Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

September 30, 2011

Are districts closing the gap?

By LISA SIMPSON STRANGE
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Under Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) guidelines, all students in the state are expected to reach proficiency in reading and math.

The Kentucky Core Content Test (KCCT) Combined Reading/Mathematics Gap to Goal Comparison Report released by KDE on Tuesday shows how different categories or subpopulations of students in schools, differentiated by gender, ethnicity and financial or physical limitations, are performing toward achievement of the 100 percent proficiency goal.   

The report highlights performance for two years on KCCT in combined reading and math and shows whether the gap in student performance is closing or widening. Only groups with 10 or more students tested are reported, according to information provided on the KDE website.

Overall, the five area school districts had more subpopulations with closing gaps in performance than widening ones in the percent of students receiving proficient plus distinguished scores in reading and math. Individual school results within districts were more varied.

The state’s results showed closing gaps in seven subgroups and no change in three others compared to last year.



BARREN COUNTY

The Barren County School District received data on nine total subpopulations. Overall, eight groups showed closing gaps in performance. Only one, students with disabilities, had a widening gap.

The district’s elementaries were split on performance with Austin Tracy, Hiseville and North Jackson closing the gap in most or all of their subpopulations while Eastern, Park City, Red Cross and Temple Hill each had a majority of widening gaps.

Barren County Middle School closed performance gaps in all six of its subpopulations. Barren County High School had widening gaps in all six groups.

Superintendent Bo Matthews was perplexed by some of the Gap to Goal results at the elementary schools.

“I don’t want to get too bogged down into specific schools, but you look at Temple Hill. I’ll be honest with you. It makes me scratch my head a little bit when you see widening gaps when it’s been one of the consistently top-performing elementaries. I think what it is – that’s a particular assessment piece of data that looks specifically at a limited number of students,” he said.

Matthews praised Hiseville specifically for its positive results.

“If somebody needed a win, that’s a school that has gone through several changes in leadership and yet they’re able to get the desired result,” he said.

The performance at the middle school was also a celebration point, Matthews added.

“It’s almost as if the middle school is getting their turn. Finally, we’ve got multiple sets of data that say the middle school has got things really racheted up in rigor and relevance and they’re getting the data that we had hoped they would generate for the school,” he said.

Matthews questioned the accurateness of data for BCHS.

“I’m not convinced that is the ultimate grade we need to give the high school based on national and state recognition on AP, ACT and dual credit. When you have that kind of information coming in about your high school along with the magnet program that’s been implemented plus our college and career, I think you need to take all of this data in order to give us a grade on the score card,” he said.

But even though some schools didn’t meet goals, Matthews was still pleased with the results overall.

“When you factor in all populations, we’ve got to be happy about that. You have individual schools in the short term that appear to have widening gaps, but when you look at the overall district goals we seem to be headed in the right direction,” he said.



CAVERNA

The Caverna district overall is closing the gap in three subpopulations, had no change in three more and had a widening gap in one group.

Caverna Elementary School closed the gap in six groups. Only one subpopulation, students with disabilities, showed a widening gap.

The high school showed closing gaps in all seven subpopulations and had no groups with widening gaps.

Caverna Middle School had widening gaps in all seven measured subgroups compared to last year, however.

Superintendent Sam Dick was unavailable for comment.



GLASGOW

The Glasgow district closed gaps in five subpopulations, saw the gap widen in one group and had no change in four others. Half of the district’s four schools had fairly positive results, the other two had less successful outcomes.

South Green Elementary had one subpopulation where the gap was closing, but had six with widening gaps.

Highland Elementary showed groups with three closing gaps, three widening gaps and two with no change compared to last year.

Glasgow Middle School was the most successful district facility with all eight subpopulations showing closing gaps.

Glasgow High School showed widening gaps in all seven groups.

Sean Howard, Glasgow superintendent, said these results can provide an inaccurate assessment of a school.

“South Green is performing fairly well and then when you look at the Gap To Goal you’d be led to believe that it’s a failing school,” he said.

One has to take into account which populations are moving and in which direction, according to Howard.

