By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Results for the state's new assessment and accountability system, Unbridled Learning, came in Thursday morning, but the numbers are embargoed until Oct. 29, Randy Peffer, Madison County Schools chief academic officer, told the board Thursday night.
“Today is the day that most of the schools have been waiting on since last Spring,” he said.
Although he was not permitted to share the scores with the board or media, Peffer said he wanted to forewarn the members of drastic changes in the scoring system. (A more thorough examination of the new system will be featured in an upcoming Register).
“Scores that used to be in the 100s, are now going to be in the 50s and 60s — not because of any decrease in achievement, it's just a different way they've kept score,” he said.
Peffer has used this explanation: “Currently in football, you get seven points for a touchdown and three points for a field goal. [But with the new scoring in the accountability system], a touchdown would be worth three points and a field goal worth one point. The scores are going to look completely different when you see them in the newspapers, but that doesn't mean the flow of the game changed, just the scorekeeping mechanism.”
The scores of elementary, middle and high schools are all figured differently, he said.
For elementary schools, 30 percent of their score is based on “achievement,” or how well students perform on the K-PREP tests (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress) that are administered during the last 14 instructional days of the school year.
The schools are given zero points for a “novice” score, a half a point for an “apprentice” score and a full point for a “proficient” or “distinguished” score.
However, in the past, a school's score was determined only by the results of these tests, Peffer said.
The new system adds two components — “gap” and “growth,” which account for 30 percent and 40 percent of the total elementary school score, respectively.
The “gap” component is measured by how many students achieve “proficient” or “distinguished” and are either a minority, receive free or reduced lunch, receive special education or are English Language Learners (students who have not mastered the English language because they are new to the country), he said.
“The last part of the elementary score is growth, and that's the part that really excites me the most,” he said. “That's measuring how well we as a school are helping kids grow academically, based upon where they started and where they need to go.”
Middle schools also will be scored on these three components (each worth 28 percent of the score), but 16 percent of the score is based on “college and career readiness,” Peffer said.
When eighth-graders take the EXPLORE test — part of an ACT series of tests called EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) — their “college and career readiness” score will be based on the percentage of students who meet the benchmarks in reading, mathematics and English.
High school students are deemed “college ready” if they meet the ACT benchmarks. But, students are deemed “career ready” by passing the ASVAB (military assessment test), attaining an industry-recognized certificate in a vocational field, or by taking the ACT WorkKeys, a job skills assessment system that measures foundational and soft skills, according to the ACT website.
Later in the meeting, board chair Mona Isaacs asked about the different career-ready certificates available to students, such as the already established nursing certificate.
A board work session has been scheduled to discuss career-ready options for students, including a possible real estate certification.
“Seniors may start working on a real estate license so when they graduate high school, they are prepared to take the licensing test,” said Peffer, who will find out in the next couple months if the district was awarded a grant to fund the program.
A “graduation rate” component is added for high schools’ assessments so all five sections will each account for 20 percent of a school’s total score.
The Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate is determined by the percent of students that entered as freshman that graduated in four years.
There are changes in the state’s standards of proficiency as well.
“In the past, there was a high percentage of students reaching proficiency on the state assessment, but when they took the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT (nationwide tests), the percentage of kids reaching proficiency was no where close to the number of kids who were meeting the benchmark,” Peffer said. “There was an over-inflation of students meeting proficiency.”
The new Kentucky standards adopted last year has risen the bar for students to meet proficiency, he said, therefore the number of students meeting proficiency will drop.
“We want to make sure there is a continuum between proficiency on the state assessment and meeting the benchmarks on the ACT package,” he said.
Also in the past, schools could score between zero and 140. Now, schools may score between zero and 100.
After a final score is tallied for each school, they will be ranked from highest to lowest score, so each will fall into a percentile.
Schools in the 90th percentile and above are labeled “distinguished;” 70th to 89th percentile are “proficient;” and anything below 70th “needs improvement.”
“This is something that the public really needs to know about … We could be doing 69 percent better than all the other schools in the state, but still need improvement (based on the outcome of the year),” said board member Chris Hager. “You can have every school in the state do 400 percent better than last year and still have 70 percent of them ‘need improvement.’”
