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Good, Bad, Ugly: How NKY Schools Fared on ACT, State Tests

The Kentucky Department of Education on Wednesday released its 2017-18 student assessment results, identifying the lowest-performing schools and those struggling to meet the needs of specific groups of students.

The River City News gathered Northern Kentucky-centric data, noting the average ACT scores for each public high school and listing them below. Additionally, each public school in the region received a proficiency indicator based on results of state testing in math and reading. RCN has ranked each high school, middle school, and elementary school based on that rating below.

There are more data points available to the public, including an evaluation of college and career readiness, and others. A link to the full state data report can be found at the bottom of this article.

Further, The River City News collected comments from the superintendents in Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Ludlow, Newport, and Silver Grove to gain their perspective on the results. Their comments can also be found below.

KDE identified 51 schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), meaning they are in the bottom 5 percent of schools at their level (elementary, middle, or high) in the state or had a graduation rate below 80 percent.

“CSI schools are, by definition, the lowest performing schools in the state,” said Interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis. “Being on this list means that a significant shift must be undertaken to better address student learning. This is not about shaming schools, leaders, or teachers, but these schools can neither continue doing what they have always done, nor make only minor adjustments.”

CSI schools will receive state support in the current school year to help them improve.

Another 418 schools were identified for Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) as a result of having at least one student group performing as poorly as schools in the bottom 5 percent. Schools not identified as CSI or TSI are identified as “Other” this year.

Lewis, in a news release, said being identified as TSI allows schools to focus on raising achievement for groups of students who have been under-served, and may have previously been hidden by overall school achievement data.

“It is an imperative that we ensure every group of students is performing at high levels. We can’t leave groups of students behind,” he said. “This is a moral issue. Our expectation must be that all of our students can learn at high levels, regardless of income, gender, race/ethnicity, or disability status. It is schools’ responsibility to identify approaches, curricula, and strategies for meeting students’ needs. Our students and their families depend on it, and our Commonwealth depends on it.”

Lewis said while KDE will provide resources for TSI-designated schools to improve, ultimately it is the responsibility of schools and districts to use the accountability results to chart a course that continuously improves achievement for all their students.

Kentucky is in the process of phasing in a new accountability system which is scheduled to be fully implemented in the 2018-2019 school year and conforms to requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Senate Bill 1 (2017). Once implemented fully, school and district performance will be classified using Kentucky’s 5-star rating system.

Under this new system, accountability determinations are only made at the school level. Determinations are based on student performance on state assessments and other school quality indicators or measures, such as growth or graduation rate, depending on the grade level. Additionally, per Senate Bill 1 (2017), the new accountability system does not provide a single summative score that ranks schools against each other.

The assessment results released today show academic performance has remained largely flat in Kentucky public schools, including foundational subject areas like reading and mathematics. Achievement gaps persist for different groups of students, including students with learning disabilities, and students of color. Writing on-demand scores did make gains at the middle and high school levels.

“There are not a lot of positives here. For the past five years there has been virtually no movement. We are not improving,” Lewis said. “And achievement gaps between student populations continue to be incredibly disturbing.”

ACT scores, which are based on all public school juniors taking the test last spring, also mimicked a national downturn, with across the board performance declines in English, mathematics, reading and science.

Lewis said the results reinforce the KDE’s current efforts to address lagging student achievement in critical subject areas like reading and mathematics. For example, proposed graduation requirements would require students to demonstrate basic competency on 10th grade reading and mathematics assessments in order to earn a diploma.

“This is a daunting moment of truth for our state. We cannot lie to ourselves about what these scores mean any longer. While the data are sobering, it allows us to get an accurate picture of where our schools are and strengthens our conviction in what is needed in the months and years ahead,” Lewis said. “Instead of being discouraged, this is a call to action for schools, districts, educators, parents, students, and community and business leaders. We must take bold and immediate action for the benefit of our students.”

Meanwhile, Fort Thomas Independent Schools celebrate another banner year.

