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Test scores show improvement in most areas

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By Joshua Shepherd

Results from the state achievement test scores were a mixed bag for the Harrison County School System. While the district, overall, did not achieve its annual improvement goal, Harrison County High School’s scores went three points beyond its goal and achieved a Proficient rating.

It was, however, the only school in the district to achieve that rating.

Nevertheless, every school in the district except two, Westside Elementary and Harrison County Middle School, improved on their overall score from last year. 

But what these numbers really say about the quality and performance of Harrison County Schools requires a much deeper look than simply glancing at the school classifications. 

In fact, with the Kentucky Department of Education again changing the school assessment formula, achievement test reports can give what is seemingly contradictory information, said Superintendent Andy Dotson and David Case, district assessment coordinator.

For example, while the state test scores indicate that HCHS scored well enough to be among the top 30 percent of high schools in Kentucky, it is still considered a “Focus School.” This means that there is a subgroup of students in the high school whose tests scores are considered to be underperforming.

“In the case of the high school, the subcategory that needs extra attention are our students with disabilities. These students represent a small subset of the total high school population, but we don’t want them slipping through cracks in our education system. So it is possible to have a high performing school overall that still has some specific needs to be addressed,” Case said.

On the other hand, a school can show significant improvement in its overall score, exceed the goal set for it and still be classified as “Needs Improvement,” Dotson said. 

This situation occurred with  both Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools. 

Both schools not only met their goal, they exceeded it by several points. Eastside went from a score of 55.2 to 57.2, a two-point improvement, and Northside scored three points better than last year. And yet, both schools are classified as “Needs Improvement / Progressing.”

Further muddying the waters is the performance of Southside Elementary, which did not achieve its goal and was classified as “Needs Improvement” and yet the school’s overall score, 59.3, was better than all the other elementary schools in the district.

All these examples underscore the impossibility of using achievement test scores as a means to determine if one school is better than another, Dotson commented. What these test scores show, he said, are areas where individual schools need to direct their efforts to improve.

There is still matters of concern when test scores drop as they did somewhat for Harrison County Middle School and Westside Elementary, which experienced the largest drop in score from 59.4 last year to 53.1. 

In terms of Westside, Case explained that the overall score for elementary schools is determined by a formula which takes into account the following variables:

Achievement – the overall average of all students taking the test; Gap – the average of students scoring proficient or distinguished among subsets of the school population, such as students with disabilities, African-American or Hispanic students; and Growth – which takes in a percentile of reading and math scores from two years worth of testing.

“Westside’s scores compared favorably with all our other elementary schools except in the category of growth, where the numbers dropped for them. It identifies for the faculty and leadership a need to concentrate on those areas for next year in order to meet its goals,” Case said.

If people think it is confusing trying to interpret test results this year, Dotson said, it is only going to get harder next year.

One of the major changes to school testing is the way that schools achieve a designation of Proficient or Distinguished. 

A few years ago, there was a concrete number - a specific score - that equated to those designations. Schools could strive every year to get their test scores to this number, Dotson said.

However, that has all changed. The threshold score for Proficient or Distinguished will be different each year and based on  the results of the previous year’s test scores, Case said.

“There is no set score. Targets for Proficiency will be based on the scores of the top 30 percent of the schools in Kentucky. So this year, in order for a school to be classified Proficient at the high school level, we had to have a score of 58 points or better. Next year, that score could be higher or lower depending on the performance of all Kentucky schools the previous year,” Case said.

In other words, a school might achieve the same score,  or even a better one, and find themselves categorized as “Needs Improvement” because the mean score needed for proficient has risen.

Or it may fall, Case said. It will get more complicated in the next few years as Kentucky changes its assessment methods, he warned.

The bottom line, Dotson said, is that the district wants all its schools to excel and improve.

“Overall, Harrison County Schools have remained consistent academically. We have moved forward at a steady pace. We have not had great leaps forward, but we also have not fallen back,” Case said. 

However, even with the best performing elementary school, there was a considerable gap between its score and the threshold for a proficient score.

“We hope every year that every Harrison County School achieves proficient or distinguished classifications. That is always the goal for our schools and students. I do think this year’s results show that, overall, we are headed in the right direction,” Dotson said.