LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools students’ test scores dropped in reading and math from elementary to high school compared to the prior year’s results, and Kentucky’s largest school district is now home to most of the lowest performing schools in the state, according to accountability results released Tuesday by the Kentucky Department of Education.

As the state rolls out a new five-star rating system to provide a snapshot of how schools and districts are performing, JCPS had the majority of one-star schools across Kentucky as part of a new five-star rating scale introduced by the state this year, with 49 JCPS schools given a single star out of 89 one-star schools across the state.

The new rating system is based on factors such as academic performance and growth, transition readiness and graduation rates and applied to schools and districts alike.

JCPS has been rated a two-star district in elementary, middle and high schools, one star less than Kentucky’s three-star average for districts at those levels throughout the state.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district’s performance on last year’s standardized tests and other academic indicators don’t necessarily match its efforts to lay a stronger foundation in improving achievement and outcomes for its students in the future.

“We’re no longer interested in short-termism here at JCPS,” he said during a Monday news conference at Cochran Elementary. “We want that long-term-impact change that will make a difference in the lives of children across all of our schools.”

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JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio discusses how Kentucky's largest school district performed in 2018-19 state assessments.

JCPS reading, math scores dip

While average reading and math test scores remained largely flat across the state, performance on 2018-19 assessments at JCPS lagged the prior year’s results in those key areas at the elementary, middle and high school levels on average.

K-PREP results show that 45.5% of JCPS elementary students scored proficient or better in reading last school year, down from 46.5% in 2017-18. In math, 39.7% of the district’s elementary students tested proficient or distinguished, a decline from the 41.3% who achieved those scores in the prior year.

At the middle school level, 49.7% of JCPS students scored proficient or better in reading and 35.2% of them reached those scores in math. Those proficiency rates are down from 51% and 37.8% in the 2017-18 reading and math scores, respectively.

Reading and math proficiency rates were lowest for JCPS high schoolers. In reading, 37.2% of JCPS high school students scored proficient or distinguished, and for math, the proficiency rate for district high schoolers was 30.5%. In exams administered in the 2017-18 school year, 38.9% of JCPS high school students scored proficient or distinguished in reading and 31.8% reached those scores in math.

Across Kentucky, proficiency rates generally held steady for elementary students in reading and math. Test scores show that 54.6% of elementary students scored proficient or better in reading for both the 2018-19 and 2017-18 school years while 48.8% showed proficiency in math on last year’s K-PREP test, a slight uptick from the 48.6% who reached proficient or distinguished in 2017-18.

Proficiency rates for middle school students throughout the state saw a slight year-to-year dip. Reading proficiency rates dropped slightly from 60% in 2017-18 to 59.6% last year while proficient and distinguished scores in math dropped 0.6% for middle schoolers, from 47% in 2017-18 to 46.4% last year.

That trend continued for Kentucky high schoolers. In reading, 44.5% scored proficient or better last year compared to 45.4% who reached those scores in 2017-18. In math, 35.3% scored proficient or distinguished last year, a 2.2% drop from the 37.5% who showed math proficiency in the prior year’s exams.

State assessments found that 64.8% of graduates at Kentucky high schools were ready to enter either colleges or workplaces. Transition readiness among JCPS graduates lagged the statewide average at 53.5%, though Pollio said he expects that number to improve to between 75% and 80% in the coming years thanks to the district’s Academies of Louisville program, which connects students in specific career paths and has gradually expanded to 14 schools since launching in the 2017-18 school year.

“We are expecting to see those sustained results and a big jump, once again, next year,” Pollio said, noting that schools in the Academies of Louisville showed significant gains in transition readiness, some of them in the double digits.

The district’s graduation rate also trailed the state average of 91.1% for four- and five-year graduates. JCPS had an 82.3% four-year graduation rate and an 83.5% rate for its five-year cohort for an average of 82.9%. That's up slightly from the 82.4% four- and five-year average for the 2017-18 school year.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis focused much of his attention on persistent novice scores that, for him, demonstrate an “academic emergency” for Kentucky students who have failed to grasp the basics of a given subject.

For Kentucky’s elementary students, 20.4% and 19% tested at novice levels in reading and math, respectively. In JCPS, 29.8% and 28.2% of the district’s youngest learners scored novice in reading and math, respectively.

“We have made very little progress in changing the number and the percentage of our students who score at the novice level,” Lewis said during a news conference Monday at KDE headquarters.

Novice scores are more prevalent among black and impoverished students, a point Lewis made to reporters Monday. Statewide, 40.2% of black elementary students and 26% of those elementary kids identified as economically disadvantaged scored novice in reading, for example.

“I’m very concerned about proficient and distinguished, and our goal continues to be to increase the number of students performing at the proficient and distinguished level,” Lewis said.

“But in terms of priorities, for me, I believe a first priority has to be decreasing the number and percentage of students that are in academic emergency, decreasing the number and percentage of students that demonstrate little to no understanding of the content at grade level.”

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Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis addresses 2018-19 testing results with media during a Sept. 30, 2019, news conference.

