Superintendents panel OKs accountability changes, recommends KDE explore flexibilities

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – During a Jan. 26 virtual meeting, members of the Local Superintendents Advisory Council voted to recommend that the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) approve changes to the state’s accountability system to align with Senate Bill (SB) 158 (2020).

The bill amends KRS 158.6455 to create an accountability system that includes an annual differentiation of all public schools in the state using multiple measures that describe each district’s overall performance, along with the performances of individual schools and student demographic groups.

Originally planned to be a first read and action item at the Dec. 2 KBE meeting, board members shifted their agenda after LSAC’s Dec. 1 special meeting, where members felt modifying the system was an item that deserved more time and opportunities to gather input.

Leadership from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has met with various advisory groups to gather feedback on the recommended changes to the system, most recently the School Curriculum, Assessment and Accountability Council (SCAAC).

In the new system, performance is based on a combination of academic and school quality indicators. These indicators include results of student assessments, progress toward achieving English proficiency by limited English proficiency students, quality of school climate and safety, high school graduation rates and postsecondary readiness.

KDE has recommended an index method with weights used to combine performances on the multiple indicator measures, producing an overall school performance rating.

Currently, the recommended high school weights are 45% to state assessment results in reading and mathematics, 20% to state assessment results in science, social studies and writing, 5% to English learner progress, 4% to quality of school climate and safety, 20% to postsecondary readiness and 6% to graduation rate.

These proposed weights take into account the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as the desires of KBE members based on previous discussions, said Jennifer Stafford, director of KDE’s Division of Assessment and Accountability Support.

ESSA requires the majority of the high school accountably weights to be distributed between the state assessment results in reading and mathematics, and graduation rate.

During the Jan. 19 virtual SCAAC meeting, members approved a motion to the KBE to consider raising the weight of state assessment results in science, social studies and writing to 30%, while dropping the weight of postsecondary readiness down to 10%.

SCAAC members believed that by only placing 20% of the weight on state assessment results in science, social studies and writing, these subjects appear to be devalued, and if more focus was placed on the five core content areas, then students are more likely to be ready for postsecondary education.

LSAC members, on the other hand, voiced their approval for the KDE-recommended weights.

“With the change in the world that we face and what’s ahead of us, we really need to be expanding in those opportunities,” said Harry Burchett, Harrison County superintendent. “I don’t want to reduce any opportunities for our students.”

Keith Hale, superintendent of Glasgow Independent, said that while he understands the thought process behind SCAAC’s recommendation, he believes if focus is shifted away from postsecondary readiness, schools could potentially see a loss in programs that prepare students for life after graduation.

Agreeing with his fellow council members, David Raleigh, superintendent of LaRue County Schools, said his local board recently approved his district’s strategic plan, which emphasizes the importance of postsecondary readiness.

“As we place a lot of emphasis on that locally, I would like to see the Kentucky Board of Education follow suit on that,” he said.

Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said as he witnesses conversations unfold around weights in the accountability system during the advisory groups, with the KBE, and even within the department, he is reminded of the phrase, “opposing, but also mutually positive values.”

“I think that is reflected in the struggle that all of the groups and the LSAC have with trying to determine what the right numbers are here,” said Glass. “A person could look at any one of these categories and make a strong and compelling argument about why it should be lifted and prioritized ahead of something else. And no one is wrong.

“This is really an exercise in trying to determine, in your professional and also subjective judgement, what should the right mixture be for the state.”

In addition to conversations around the weights in the system, another topic of extensive discussion throughout the advisory groups has been setting the minimum number of students needed for inclusion of school indicators and to form a student demographic group, said Rhonda Sims, associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability.

The department recommends setting at 30 for a school the minimum number of students needed to form a student subgroup for accountability, while still using 10 students per grade for public reporting.

The performance of student groups included in accountability and public reporting currently is set at 10 or more per grade. This standard helps protect student privacy by making it harder to identify the scores of individual students. Kentucky historically has used a minimum of 10 students per grade, which applies to schools and student groups.

LSAC chair Tim Bobrowski, who serves as superintendent of Owsley County Schools, raised concerns over having a set number determining student groups. He recommended the department consider allowing schools to use a percentage of their population to calculate their minimum number.

“I am gravely concerned about the number because I see more of an equity issue than I do anything else,” he said.

Both Bobrowski and Burchett raised examples of how schools with lower student populations could struggle with a set minimum number of 30.

“Ethically and morally, that’s not fair for us,” said Bobrowski. “We’re almost being penalized because we’re that small.”

Ultimately, LSAC members voted to approve the recommended change to the KBE, with the caveat that KDE staff explore flexibilities around the minimum number needed to form a student group with the U.S. Department of Education.

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