JCPS unsuccessfully begs state to not count nearly 1,500 test sc - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS unsuccessfully begs state to not count nearly 1,500 test scores

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (WDRB News file photo) JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (WDRB News file photo)
Fern Creek High missed its annual goal by one-tenth of a percentage point Fern Creek High missed its annual goal by one-tenth of a percentage point
Email sent to KDE from Donna Hargens on Sept. 20, 2015. Email sent to KDE from Donna Hargens on Sept. 20, 2015.
Sept. 28, 2015 email from Hargens to KDE. Sept. 28, 2015 email from Hargens to KDE.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Just days before this year’s release of annual test scores, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens unsuccessfully begged state officials to not hold 62 schools accountable for nearly 1,500 test scores of students who attended alternative programs in 2014-15.

Saying it was “keeping her up at night,” Hargens made a last-ditch request to the Kentucky Department of Education at 9 p.m. on Sept. 20 – ten days before the scores were released, according to emails obtained by WDRB News in an open records request.

“I am usually able to sleep well knowing that I have done everything to do my job well – part of that responsibility is to be sure that students and staff are being treated fairly,” Hargens wrote in the email to Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Kevin Brown and two associate commissioners at KDE.

At issue is whether 1,483 test scores for approximately 800 students who were placed at one of the district’s alternative programs or schools should count in the overall scores of the 62 home schools the students were assigned to last year. The state refers to these students as "track backs" -- students who enter an alternative school directly without entering their home school first. 

Hargens asked for those scores to count in the district’s overall accountability score, not the individual home schools for which the students were assigned but did not attend.

“Priority schools need to be held accountable for the work they are doing with the students they have – not for the students they have not worked with,” Hargens wrote in her email. Priority schools are among the lowest performing in the state.

It’s a concern many districts in the state have been complaining about since Kentucky’s new accountability system was first enacted four years ago – a concern that has prompted a change in the state’s regulation about how the scores of alternative school students are counted.

But the revised language of that state regulation (703KAR5:240) was not approved until June and state officials say the changes are to be made starting with the 2015-16 school year – not the 2014-15 year.

Hargens sent two emails to Brown – one on Sept. 20, the other Sept. 28 – asking for the state to not count the scores against the schools. In both emails, she tells Brown that she was “not able to sleep well” over the issue.

“I value the relationship that JCPS and KDE has. I value the work of the KDE teams that directly support our schools,” she wrote in the Sept. 20 email. “(The regulation) is about fairness. It is hard to understand how we can accept schools being treated unfairly for one more year – especially when the stakes are so high for those students and staff.”

Hargens sent another email on the morning of Sept. 28, telling Brown:  “As you can imagine, still having trouble sleeping, especially after spending time at Fern Creek High School this weekend.”

She mentions that Fern Creek “is a school where KDE and JCPS have partnered together for support.” She says a sign at the school reads “Proficient, Progressing, Proud – all words taken from the (state) report card.”

“Haven’t students learned more? Are any words on the sign untrue? Shouldn’t they be proud?” Hargens asks in the email.

At Fern Creek, a school that could have exited the state's priority status this year had it met its annual goal, the scores the students who never attended the school (and were placed in an alternative education program) were counted against the school's score, not the district's. That accounted for 5 percent of the school's score and ultimately, the school missed its goal by one-tenth of a percentage point.

"The nature of the law makes sense, because it makes sure someone is responsible so that schools are just pushing these kids out so they aren't counted," said Rebecca Nicholas, an assistant principal at Fern Creek. "But in our case, it hurts because we never even saw these kids. We didn't have a chance to teach them and yet we are being held accountable."

Brown replied to Hargens on Sept. 28, ultimately telling her that the district's request not to count the 1,483 scores was being denied.

He said that KDE “also appreciates the collaboration with JCPS staff.”

“We understand that no accountability system is perfect, but we want to strive to make sure our system is fair, balanced and that the results are understood in context," Brown wrote.

Brown explained that for the 2014-15 year, “KDE must apply consistently to all schools and districts within the state public school system the rules in regulation, statute and waiver that govern Spring 2015 testing and the reporting of the data in fall of 2015.”

“From a data processing perspective, KDE must apply consistent rules for accountability coding of students in a competitive system that compares schools and districts to each other,” Brown wrote.