"These high scores illustrate how we can continue to excel on traditional assessment measures, while also ensuring all of our students are building the competencies in our Portrait of a Graduate," said Superintendent Karen Cheser. "We continue to be proud of and excited for our achievements throughout the district. These scores are a direct reflection of the commitment, dedication and expertise of our world-class teachers."

Areas where Fort Thomas was dominant:

Highlands High School
1st in Northern KY in Reading
2nd in State in Reading
3rd in State in Math
2nd in Northern KY in Math
3rd in State in Proficiency (combined Reading & Math)
Highlands Middle School
1st in State in Math
1st in Northern KY in Reading
2nd in State in Proficiency (combined Reading & Math)
1st in Northern KY in Separate Academic Indicator (combined Science, Social Studies, & Writing)
3rd in State in Reading
2nd in State in Science
Woodfill Elementary School
1st in Northern KY in Reading
Moyer Elementary School
1st in Northern KY in Math
Johnson Elementary School
1st in Northern KY in Growth Indicator
1st in Northern KY in Science
1st in Northern KY in Writing
All Elementary Schools (Woodfill, Moyer, & Johnson - combined)
1st in Northern KY in Proficiency (combined Reading & Math)
1st in Northern KY in Separate Academic Indicator (combined Science, Social Studies, & Writing)
1st in State in Separate Academic Indicator (combined Science, Social Studies, & Writing)

Analysis of Northern Kentucky Results

There are the usual bright spots in Northern Kentucky's results: Beechwood and Highlands are again among the top-scoring high schools for ACT averages and their respective districts, Beechwood Independent and Fort Thomas Independent, are among the highest-scoring on the state assessments. 

Beechwood's 25.3 average ACT score and Highlands's 24.1 were only bested by DuPont Manual's 27.1 (it's a traditionally high-performing school in Louisville).

On the other hands, Silver Grove High School ranked among the worst districts in the state - by far - and the high school's average ACT score was the second-lowest in all of Kentucky, a paltry 14.4 composite average, and just a tenth of a point better than Louisville Iroquois, which was last.

Still, Silver Grove superintendent Dennis Maines struck an optimistic tone.

"Two years ago we set forth to reduce novice and increase proficiency. In many of our areas of accountability, we have successfully demonstrated that goal," Maines said. "In fact, our elementary reduced its novice in reading by 26.1 percent and increased proficiency by 24.1 percent. As well, our elementary math significantly decreased novice by 43.4 percent and increased its proficiency by 14.8 percent. 

"Additionally, we are very proud of the performance of our students with disabilities. We are confident that the evidence-based programs we have implemented will continue to keep our data moving in the right direction for our students."

Newport Independent Schools also received poor notices, with all three being placed in the new Comprehensive School Improvement category, meaning they rank in the bottom 5 percent of elementary, middle, and high schools.

"Our district is small. The intermediate school was put in that category by .06 points. But because it is a feeder school, it put the primary into that category too," said Newport superintendent Kelly Middleton. "Then the middle school was just barely into that category, and since it is housed with the high school, the high school was then categorized with the middle school, even though it was classified as 'other'.   

