Brian Gong of the Center for Assessment leads a discussion with a panel of educators and other stakeholders whose recommendations were used to define the parameters of Kentucky’s new 5-star accountability system. Photo by Mike Marsee, Sept. 5, 2019

Brian Gong of the Center for Assessment leads a discussion with a panel of educators and other stakeholders whose recommendations were used to define the parameters of Kentucky’s new 5-star accountability system.
Photo by Mike Marsee, Sept. 5, 2019

  • KDE Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims said the process was both very transparent and very effective.

By Mike Marsee

The curtain is about to go up on Kentucky’s new 5-star school accountability system, and a panel convened by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has completed the work that will help set the standards for how schools and districts will be classified when the system goes live. The panel’s recommendations that set the standards for the system have been approved by Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis.

The panel – consisting of 23 district and school administrators, teachers, members of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), parent representatives and members of the business civil rights communities – considered the criteria for classifications within the system during 2 1/2 days of discussion in Frankfort.

In meetings that concluded Sept. 5, the panel established performance descriptions for each of the indicators that helped them determine how schools will be classified. It also set cut scores for the star ratings that will be assigned to schools and for the six individual indicators that combine to determine the overall rating.

“I’m thankful for the sacrifice of time and commitment of the panel members, and I believe the recommendations were thoughtful and sensible,” Lewis said. “This may be the first time KDE has engaged such a broad group of stakeholders for a process like this. I was happy to approve the recommendations without change.”

The ratings of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) stars will be available on the Kentucky School Report Card when the rating system debuts with the release of accountability data from the 2018-2019 school year.

Rhonda Sims, the associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Standards, Assessment and Accountability, said it was important that the process of setting the star ratings be transparent because of the impact it will have on Kentucky schools.

“The process was very transparent and very effective,” Sims said. “It allowed opportunities not only for individuals to enter information based on their decisions, but also to talk about it as a group and react to it. The process worked and people seemed to be positive about it.”

Brian Gong of the Center for Assessment, which facilitated the systematic process, said the level of discourse strengthened that process. Participants engaged in thoughtful decision-making individually, in small groups and in whole-group discussions. Each participant had a voice of equal weight.

“The process was to elicit value judgments that are very informed by people’s backgrounds and their understanding of the accountability processes, and that was very successful,” Gong said. “The department assembled a very diverse and competent panel, and I think the questions that came up could only come from a group that was diverse. When the recommendations come to the commissioner, he can be assured that people asked hard questions about it.”

There will be no requirement for a specific percentage of schools to be at any star rating. In fact, the percentage of schools projected to be rated at the 1-star and 5-star levels based on data from the 2018-2019 school year is likely to be relatively low.

“I didn’t hear anyone say, ‘How many schools should be at 5-star, 4-star, et cetera,” Gong said. “Instead, I heard people saying, ‘What does good performance look like? What should we expect a 5-star school to do?’ They really took that opportunity and ran with it.”

Kentucky has been working with the U.S. Department of Education to align the new accountability system with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The system does not rely solely on state tests, instead using six accountability indicators:

  • Reading and math proficiency
  • Proficiency in social studies, science and writing
  • Student growth
  • Transition readiness
  • Graduation
  • Quality of school climate and safety (which will be implemented with data from the2019-2020 school year).

The system has students at its center – ensuring that they are well-rounded, transition-ready and prepared with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful after high school graduation.

“All of the components that yield data for how students are performing, what kind of achievement students are having, all of that comes together to help establish the star rating,” Sims said. “All the pieces of the system are important. The bigger picture of a school is what gets reflected in those measures.”

The 5-star rating system is designed to focus attention on the need to close achievement gaps, or the difference in levels of academic achievement between specific groups of students. A school or district that would be classified as 5- or 4-star will be reduced by one star if it has one or more statistically significant achievement gaps between the performances of groups of students.

The star ratings will have no effect on funding for schools or districts. No funding will be withheld from schools or districts that do not rate highly; rather, the lowest-performing schools receive extra funding and support from KDE to help implement research-based strategies that will increase achievement for its students.

Gary Houchens, a KBE member who served on the panel, said the creation and implementation of the system should be viewed as a starting point for discussions about improving schools.

“I think it’s important that we reshape the conversation statewide, and particularly in our local communities, about what these ratings mean,” he said. “This is the beginning of a conversation, not the end. When we talk about this with our constituents, we should encourage teachers to dig into this data, to use this as a starting point to see what is going on in our schools.”

“We want schools to use these ratings to start a conversation within their local communities about what schools are doing well and where they need to grow. Some of those details are sometimes hidden in the overall star rating, but everyone should go to the report card to see what it means to be rated.”

Members of the panel included:

  • Hal Heiner, chair, Kentucky Board of Education
  • Gary Houchens, member, Kentucky Board of Education
  • Danny Adkins, superintendent, Floyd County schools
  • Paul Mullins, superintendent, Logan County schools
  • Marty Pollio, superintendent / Dena Dossett, chief executive director, accountability systems, research and improvement division, Jefferson County schools
  • Diane Hatchett, superintendent, Berea Independent schools
  • Scott Hawkins, superintendent, Woodford County schools
  • Aaron Collins, superintendent, Fulton County schools
  • Teresa Nicholas, district assessment coordinator, Pulaski County schools
  • Amanda Reed, district assessment coordinator, LaRue County schools
  • Stephen Flatt, director of special education, Marshall County schools
  • Jerri Rowland, principal, Monroe County Area Technology Center
  • Susan Brashear, principal, Whitley Central Intermediate School
  • Amy Lingo, dean, College of Education, University of Louisville
  • Amy Razor, executive director, Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services
  • Rhonda Caldwell, executive director, Kentucky Association of School Administrators
  • Melissa Aguilar, executive director, Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board
  • Rhonda Harmon, executive director, KASC
  • Annissa Franklin, chief administrative officer, Urban League of Lexington
  • Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, chief operating officer, Greater Louisville Inc.
  • Penny Christian, parent, member of Kentucky PTA
  • Margo Bruce, teacher, Webster County High School
  • Amanda Underwood, teacher, Mason County Middle School