“This district has put a lot of effort into formative assessments throughout the year … we measure kids continuously in lots and lots of ways,” said Superintendent Tommy Floyd. “It doesn't matter where we get them when they come in the first day of school, but what did we do with them while they were here? … I know that's something that's been a long-standing point on this board. Now the assessment system will examine it.”
Peffer and Donna Caldwell, the district assessment coordinator, have prepared several video clips that will be posted once the score embargo is lifted. The videos will be located on the district’s website (www.madison.k12.ky.us) and broadcast on Channel 9 for parents to get a better understanding of the assessments.
USF/E-Rate consulting services contract
After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 5-0 to approve a consulting services contract.
The Universal Services Fund (USF) is a program of the federal government that gives the district significant discounts or funding assistance for technology-related purchases, such as wiring and telecommunications, said Marvin Welch, chief operations officer.
For several years, the district has received technical assistance through KEDC (Kentucky Education Development Corporation) and Steve Smith, a consultant who helps recoup some of the district’s technology expenses through the federal program, Welch said.
KEDC is going through some changes and will not be offering the same assistance it had in the past, he said, so he recommended continuing consulting services with Smith, who had since moved on to Lite the Nite Technologies. Smith’s services would cost the same daily rate as before.
Members of the board hesitated to make a motion on the recommendation.
“I think we probably need an explanation in detail as to what exactly — I know they are getting us funding back for the money we are spending on telecommunications,” Hager said. “This is a very specialized program that it takes quite a bit of knowledge to understand the ins and outs of the Act that was passed by Congress to give us this money.”
There are a lot of regulations and details when dealing with a federal program, Welch explained, and “the more a person is an expert (about the program), the more they’re going to know what you truly qualify for.”
Since 2008, the district has paid $73,000 for Smith’s consulting, he said. But, over that same period, the district was able to recover $3.7 million from USF with his help.
“That's less than two percent,” Welch continued. “To me, that seems like a very worthwhile payback on those extra services. We're getting a lot better discounts than if we weren't using the services of Mr. Smith.”
Board member John Lackey was still unconvinced.
“I saw that in your material, but ‘Lite the Nite’ sounds very quirky and flaky, frankly. I don’t know who they are,” Lackey said. “Maybe we can do it ourselves and save $73,000 — that’s what I want to know.”
Lite the Nite Technologies is an approved company on Kentucky Education Development Corporation’s bid list, Welch replied, and is the company Smith works for, “but we’re contracting directly through him.”
Floyd agreed using Smith would be the best way for the district to get a return on its money, especially for a school system “that’s bandwidth capabilities are bigger than that of the state that supplies it,” he said. “Our cabling is miles and miles of very capable bandwidth … USF has helped us with almost every bit of it.”
To maximize the district’s return, the board should hire “the same person, with the same ongoing relationship and the same knowledge of what we’re doing,” the superintendent said.
The board’s conversation brought up questions about the state providing these consulting services as opposed to a third-party consultant such as Smith.
“With a state that’s got 120 counties … with as much money we stand to gain back, you would think that we would have some portion of our state government that would be helping gain these funds back without having to go out to third parties,” Hager said.
“That's what concerned me,” Lackey said. “That 176 districts in the state — we're one of the larger ones — if they're hitting everyone of those for $50,000, that's a heck of a lot of money KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) can save us.”
Lackey asked Floyd if he could approach the KDE about the issue.
Technology director Charlene McGee interjected.
“Maybe I can shed some more light on this,” she said.
The state has just one USF liaison for the entire state, she explained, so it was “not likely” individual districts would get help.
“We just got $2.7 million that funded infrastructure in nine of our schools. We cannot do the initiatives in this district if we did not have the help of this program,” McGee said.
The money also takes care of server maintenance and provides several services, she continued. “It’s not just handing us money to buy more, it’s helping us to support the district.”
Board member Becky Coyle pointed out that the contract’s duration is one year, “so if something were to come available,” the district could entertain other options.
“It’s what we have to work with now,” Hager said. “But, if the state realizes that we're spending $73,000 over a five-year period, it would be a logical thing to have somebody hired in-house to take care of those things. And the people of Madison County would know that we're taking care of the nickels and dimes and they'll trust us with their dollars.”