"We had anticipated that this might happen, so we started in the summer to institute three main strategies. The first was to assign a liaison from my office to each school to help with day-to-day problems. The second was to have walk-throughs by my administration and myself, observing the classes. And the third is a list of non-negotiable standards that we want to see consistently in the classroom."
Middleton noted that the intermediate school has had three different principals in three years, and that each school in the district suffered from high turnover of teachers and students. "We also have over 40 percent free and reduced lunch students, and a high homeless population. It is difficult for children to concentrate on studies if their home life is in disarray," Middleton said. "But even though our grade configuration hurt us, we are discouraged, but we plan to get out of this classification quickly. We are off to the best start in seven years, and if our people don't get discouraged and back off, we are hoping to take advantage of the good start and keep going upward."
For Covington, Glenn O. Swing continues to be a bright spot. It is the top-performing urban elementary school in Northern Kentucky, and ranked thirteenth in the region out of more than sixty in its proficiency indicator (state reading and math tests results).
But Holmes High School's ACT average dropped to a dismal 16.6, one of the lowest average scores in the state.
Additionally, Holmes Middle School was identified among the Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools for ranking in the bottom 5 percent statewide. Meanwhile, Ninth District Elementary was the lowest-scoring elementary in Northern Kentucky in the proficiency indicator.
"Globally, we have mixed results," Covington superintendent Alvin Garrison said. "We have three schools that continue to make outstanding marks, but at the same time, we still have work to do in our other schools. With the new accountability system, we know it will take time to make adjustments."
Bellevue Independent Schools saw mixed results on ACT and state test rankings, but scored a perfect 100 percent on its 4-year graduation cohort.
"Like always, we combine these test results with all the other pieces of information and assessments we receive through the year that combine to create portraits or profiles of our students, so they can have a better experience," said Bellevue superintendent Robb Smith. "Overall, we were very pleased with the scores."
Smith noted that in grades 3 through 8, Bellevue students decreased novice levels in reading and math, and increased proficient and distinguished ratings in all but one level.
"We are very happy with the growth," Smith said.
"One of things we have emphasized has been writing, and that showed across the board. Sixty -four percent of our juniors scored distinguished or proficient on their On Demand Writing and only 6 percent scored novice, so that is a great improvement," Smith said. "Bellevue is an outstanding place for kids to be. The growth in the last few years is a testament to our teachers. Our instruction is as strong as it's ever been, and we are looking forward to our testing results in the spring of 2019."
Dayton Independent Schools' growth was very good, Superintendent Jay Brewer said. He noted that Dayton High School had the second-highest score in the Transition/Readiness category, which evaluates college and career-readiness.
Dayton scored 82.9 in that category, with the highest possible score being 125, tying the score from Highlands. Only Beechwood had a higher rating at 93.4.
"We are proud of the continued growth of our students," Brewer said.
Ludlow Independent Schools superintendent Michael Borchers noted that the district has areas where it needs to improve to prepare students for college and careers. He also highlighted Ludlow High School's ACT composite average of 19.8.
"As we transition to the new state accountability system, we are analyzing each school’s assessment scores to enhance our academic programs. We’ve made some great strides in each school but have areas where we need to improve so that all of our students will be transition ready upon graduation," Borchers said. "We are extremely happy to have an overall ACT composite score that ranks Ludlow High School in the top 25 percent of the state."
Kenton County Schools issued a statement about the results.
"KCSD is committed to providing high quality instruction to all students and once again the 2018 state assessment indicates that our amazing students are performing among the best in Kentucky," said district spokesperson Jessica Dykes.
The district highlighted its #27 ranking out of 173 districts for elementary student proficiency. White's Tower ranked #42 out of 722, the district's highest.
Kenton County also noted areas where improvement is needed.

"Through the Comprehensive District Improvement Plan (CDIP) the KCSD will develop and implement specific strategies to address Tier I instruction while focusing on the performance of students in the gap group," Dykes said. "Additionally, while the graduation rate grew to 93 percent in 2018 from 91.7 percent in 2017 it is still an area of district-wide focus as we work to ensure that every Kenton County student graduates Transition Ready. Lastly, this work will address any schools that may be labeled under the new accountability model as Targeted Support for Improvement (TSI) which is a result of a subgroup in a school not meeting cut scores adopted by the state board of education."

 Comprehensive Support and Improvement

A school is identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) if it meets any one of the following categories:

• CSI I: Bottom 5 percent of Title I or non-Title I schools (by level – elementary, middle, or high):

• CSI II: Less than an 80 percent graduation rate for Title I or non-Title I high schools

Beginning in 2021-2022:

• CSI III: Title I or non-Title I schools previously identified for Tier II Targeted Support for at least 3 years and have not exited.

Of the 51 schools identified as CSI, 33 are elementary schools, 12 are middle schools and six are high schools.

Local schools that rated as CSI include Rector A. Jones Middle School (Boone County), Holmes Middle (Covington), Newport Primary, Newport Middle, and Newport High School (Newport), Silver Grove Elementary, and Silver Grove High School. All but Silver Grove High School received the rating for ranking in the bottom 5 percent of their levels. Silver Grove High School was rated CSI for having a graduation rate below 80 percent.