Richard Innes, an education analyst for the conservative Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says he believes that state was right to deny Hargens' request.

"The way the state regulation was worded for Spring 2015 testing was that the schools must be responsible for these scores," Innes said. "It appears that JCPS was trying to hide the scores of these kids based on an update to the regulation that did not take effect until after the kids tested. If the state had allowed this for one district, they would have had to allow it for all."

Innes said it is up to the state to "monitor its rules and regulations, or else there will be abuse of the system."

According to other emails obtained by WDRB News in a separate open records request to JCPS, the district’s testing coordinator listed the number of 1,483 scores at 62 schools that would have benefited from the new regulation, had it been enacted for the 2014-15 year.

Those 62 schools (and the number of test scores) include:

  • Atherton High (22 scores)
  • Atkinson Elementary (scores)
  • Ballard High (50 scores)
  • Blake Elementary (2 scores)
  • Blue Lick Elementary (1 score)
  • Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary (4 scores)
  • Carrithers Middle (7 scores)
  • Chancey Elementary (1 score)
  • Cochran Elementary (1 score)
  • Cochrane Elementary (1 score)
  • Conway Middle (14 scores)
  • Crosby Middle (10 scores)
  • Doss High (99 scores)
  • Eastern High (84 scores)
  • Fairdale High (39 scores)
  • Farnsley Middle (8 scores)
  • Fern Creek Elementary (1 score)
  • Fern Creek High (77 scores)
  • Field Elementary ( 1 score)
  • Foster Academy (1 score)
  • Olmsted North Academy (26 scores)
  • Olmsted South Academy (18 scores)
  • Gilmore Lane Elementary (1 score)
  • Gutermuth Elementary (1 score)
  • Hazelwood Elementary (2 scores)
  • Highland Middle ( 3 scores)
  • Iroquois High (134 scores)
  • Jacob Elementary (3 scores)
  • JCPS District Accountability (2 scores)
  • Jeffersontown High (56 scores)
  • Kammerer Middle (3 scores)
  • John F. Kennedy Elementary (1 score)
  • Kenwood Elementary (2 score)
  • Knight Middle (9 score)
  • Lassiter Middle (16 score)
  • Laukauf Elementary (1 score)
  • McFerran Academy (1 score)
  • Meyzeek Middle (11 scores)
  • Mill Creek Elementary (2 scores)
  • Moore Traditional (72 scores)
  • Newburg Middle (22 scores)
  • Noe Middle (9 scores)
  • Okolona Elementary (1 score)
  • Pleasure Ridge Park High (62 score)
  • Ramsey Middle (8 score)
  • Rangeland Elementary (1 score)
  • Frost Sixth Grade Academy (4 scores)
  • Roosevelt Perry Elementary (1 score)
  • Seneca High (71 scores)
  • Southern High (72 scores)
  • St. Matthews Elementary (1 score)
  • Stuart Middle (19 scores)
  • Shawnee High (53 scores)
  • Thomas Jefferson Middle (35 scores)
  • Tully Elementary (1 score)
  • Valley High (119 scores)
  • Waggener High (61 scores)
  • Watson Lane Elementary (2 scores)
  • Wellington Elementary (1 score)
  • Western High (129 scores)
  • Western Middle (5 scores)
  • Westport Middle (18 scores)

A WDRB News analysis of those 62 schools show that exactly half -- 31 schools -- met their accountability goals this year, while the other half did not.

However, it appears that only two schools -- Fern Creek and Southern High -- could have exited priority status and thus shed the “persistently low-achieving” label.

Over the past five years, 18 schools in Jefferson County have been identified as priority schools for having chronically low test scores.

Dena Dossett, the director of planning for JCPS, told WDRB News on Saturday that the district believes Fern Creek will still be able to exit priority status, even if the state does count the track back students to the school.

"We have found some errors in our data cleanup that we think once cleared up by the state will lead to some good news at Fern Creek," she said. 

DATA | You can find information about your child's school here

COLUMN | Why it's important to look beyond test scores

RELATED | New rankings show success, struggle at Kentucky's public schools

RELATED | JCPS student test scores decline, statewide scores remain flat

RELATED | Hardin and Bullitt County schools showing progress; Oldham Co. still a top district

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

Copyright 2015 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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