Most low-performing schools from JCPS

A year after 21 JCPS schools were among the 51 identified for comprehensive support and improvement, or CSI, as the lowest performing in the state, the district’s share of CSI schools shot up dramatically.

The district has 35 of the 50 CSI schools across the state based on last year’s assessments and other academic indicators, meaning JCPS has 70% of schools identified as the lowest performing in Kentucky. Schools land in CSI designation by being among the lowest 5% in academic performance or by having graduation rates below 80%.

JCPS schools identified as CSI are:

  • Atkinson Academy (bottom 5%)
  • Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Byck Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Camp Taylor Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Cane Run Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Engelhard Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Frayser Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Gilmore Lane Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Greenwood Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Jacob Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Kennedy Montessori Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • King Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Maupin Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • McFerran Preparatory Academy (bottom 5%)
  • Mill Creek Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Minors Lane Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Price Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Rangeland Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Roosevelt-Perry Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Shelby Traditional Academy (bottom 5%)
  • Trunnell Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Watson Lane Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Wellington Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Wheatley Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Young Elementary (bottom 5%)
  • Conway Middle (bottom 5%)
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North (bottom 5%)
  • Knight Middle (bottom 5%)
  • Newburg Middle (bottom 5%)
  • Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy (bottom 5%)
  • Stuart Academy (bottom 5%)
  • Thomas Jefferson Middle (bottom 5%)
  • Doss High (bottom 5%)
  • Iroquois High (bottom 5%, graduation rate)
  • The Academy @ Shawnee (bottom 5%, graduation rate)
  • Western High (bottom 5%, graduation rate)

Nine JCPS schools previously identified as CSI were able to exit that designation based on last year’s test scores and other factors: Cochran Elementary, Foster Traditional Academy, Frederick Law Olmsted Academy South, Johnsontown Road Elementary, Marion C. Moore School, Semple Elementary, H.B. Slaughter Elementary, Valley High School and Waggener High School.

 “We’re doing that right work with our CSI schools in our (Accelerated Improvement Schools) division,” Pollio said, noting that staff at AIS schools identified by JCPS received five extra days of training before school started this year. “… We believe we’ve set up the systems to support these schools.”

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Cochran Elementary students listen during a lesson in Chavon Aina's first-grade class on Sept. 30, 2019.

In fact, Cochran was recognized by Lewis in the first of what he hopes will be an annual recognition of schools that scored “very high” in academic growth and jumped at least 10 points in proficiency in testing.

Cochran was the only JCPS school on what KDE calls the Commissioner’s List, which recognizes 20 schools that met such growth criteria in last year’s assessments.

For Lewis, growth in elementary and middle schools are among the most important factors in looking at academic success because such measures cut across socioeconomic lines. Proficiency tends to correlate with the financial security of students’ families, he said, noting that’s why he wanted to recognize schools the demonstrated significant gains in growth.

But while some local schools showed enough growth to exit the status reserved for the lowest performing 5%, Lewis said the number of CSI schools from JCPS based on the latest round of assessments “absolutely” concerned him.

“Obviously Jefferson County accounts for a disproportionately large number of our students in Kentucky, but not so many that we should have that many of our schools whose performance is at the very bottom,” Lewis said.  

After negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education for approval of Kentucky’s education plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state agreed not to identify new schools for additional targeted support and improvement or targeted support and improvement, known as ATSI and TSI, respectively. The federal agency rejected a new, broader definition of TSI schools enacted by lawmakers in this year’s legislative session.

The only 11 schools identified as ATSI are those that did not meet requirements to exit last year’s designation as TSI schools, which totaled 418. Sixty-four of those were JCPS schools, and one year later, just Ballard High School and Seneca High School remain as ATSI schools.

Both JCPS schools made that list because students with disabilities performed at the same level as or below students at the bottom 5% of high schools.

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Cochran Elementary was one of nine from JCPS that exited CSI status based on 2018-19 testing results.

Star struck

The star-rating system is new to Kentucky school assessments this year, and half of all schools in the state received a three-star grade.

Lewis said a three-star designation should not be considered a negative for any school that gets it.

“A school that’s rated as a three-star school is at the very least a pretty good school,” he said, noting that his daughter’s school received three stars.

Still, some schools would have either gotten a four- or five-star rating but had a star deducted for having significant achievement gaps between groups of students based on factors like race, socioeconomic status or disability. Nine such JCPS schools lost a star due to academic gaps.

At many JCPS schools, Pollio said teachers and staff educate at-risk students who face significant challenges like trauma, poverty and homelessness. Such factors make it difficult to rate such learning environments on a one- to five-star scale, he said.

Based on his experience as an administrator and teacher at JCPS schools rated with a single star this year, Pollio said he would put the work of the faculties and staffs at those institutions against any school in the state.

“It is very difficult, challenging to put a label on a school to define the work that they are doing,” Pollio said.

Star ratings don’t always indicate the best fit for kids either. When looking at schools for his daughter as she entered kindergarten, Pollio said he was told that Hawthorne Elementary, a two-star school, wasn’t a school that should be under consideration.

