The release this week of the results of Kentucky’s new assessment system for schools brought results to Floyd County that are quite different than the results of assessment in past years.
However, the results also come after changes in the district, some of which were sparked by an investigation by the Kentucky Department of Education and allegations by KDE of testing improprieties by district personnel in past years.
A KDE audit issued in August 2018 uncovered numerous violations of state regulations concerning special needs education between 2014 and 2016, and uncovered “inappropriate state assessment practices” and other concerns that impacted students of all abilities throughout the district.
“Assessment tools and strategies applied by the district were not used for determining the educational needs of students,” the audit said. “Rather, special education was sought as a substitute for appropriate instruction so that accommodations could be used during statewide testing in the district.”
Another KDE report, issued this spring, highlighted evidence that staff at Betsy Layne Elementary “deliberately altered student exams and provided inappropriate assistance to students in order to improve achievement scores.”
Personnel actions taken after the audit
After the KDE investigation into testing practices at BLES, district officials reported that four certified staff were suspended, including BLES Principal John Kidd, BLES assistant Principal Rebecca Ratliff, BLES teacher Jordan Kidd and former District Chief Academic Officer Tonya Williams.
The Floyd County Board of Education has reported the firing of one certified staff member because of issues highlighted by the KDE. When asked this week whether actions were taken against other staff members because of the issues in the report, Floyd Schools Superintendent Danny Adkins said, “What I can say about that is the four folks that were identified, three of them were at Betsy Layne and one of them was at central office, that are no longer employed by us.”
John Kidd was fired on May 24, Jordan Kidd received a letter of nonrenewal from the district in July, Ratliff resigned on Aug. 1 and Williams retired on Aug. 1. It appears that none of these officials had physically worked in the district since suspensions were reported in May.
Since the audit findings were reported by the Floyd County Chronicle and Times in August 2018, numerous personnel changes have taken place in the district. Since August 2018, the board of education reported resignations for eight teachers at Duff-Allen Central, six teachers at Allen Elementary, four teachers at Betsy Layne High School and three teachers at Prestonsburg Elementary, among others teacher resignations and numerous transfers in the district.
Since last August, new principals and assistant principals have been hired at South Floyd, Prestonsburg Elementary, Adams Middle and Betsy Layne Elementary and new assistant principals have also been hired at Betsy Layne High School and Allen Elementary.
The district also underwent a reorganization of staff in the central office as well.
Adkins has repeatedly emphasized that the school district is no longer using state assessment performance as a measure of good instruction in schools.
In regards to violations issued in the audit and report, Adkins said, “To us, it’s in the past now. We’re moving forward.”
Some former ‘Schools of
Distinction’ are now low performers
In 2011, Floyd County Schools was a “Needs Improvement” district but, as previously reported in the Floyd County Chronicle and Times, the district’s test scores improved as the number of students who needed an IEP, or Individual Education Plan, increased.
The district was named a “District of Distinction” following state assessments in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 — the last year the KDE ranked schools in that manner. That year, Floyd County Schools ranked as the 6th top-performing school district in the state, district officials announced, and Allen Elementary, Betsy Layne Elementary, the former James A. Duff Elementary, John M. Stumbo Elementary, May Valley Elementary, Prestonsburg Elementary, Allen Elementary Middle Grades, Betsy Layne Elementary Middle Grades, the former Allen Central Middle, Adams Middle, John M. Stumbo Middle Grades and South Floyd Middle Grades were each individually honored as a “School of Distinction.”
This year, under the new state assessment — which combines test results with other factors like growth and transition readiness — Floyd County Schools earned two out of five stars. No Floyd County school was recognized as among the best in the state, as district schools have previously been recognized.
Proficiency at all three county high schools were ranked “very low” by the KDE, and only four schools were each recognized as having “high” proficiency: May Valley Elementary, Duff-Allen Central Middle, John M. Stumbo Middle and South Floyd Middle. These schools were also recognized as a “School of Distinction” in 2016.
In the new system, proficiency was rated “low” at Betsy Layne Elementary and its middle grades, Duff-Allen Central Elementary, Prestonsburg Elementary and Adams Middle, and all of these schools either earned the “School of Distinction” or are made up of schools that earned that honor in 2016.
Also, three schools that either earned a “School of Distinction” honor or were consolidated from schools that previously held that honor in 2016 — earned only one star in the new system.
According to the results, at every grade level, the number of students scoring proficient/distinguished on state tests decreased over the past year, as did the number of special needs students who scored proficient/distinguished, and the largest decreases were recorded in the elementary grades — where most of the principal and assistant principal changes in the district have taken place over the past year.
In elementary grades, the percentage of special needs students scoring proficient/distinguished in reading dropped from 68.5 percent to 41.6 percent, while the proficiency rating in math dropped from 71 percent in 2017-2018 to 27 percent this year.
In middle school grades, the number of special needs students scoring proficient/distinguished dropped from 61.3 percent to 32.7 percent in reading and from 57.4 percent to 22.4 percent in math.
In high school grades, the number of special needs students scoring proficient/distinguished dropped from 14.1 percent in 2017-2018 to 8.7 percent in 2019 in reading. High school math proficiency increased from 13.9 percent to 14.9 percent in the special needs classes.
During the same time period, the number of students who scored “novice,” or what KDE Commissioner Wayne Lewis described as students who have “little to no understanding” of subjects, increased dramatically. And, again, the most significant changes were at the elementary school level, where most of the administrative changes took place over the past year.
In elementary schools, for example, the percentage of students who scored novice nearly doubled over the past year from 8.6 percent to 17.4 percent in reading; from 11 percent to 23.2 percent in math and from 9 percent to 16.9 percent in science. The percentage of elementary students who scored novice was nearly six times greater in social studies, which increased from 2.4 percent to 14.2 percent over the past year; and nearly five times greater in science, which increased from 5.5 percent to 27.4 percent in writing.
The percentage of students scoring novice also increased over the past year in the middle school grades in Floyd County, but that increase wasn’t as significant. The percentage of novice in reading, for example, increased by about 5.5 percent, while the percentage of middle school students scoring novice in math increased from 9.7 percent to 14.3 percent.
High schools recorded the highest number of students scoring novice in key subject areas in the county. The percentages of high school students scoring novice this year are 43.1 percent in reading, 45.9 percent in math, 21.5 percent in science and 21 percent in writing. The novice scores of high school students in science (21.5 percent) is the only novice scores that decreased over the past year, according to the data.
The data also shows that the percentage of Floyd County high school students scoring novice is higher than the number of students who scored proficient/distinguished in reading, math and science. In all other grade levels, the percentage of proficient/distinguished scores is higher than the novice scores.
A starting point
Adkins said the district will use the results from the state assessment as a “starting point” for growth.
“What I can tell you about our test scores is that we use this data as a starting point and we will focus on where we were lacking and we feel like we’re lacking, obviously, in math,” he said. “We have some issues across the county in math and we also have some issues in high schools with transition readiness. So, we’re going to use this data. We’re going to use it to get better.”
He would not directly answer questions, however, about whether the drop in special needs proficiency or the increase in novice scores in Floyd County is in any way connected to the KDE audit reports and changes that have taken place since they were released.
“I really can’t answer that. To me, that would be speculation, so,” he said.
Adkins said, however, that the scores are not the whole story of what’s going on in the schools.
“I feel like the scores that we have received this year are not indicative of what’s going on in our classrooms in our schools,” he said. “I feel like instructionally, we’re much better than the scores that we received.”
Adkins said the atmosphere in county schools was “fairly toxic” during the testing cycle last year.