“If our higher-performing students are continuing to improve and the ones at the lower end of the spectrum are not being pulled along at the same rate, that’s going to widen the gap and I’m OK with that. If your gap is closing because your higher-performing kids are stagnant and then there’s a big push at the bottom up, that’s good for the kids at the bottom. It’s not good for the higher kids, but you’re identified as closing the gap,” he said.

Howard said he still relies on certain key indicators as the measure for success of students.

“I still go back to in the end – when we look at ACT scores, when we look at college readiness – those are the things that are going to paint the clearest picture for us as to what we have done for our students from preschool through grade 12. And we’re not nearly where we want to be, not nearly where we need to be, but to me those are the clearest indicators of if your school district has been successful in educating the child,” he said.

The results at the high school should be an expected trend across the state, Howard said.

“The high school is always going to be the toughest beast when it comes to accountability,” he said.



METCALFE COUNTY

The Metcalfe district is closing the gap in all seven measured subpopulations and had no widening gaps overall. Four out of five schools had positive results in closing versus widening gaps in subpopulations.

Edmonton Elementary showed closing gaps in five groups and only one gap widening.

Both the high school and middle school also had five closing gaps and one widening gap.

Summer Shade Elementary had five groups with closing gaps and no widening gaps.

North Metcalfe Elementary was the only school showing widening gaps in all five subpopulations.

Regarding the gains made by schools in her district, Superintendent Patricia Hurt credits more educator training and involvement with student performance.

“All schools are doing more and more reading and math interventions, based on MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) data. Reading and math content is incorporated across all content areas. All teachers and administrators have received training in new math and reading standards,” she said.

A smaller, more variable group of students at North Metcalfe may have affected results there, according to Hurt.

“First of all, I will say that at NME we have a small student population and in this environment, one student can make a big difference (positive or negative) in test results. They also have a diverse population in grades 3-5 and the more diverse a population is the more diverse are the individual student needs,” she said.



MONROE COUNTY

The Monroe district closed the gap in eight out of nine populations overall with only the African American sub-population showing a widening gap.

Both the high school and middle school had good results. Monroe County High School closed the gap in six groups and had no widening gaps. Monroe County Middle School showed seven closing gaps and one widening gap.

All three elementaries showed less successful Gap to Goal results this year. At Gamaliel, all five subpopulations showed widening gaps. Joe Harrison Carter had three widening gaps, three with no change, and no closing gaps. Tompkinsville had one closing gap, four widening gaps and two with no change.

But Superintendent Lewis Carter had concerns about how the data was being presented.

“Monroe County is continually looking at ways to individualize student education - and have worked diligently to close gaps. I feel that you should examine the actual numbers included in this report instead of just looking at the gap comparison to get a true picture of what is being done here,” he said.

Even though this year’s report showed widening gaps in subpopulation performance, the individual schools still achieved percentages of proficient + distinguished students at higher levels than most other schools in the state, according to Carter.

“For the past five years the combined elementary school totals have been in the top five in the state, ranking as number four this year,” he said.

The size and make-up of the subpopulations should also be considered as a factor in data analysis.  

“As the scores rise, it becomes more and more difficult to close gaps that are tight with the numbers. Several of these subpopulations are based on groups of less than 15 children - and many of these fall into more than one subpopulation - meaning one child that did not perform as well as expected could possibly drop the scores in ethnicity, gender, disability and free/reduced,” he said.

Since different students are tested each year at each grade level, the comparisons between them will often show students at different performance levels.

“Yes, you will see score fluctuation from year to year as this measurement system measures different groups of children against others. The ‘gap’ score is a combined reading and math measurement - which measures last year’s class against this year’s class - and as educators, we know that groups of students are unique and individual,” Carter said.

Advances at MCMS and MCHS in closing gaps in performance for subpopulations was a welcome result.

“We are extremely pleased to see the high school and middle school making progress towards closing the gaps for all subpopulations and the general student body. We feel that with the continued intervention programming to put a ‘safety net’ into place for all students will feed these improvements,” Carter said.