But after touring the school and watching a third-grade class discussing math lessons in fluent Spanish, he knew he wanted his daughter to attend Hawthorne.

“Without a doubt test scores, accountability scores are important and an important piece of the puzzle,” he said. “But it’s one piece, and I would really encourage parents to go see the school, go to the open houses, talk to the principal, talk to teachers, and sometimes what you’ll see is staff members are doing incredible things at schools that might not be celebrated for four or five stars.”


Five Stars:

  • Greathouse/Shryock Traditional
  • J. Graham Brown School (elementary school)
  • Lowe Elementary
  • Norton Elementary
  • Barret Traditional Middle
  • J. Graham Brown School (middle school)
  • duPont Manual High

Four Stars:

  • Audubon Traditional Elementary
  • Bowen Elementary
  • Norton Commons Elementary
  • Wheeler Elementary
  • J. Graham Brown School (high school; reduced one star for black student achievement gap)
  • Louisville Male High

Three Stars:

  • Alex R. Kennedy Elementary
  • Auburndale Elementary
  • Bates Elementary
  • Bloom Elementary
  • Blue Lick Elementary
  • Brandeis Elementary (reduced one star for black student, disabled student, socioeconomic and English learner achievement gaps)
  • Carter Traditional Elementary
  • Chancey Elementary
  • Chenoweth Elementary
  • Cochran Elementary
  • Coral Ridge Elementary
  • Dunn Elementary (reduced one star for black student and socioeconomic achievement gaps)
  • Eisenhower Elementary
  • Farmer Elementary
  • Fern Creek Elementary
  • Field Elementary
  • Hartstern Elementary
  • Hazelwood Elementary
  • Hite Elementary
  • Indian Trail Elementary
  • Jeffersontown Elementary
  • Laukhuf Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts
  • Luhr Elementary
  • Medora Elementary
  • Middletown Elementary
  • Portland Elementary
  • Schaffner Traditional Elementary
  • St. Matthews Elementary
  • Stonestreet Elementary
  • Stopher Elementary (reduced one star for socioeconomic achievement gap)
  • Tully Elementary (reduced one star for disabled student achievement gap)
  • Wilder Elementary
  • Wilt Elementary
  • Crosby Middle
  • Farnsley Middle
  • Jefferson County Traditional Middle (reduced one star for disabled student achievement gap)
  • Johnson Traditional Middle
  • Meyzeek Middle (reduced one star for black student, multiethnic student, disabled student and socioeconomic achievement gaps)
  • Noe Middle (reduced one star for black student, disabled student, socioeconomic and English learner achievement gaps)
  • Atherton High (reduced one star for disabled student achievement gap)
  • Ballard High
  • Eastern High

Two Stars:

  • Blake Elementary
  • Cochrane Elementary
  • Crums Lane Elementary
  • Dixie Elementary
  • Fairdale Elementary
  • Foster Traditional Academy
  • Goldsmith Elementary
  • Gutermuth Elementary
  • Hawthorne Elementary
  • Johnsontown Road Elementary
  • Kenwood Elementary
  • Kerrick Elementary
  • Klondike Lane Elementary
  • Layne Elementary
  • Okolona Elementary
  • Rutherford Elementary
  • Sanders Elementary
  • Semple Elementary
  • Shacklette Elementary
  • Slaughter Elementary
  • Smyrna Elementary School
  • Watterson Elementary
  • Zachary Taylor Elementary
  • Carrithers Middle
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy South
  • Highland Middle
  • Kammerer Middle
  • Lassiter Middle
  • The Academy @ Shawnee (middle school)
  • Western Middle School for the Arts
  • Westport Middle
  • Butler Traditional High
  • Jeffersontown High

One Star:

  • Atkinson Academy
  • Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary
  • Byck Elementary
  • Camp Taylor Elementary
  • Cane Run Elementary
  • Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary
  • Engelhard Elementary
  • Frayser Elementary
  • Gilmore Lane Elementary
  • Greenwood Elementary
  • Jacob Elementary
  • Kennedy Montessori Elementary
  • King Elementary
  • Maupin Elementary
  • McFerran Preparatory Academy
  • Mill Creek Elementary
  • Minors Lane Elementary
  • Price Elementary
  • Rangeland Elementary
  • Roosevelt-Perry Elementary
  • Shelby Traditional Academy
  • Trunnell Elementary
  • Watson Lane Elementary
  • Wellington Elementary
  • Wheatley Elementary
  • Wilkerson Elementary School
  • Young Elementary
  • Conway Middle
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North
  • Knight Middle
  • Marion C. Moore School
  • Newburg Middle
  • Ramsey Middle
  • Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy
  • Stuart Academy
  • Thomas Jefferson Middle
  • Central High Magnet Career Academy
  • Doss High
  • Fairdale High
  • Fern Creek High
  • Iroquois High
  • Marion C. Moore School
  • Pleasure Ridge Park High
  • Seneca High
  • Southern High
  • The Academy @ Shawnee (high school)
  • Valley High
  • Waggener High
  • Western High

The statewide school report card, which includes assessment data for all Kentucky districts and schools, can be accessed by clicking here.

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