LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ben Keeton remembers when last year’s test results were released and Bloom Elementary School was listed by the state as needing improvement.

“It came as a shock to a lot of parents,” said Keeton, whose daughter Alara, 8, is a third-grader at the school, located in Louisville's Highlands neighborhood. “We’ve been very happy with the principal and teachers and the education she has been getting, so to see that label was pretty surprising.”

This year, Bloom is one of Jefferson County’s biggest success stories – jumping from the 66th percentile to the 98th percentile. And among 712 elementary schools in the state, its overall rank rose from 392 last year to 62 this year.

“We felt like we were going to do well, but you never know what to expect,” said Kristie O’Bannon, the assistant principal at Bloom. “We work hard with each of our students every day and we try not to pay to attention to the labels, but they can hurt you because of the perception.”

This year, student test scores at Bloom increased 2 percent in reading, 9 percent math, 18 percent in social studies and 28 percent in writing – gains O’Bannon attributes to “focusing on every child growing every single day.”

Out of the 90 elementary schools in Jefferson County Public Schools, Bloom has the ninth highest overall accountability score.

The rankings are something new from the Kentucky Department of Education this year.

“We wanted to be more transparent,” said Rhonda Sims, an associate commissioner with KDE who oversees testing and accountability. “There was some confusion – lots of questions about percentiles and how it all works.”

After hearing from parents and educators throughout the past year, KDE decided to make it easier to compare schools.

The percentiles are still there, but so is a simple ranking of schools and districts, based on their overall scores for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

"Most people will understand that there is always someone at the top and there is always someone at the bottom," Sims said. "You have to know where you are in order to work on getting better."

Rankings list schools from top to bottom

The rankings show that local districts like Anchorage Independent and Oldham County are among the top ten districts in Kentucky.

Out of 173 school districts, here is how local districts fared:

  • Anchorage Independent, 3rd (down from 2nd last year)
  • Oldham County, 10th (up from 11th last year)
  • Spencer County, 38th (up from 52nd last year)
  • Bullitt County, 69th (up from 89th last year)
  • Hardin County, 74th (down from 60th last year)
  • Shelby County, 109th (down from 80th last year)
  • Jefferson County, 145th (down from 125th last year)

The state also ranks schools by each level – elementary, middle and high.

The area’s top performers include The Brown School – a K-12 magnet school in downtown Louisville where its elementary students are ranked 10th (of 712 schools), middle school students are ranked 5th (of 327 schools) and high school students are ranked 2nd (of 228 schools).

Principal Angela Parsons said two years ago, the elementary school was classified as “needs improvement.” Last year, it was ranked 135th in the state. Now it’s in the top ten.

“There was a lot of concern from our parents at that time,” Parsons said. “We became very intentional about what we were doing to make sure that our elementary performance was on par with our middle and high school.”

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens said the rankings only serve one purpose – to place schools in a line.

“And in Jefferson County, we have the first school in line and we have the last school in line,” Hargens said. “So, that number doesn't tell an individual parent really anything.”

Indeed, the JCPS rankings are all over the grid.

At the elementary level, eight schools had gains of more than 10 percent: Bloom, Zachary Taylor, Shelby, Cane Run, Eisenhower, Klondike, The Brown School and Breckinridge Franklin. 

Meanwhile, Frayser, Layne and Young elementary schools had drops of more than 10 percent.

At the middle school level, the Academy @ Shawnee posted a 28 percent drop. The Shawnee middle school is in its second year of operation and added a seventh grade in 2014-15. It went from being ranked as second best in the state last year to 212th this year (out of 327 middle schools statewide). Western Middle School also had a 10 percent drop.

But two JCPS middle schools made big gains -- Knight (18 percent) and Lassiter (17 percent).

JCPS high schools gains and losses were not nearly as dramatic as those in elementary and middle, but the biggest improvement was at Valley (9 percent) and Moore (6 percent); while the the biggest decline was Doss (6 percent) and Iroquois and Fairdale (4 percent). 

Highlights and lowlights of area schools, districts

Aside from The Brown School, some of the other high-ranked elementary schools in the Louisville area include Greathouse Shryock Traditional, Lowe, Stopher, Norton, Wilt and Bowen in JCPS; Camden Station in Oldham County and Anchorage Independent.

At the middle school level, Barret Traditional and Jefferson County Traditional in JCPS; North Oldham, and East Oldham and Eastside in Bullitt County join Anchorage and Brown in the top 36.

duPont Manual High School once again ranks first in the state, but several others were in the Top 15: The Brown School, Louisville Male, South Oldham, Bullitt East and North Oldham.

But the rankings also show many on the bottom. Low test scores at Roosevelt-Perry and Byck elementary schools and Moore Traditional middle school have placed all three in priority status for the first time.

They join 17 others that have already been classified as chronically low performing in JCPS.

Five JCPS middle schools (Stuart, Olmsted North, Frost Sixth Grade Academy, Valley Prep and Myers) and five JCPS high schools (Valley, Western, Academy @ Shawnee, Doss and Iroquois) are among the lowest ranked in Kentucky.

Rankings and student success

Parsons said while the rankings are “certainly nice to see,” she and her staff rely on other tools to measure student success.

“For us, it’s better info to see how individual students are doing, rather than the school as a whole because we are trying to get each student to reach proficiency,” she said.

Hargens said that is what the district encourages its principals and teachers to do.

She also encourages parents to not “rely on one number” when determining which schools are best for their children.

“Every one of our schools has proficient kids and every one of our schools has non-proficient kids,” Hargens said. “You should not leap to the assumption that ‘because I go to a school, that will determine what my child will be.’"

Being ranked No. 1 in line doesn’t guarantee that a student will be proficient, she said.

“That's the individual work of a student and support we provide students,” Hargens said.

School of Distinction

At Bloom, the 19 percent gain in its accountability score has boosted its status. This year, it’s one of 18 “Schools of Distinction” in JCPS.

Keeton said he noticed a big difference with his daughter’s writing and in her social studies class last year.

“They are putting a greater emphasis on writing, having them explain their thought process,” he said. “It’s more than just answering the answer; it’s showing how they arrived at that answer. In social studies, there were more hands-on projects.”

Keeton said he and his wife realize the rankings are just one component.

“As a parent, that's not the only tool that we look at,” Keeton said. “We look at the overall education we are getting, the interaction we are having with the principal, the teacher...the one-on-one experience our daughter is having in the school system.”

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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