Targeted Support and Improvement

A school is identified for Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) if it meets the following criteria:

• Tier II Targeted Support – Low performing Subgroup(s): One or more student groups performing as poorly as all students in any lowest performing 5 percent of Title I schools or non-Title I schools (by level – elementary, middle or high school) based on school performance.

Beginning in 2020-2021:

• Tier I Targeted Support (Early Warning): Consistently Underperforming Subgroup(s): One or more student groups performing as poorly as all students in any of the lowest performing 10% of Title I schools or non-Title I schools (by level – elementary, middle or high school) based on school performance for two consecutive years.

Northern Kentucky Schools rated as TSI (with reason/group of students impacted):

Beechwood Ind.
Beechwood Elementary (Hispanic)
Bellevue Ind.

Grandview Elementary (Free/reduced price meals)

Boone County

Boone County High School (disability)

Camp Ernst Middle School (disability)

Chester Goodridge Elementary (disability)

Conner High School (disability)

Florence Elementary (disability)

Gray Middle School (disability)

Hillard Collins Elementary (African-American)

Ryle High School (disability)

New Haven Elementary (disability)

North Pointe Elementary (disability)

Ockermann Middle School (disability)

Cooper High School (disability)

Shirley Mann Elementary (disability)

Stephens Elementary (disability)

Campbell County

Campbell County Middle School (disability)

Campbell Ridge Elementary (disability)

Crossroads Elementary (disability)

Cline Elementary (disability)

Covington Ind.

Holmes High School (Hispanic; English Learners plus Monitored; disability)

Ninth District Elementary (African-American)

Sixth District Elementary (African-American)

Dayton Ind.

Lincoln Elementary (disability)

Erlanger-Elsmere Ind.

Arnett Elementary (Free/reduced price meals)

Lloyd High School (English Learners plus Monitored; disability)

Tichenor Middle School (Hispanic; disability)

Fort Thomas Ind.

Highlands Middle School (disability)

Gallatin County

Gallatin Co. High School (English Learners plus Monitored; disability)

Gallatin Co. Lower Elementary (Hispanic)

Gallatin Co. Middle School (disability)

Gallatin Co. Upper Elementary (Hispanic)

Grant County

Dry Ridge Elementary (disability)

Grant Co. High School (disability)

Grant Co. Middle School (disability)

Kenton County

Dixie Heights High School (English Learners plus Monitored; disability)

Kenton Elementary (disability)

Piner Elementary (disability)

River Ridge Elementary (disability)

Ryland Heights Elementary (disability)

Scott High School (disability)

Simon Kenton High School (disability)

Summit View Academy Elementary (disability)

Summit View Academy Middle School (disability)

Taylor Mill Elementary (disability)

Turkey Foot Middle School (disability)

Twenhofel Middle School (disability)

Woodland Middle School (disability)

Ludlow Ind.

Mary A. Goetz Elementary (disability)

Pendleton County

Northern Elementary (disability)

Pendleton Co. (disability)

Southern Elementary (disability)

ACT SCORES - COMPOSITE AVERAGES (36 is the highest possible score)

Beechwood Ind.

Beechwood - 25.3

This makes Beechwood one of the top-scoring high schools in the state. This is the second straight year that the school has averaged 25.3 and fourth straight with an average above 25.

Bellevue Ind.

Bellevue - 18.6

Bellevue has scored between 18 and 19 for most of the school years between 2011-12 and now, though this year marks a 0.5 point decline from last year's average of 19.1

Boone County

District average - 20.7

This marks the eighth straight years that the entire district has averaged over a 20 composite ACT score.

Cooper- 20.8

Cooper's average score was below 21 for the first time since 2011-12.

Boone County - 18.8

BCHS's average score was down from last year's 20.2 and marks the lowest ACT composite average for the school in the ten years of data provided by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Conner- 20.9

Down slightly from last year's 21.1 average, but this year represents the eighth straight for Conner with an average ACT score at or above 20.6.

Ryle- 21.9

Ryle led the district in ACT average, though it was down slightly from last year's 22.2. The school has averaged above a 21 average since 2009-10.

