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Op-Ed: Understanding Kentucky's New 5-Star Rating System for Schools

Kentucky’s 5-star school accountability system is scheduled to go live at the end of September or early October. It will offer parents across the Commonwealth a new and more transparent way to understand how their children’s schools are performing.

Using school and student data from the 2018-2019 school year, the new system will provide an overall rating for each Kentucky public school ranging from 1 (the lowest) to 5 (the highest) stars. Schools’ new star ratings, along with other important education data, will be available online at kyschoolreportcard.com.

As called for by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Senate Bill 1 (2017), schools are held accountable for student assessment results in all core subjects (reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing), improving the English language proficiency of English learners, student growth in reading and mathematics at elementary and middle school, and graduation and transition readiness at high school.

There are a few things in the 5-star accountability system all education stakeholders – from parents, to community members, to school administrators – need to understand.

First, the system is designed to focus attention on the need to close achievement gaps. When using the term “achievement gap,” we at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) mean the difference in academic achievement between specific groups of students, such as economically disadvantaged students as compared to their wealthier peers and special education students as compared to students who do not use special education services.

Closing such gaps is absolutely essential to Kentucky being able to better prepare each and every one of our students for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. While our public education system has advanced significantly over the past three decades, better meeting the academic needs of economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and students of color remains one of our greatest challenges. And the importance of meeting the needs of each and every Kentucky student has never been more urgent than it is today.

A school or district that would have been a 5- or 4-star will be reduced by 1 star if it has significant achievement gaps. A school simply cannot be recognized as being one of the state’s best if significant disparities between the performance of student groups remain. That’s what I believe. It is what leaders and staff at KDE believe. And I think that’s what you believe.

Second, it is important that everyone knows the hard work of districts and schools continues after they are notified of their ratings and performance in the accountability system. Accountability system results can be the beginning of meaningful conversations between schools and the families they serve. Once families can see where their school’s strengths are and where there are opportunities for improvement, conversations can laser focus on how families can work together with their schools to improve opportunities for their children.

Finally, there seems to be a large public misunderstanding that schools that rate lower than others will receive less funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. No funding will be withheld from a school or a district if it does not rate highly. In fact, the lowest-performing schools receive extra funding and support from KDE to help implement research-based strategies that will increase achievement for its students.

We are confident that Kentucky’s new 5-star rating and accountability system will help get more parents involved in their children’s schools, help create a healthy dialogue about how to overcome challenges and gaps, and ultimately will help us ensure each and every child is equipped for a successful future.

Wayne Lewis is the Kentucky Commissioner of Education