scores and Advanced Placement scores are two other measures that show how local students stack up on nationally normed exams. In 2019, Fayette County juniors once again posted higher composite and subject-level ACT scores than the state average. Last year in the United States, less than .02 percent of the students who took the ACT scored a perfect 36. In Fayette, the graduating class of 2019 included 21 of them – five times the national rate. In addition, while FCPS accounts for roughly 6 percent of students in Kentucky, 22 percent of the state’s National Merit semifinalists are from FCPS.
Considering performance on Advanced Placement exams, 72 percent of FCPS students tested scored a 3 or better, and that success cuts across race and socio-economic groups.
In comparing white students in Fayette County to white students across Kentucky, Hispanic students in Fayette to Hispanic students across Kentucky, or students living in poverty in Fayette to students living in poverty across Kentucky, FCPS students earn college credit-bearing scores 1.5 times more often. For black students, the rate is 1.75 times greater.
“And because we know that learning is more relevant when students can see the connection between their courses and the real world, we have transformed three of our high schools into smaller learning communities organized around student career interests aligned to future employment opportunities such as medicine, information technology, engineering, manufacturing, and robotics,” Caulk said.
In partnership with community and business leaders, that work is yielding tangible results, he noted. Over the past four years, the number of students obtaining industry certification has grown nearly 1,200 percent, from 364 in the 2015-16 school year to 4,673 in 2018-19.
“We continuously ask ourselves, ‘How are we doing on delivering on our promise of ensuring all students achieve at high levels and graduate prepared to excel in a global society?’” Caulk said. “While the data demonstrates that many of our students are getting a great education, we have high expectations for every student. We will not be content until we can say with confidence that every child is reaching his or her unlimited potential.”
District leaders assemble measures from multiple sources of data to gauge how well schools are meeting the needs of students they serve and intensify support at schools where student achievement is not meeting expectations.
During Caulk’s first year as superintendent, the district implemented the concept of “Partnership Zones” where schools are assigned support teams that meet regularly at the school and receive additional resources, such as more staffing and extended learning for students. Two years ago, the district launched the “Empowerment Zone” to provide even more concentrated support and additional resources.
Last year, the seven schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) received those same supports in addition to other resources. After an external review, each school developed a turnaround plan for implementation this school year with assistance from a turnaround team. The district will continue to implement those turnaround plans and invest needed resources and supports beyond the removal of the CSI label.
Those supports are making a difference, Caulk noted, because data shows that students at all seven CSI schools, all six Partnership Zone Schools, and three of five Empowerment Zone schools posted high growth and improved achievement in reading and math.
Another piece of data included in the School Report Cards made public Oct. 1 helps illuminate why those gains are so critical. Across Fayette County last year, 51.3 percent of incoming kindergarteners were considered ready for school, based on state assessments. Variation between schools paints a stark picture of the income and opportunity gap. Consider that at three Fayette schools, more than 80 percent of the children who entered school reached state readiness benchmarks. Meanwhile, at three other Lexington schools, more than 90 percent of the incoming kindergartners were not ready for school.
“This shows clearly that the gap exists before students ever enter the schoolhouse door,” Caulk said. “As we advocate for state funding of full-day kindergarten and greater investment in early childhood, we are going to need support from our entire community to strengthen families and support school readiness.”
At a time when FCPS is serving more students than ever before and the percentage of students living in poverty continues to climb, the district is still making substantive academic gains and opening access and opportunity so that demography does not determine a child’s destiny.
“I’m especially proud that we have been able to catalyze equity and invest in strategic priorities that are making a difference in the lives of the students and families we serve while keeping tax rates flat for the second time in four years,” Caulk said.
Over the past two years FCPS has spent $12.1 million to provide a high quality reading and math curriculum and state-of-the-art instructional materials for every classroom in every school in grades K through 12. For a fourth consecutive year, the district has hired more teachers to work with students who have special needs, students who have been identified as gifted and talented, and students whose home language is not English – a cumulative investment of $2.8 million to hire 45 additional teachers.
“In just a few short years, our district has made unprecedented investments to advance equity and opportunity for every student,” Caulk said.
Just as FCPS recognizes areas for growth and establishes support teams, the district also celebrates schools that meet and exceed standards for excellence, he noted. Many schools have effectively implemented high-yield strategies, culturally responsive teaching and learning, and effective systems of organizational management that have yielded high levels of achievement for all students.
More important than the latest score or label, he cautioned, is the work that happens next.
“The real focus should be on what we’re going to do differently because of what we see, and I encourage all of our families and community members to partner with our schools and support substantive changes,” Caulk said. “We have two moral imperatives – to help students who are reaching toward proficiency and to accelerate those who have reached proficiency to global competency. Our students deserve no less.”
Understanding the 5-star rating system
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