Campbell County

District average - 20.6

Campbell County- 20.7

Campbell County High School represents most of the district's ACT results, or 344 of the 350 reported. This year marks the end of four straight in which the school averaged above a 21 on the ACT. Last year, the school averaged 21.8.

Covington Ind.

District average- 16.6

Holmes- 16.6

Holmes represents the bulk of Covington Independent's results, or 177 of 181. The school continues to rank among the worst in Kentucky for ACT averages, and this year actually marks a decline. Last year, the school averaged 17.1. The high point for Holmes in the past ten years was a 17.2 average score in 2015-16.

Dayton Ind.

District average- 19

Dayton- 19

Dayton High School represents the bulk of the district's results, or 54 of 56 ACT reports. Last year, the district averaged 20.3, its first over 20 but this year comes in a full point lower with its lowest average since a 17.8 was recorded in 2013-14 and again in 2014-15.

Erlanger-Elsmere Ind.

District average- 18.4

This score marks the district's lowest average ACT score in the past ten years and is nearly a full point below last year's 19.3 average.

Lloyd- 18.6

Lloyd represents the bulk of Erlanger-Elsmere's reports, or 158 of 166 students who took the test. Like the district overall, this year's score is its lowest of the past ten years, and down from last year's 19.3.

Fort Thomas Ind.

Highlands- 24.1

Highlands consistently ranks among the top schools in Kentucky and turns in its fourth straight year with an average score above 24, though this year's average actually represents a slight drop from last year's 24.3.

Gallatin County

Gallatin Co.- 17.2

Gallatin recorded a 1.7-point drop in its average from last year's 18.9. This year marks further decline from the 19.7 recorded in 2015-16.

Grant County

Grant Co. - 18.1

The score this year is down from last year's 18.6, but marks seven straight with an average above 18.

Kenton County

District average- 20.5

Down from last year's district-wide average of 21.1 but this is the fifth straight year with an average above 20.

Dixie Heights- 20.7

This is the first time in the past three years that Dixie averaged below 21, down from last year's 21.2. Dixie has averaged above 20 every year since 2010-11.

Simon Kenton- 20.9

This is SK's fifth straight year with an average above 20, though it is a decrease from last year's average score of 21.5.

Scott- 19.5

The lowest average of the Kenton County School District, Scott is also the only to average below 20, ending its three-year streak of scoring above 20.

Ludlow Ind.

Ludlow- 19.8

This marks a 0.6-point improvement over last year's average.

Newport Ind.

District average- 17.3

Newport - 17.3

Newport High School represents most of the district's ACT results, with 97 of 101 students reported. The average is up slightly from last year's 17.2 average and is the fourth straight year of growth after the school averaged a 16 in 2014-15.

Owen County

Owen Co.- 17.8

This is a full point drop from last year's average score and the first time Owen County High School posted an average below 18 since 2009-10.

Pendleton County

Pendleton Co. - 18.6

This is a drop from last year's average of 19.1 and the first time the school scored an average below 19 since 2013-14, and is its lowest average since 2009-10.

Silver Grove Ind.

Silver Grove- 14.4

Silver Grove has the distinction of the lowest average ACT score in Northern Kentucky, and the second-lowest in the entire state. Only Iroquois, in Louisville, with a 14.3 average score is lower.

The score marks a further decline from the school's high-mark of 18.5 in 2009-10. Last year's average was 15.

Only seven students took the test at Silver Grove, which graduated classes in the single digits the past two years.

Walton-Verona Ind.

Walton-Verona 21.8

This marks a slight increase from last year's 21.7 and the eighth straight year that Walton-Verona has averaged above a score of 21.

Williamstown Ind.

Williamstown - 20.6

This year marks a slight decrease from last year's average of 20.7. The school has average above a score of 20 for six of the past eleven years.

Ranking Northern Kentucky schools by "proficiency indicator" based on state test results in reading and math (highest possible score is 125):


1. Beechwood 96.2

2. Highlands 92.1

3. Ryle 80

4. Walton-Verona 77.8

5. Williamstown 77.3

6. Cooper 74.9

7. Conner 74.8

8. Simon Kenton 73.9

9. Campbell County 73

10. Dixie Heights 71.5

11. Ludlow 65

12. Scott 62.9

13. Boone County 61.4

14. Dayton 60.6

15. Pendleton Co. 59.5

16. Bellevue 58.9

17. Grant Co. 55.2

18. Lloyd 52.8

19. Newport 49.7

20. Owen Co. 49.4

21. Gallatin Co. 45.9

22. Holmes 40

23. Silver Grove 21.9


1. Highlands (Fort Thomas) 96.2

2. Beechwood 90.7

3. Gray (Boone) 88.5

4. Twenhofel (Kenton) 84.2

5. Conner (Boone) 83.1

6. Turkey Foot (Kenton) 80.8

7. Walton-Verona 78.8

8. Ockermann (Boone) 78.3

9. Campbell Co. 75.5

10. Camp Ernst (Boone) 75.2

11. Summit View (Kenton) 74.9

12. Woodland (Kenton) 70.5

13. Williamstown 70.4

14. Grant Co. 69.9

15. Gallatin Co. 68.5

16. Bowling (Owen) 67.7

17. Dayton 66.4

18. Sharp (Pendleton) 62.5

19. Tichenor (Erlanger-Elsmere) 61.9

20. Newport 61.5

21. Ludlow 61

22. Bellevue 59.6

23. Holmes (Covington) 52.8

24. Jones (Boone) 49

25. Silver Grove 42.5


1. Moyer (Fort Thomas) 94.3

2. Woodfill (Fort Thomas) 93

3. Beechwood 91.9

4. Johnson (Fort Thomas) 91.5

5. White's Tower (Kenton) 91.4

6. Erpenbeck (Boone) 90.6

6. Reiley (Campbell) 90.6

8. Cline (Campbell) 90.2

9. Mann (Boone) 88.9

10. Thornwilde (Boone) 88.7

11. R.C. Hinsdale (Kenton) 88.2

12. Kelly (Boone) 86.7

13. Glenn O. Swing (Covington) 85.9

14. Piner (Kenton) 83.8

15. Ft. Wright (Kenton) 82.5

16. Grant's Lick (Campbell) 82.4

17. River Ridge (Kenton) 82.3

18. Kenton 81.5

19. Longbranch (Boone) 81.3

20. Campbell Ridge (Campbell) 80.8

21. Northern (Pendleton) 79.4

22. New Haven (Boone) 79.3

23. Crossroads (Campbell) 79

24. Beechgrove (Kenton) 78.6

25. Caywood (Kenton) 76.7

26. North Pointe (Boone) 76.5

26. Ryland Heights (Kenton) 76.5

28. Walton-Verona 75.1

29. Summit View (Kenton) 75

30. Stephens (Boone) 74

30. Taylor Mill (Kenton) 74

32. Burlington (Boone) 72.3

33. Miles (Erlanger-Elsmere) 72

34. Mary A. Goetz (Ludlow) 71.5

35. Latonia (Covington) 71

36. Yealey (Boone) 70.8

37. Owen Co. 68.8

38. Williamstown 67.5

39. Goodridge (Boone) 67.2

40. Crittenden-Mt. Zion (Grant) 66.6

41. Lindeman (Erlanger-Elsmere) 65.7

42. Lower (Gallatin) 64.5

42. Upper (Gallatin) 64.5

44. Ockermann (Boone) 64.3

45. John G. Carlisle (Covington) 63.7

46. Sherman (Grant) 63.3

47. Lincoln (Dayton) 63

48. Dry Ridge (Grant) 62.1

49. Grandview (Bellevue) 60.9

50. Southern (Pendleton) 60.7

51. Sixth District (Covington) 55.2

52. Mason-Corinth (Grant) 53.7

53. Florence (Boone) 52.8

54. Silver Grove 52.7

55. Newport 51.4

56. Howell (Erlanger-Elsmere) 51.3

57. Arnett (Erlanger-Elsmere) 47.9

58. Collins (Boone) 47.6

59. Ninth District (Covington) 44

To see all the data collected and reported by the Kentucky Department of Education, click here.

Written by Michael Monks and Patricia A. Scheyer

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