Morton applauds Harlan Ind. for assessment results

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019

While the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is ushering in a new way of rating Kentucky schools, Harlan Independent’s level of success remains the same.

After the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 at the federal level, school leaders across Kentucky spent nearly four years developing the new five-star accountability system. To roll out the system, the KDE is offering full access to a wide range of data for every school in Kentucky through the school report card. Rating information, as well as performance indicators in every area, can be accessed through

Harlan Elementary School achieved the highest rating possible by being rated as a five-star school. Of the 725 elementary schools across the commonwealth only 37 were rated as five-star schools.

Email newsletter signup

The five-star rating is determined by student academic performance in reading, math, social studies, science and writing. Additionally, the rate at which students are showing academic growth from one year to the next is taken into consideration for an overall accountability score for elementary and middle schools.

“I am so proud of the students and staff. They have worked really hard in every area to help us become one of Kentucky’s very best elementary schools,” said HES Principal Vickie Anderson. “It starts with high expectations and an equal dose of love and care for every student. Like most schools, our students come through the doors with lots of challenges beyond the classroom. Meeting those needs and supporting students to learn at a high level is what we are all about. We expect the very best from our students, so much of their future depends on a solid academic foundation.”

Superintendent Charles Morton pointed out he was particularly proud of the work being done to reduce the number of students scoring at the novice level and reaching our lower socioeconomic student groups.

“For the last several years Harlan Elementary has had less than 10 percent of our students scoring at the novice level in every area,” Morton said. “More impressively is that our economically disadvantaged students (those receiving free/reduced lunch) are out performing our non-economically disadvantaged students. In fact, our economically disadvantaged students are among the highest performing in the state in the areas of science, reading and math. Both groups are performing very high. This system is specifically designed to assess how schools are closing achievement gaps. The data illustrates we are doing very well meeting the needs of our most vulnerable students.”

Harlan Middle School found itself in the middle of the pack with 159 other middle schools in Kentucky. A three-star rating shows that the school’s overall performance is on pace with the majority of other middle schools in the state.

“We are not satisfied with being a three-star school and will continue to find ways to better support our students. While the majority of middle schools in our region are three-stars, we want to be the best and will work to align our resources with the needs of our students for their success,” said HMS Principal Leanne Huff. “The support options we have available now through GEARUP and 21st Century grants are the most we have ever had. We are looking at ways to align those to help our students achieve at a high level.”

Kentucky students in the fifth through eighth grades account for the vast majority of accountability assessments among schools. School data shows that students in the fifth and sixth grades outperformed those in the seventh and eighth grades in all areas except social studies.

Morton noted reducing the number of students scoring at the Novice level is also a focus for the middle school and “more than half of the grade levels and subject areas recorded less than 10 percent were Novice.”

Both HES and HMS were labeled as “Schools of Distinction” under the previous accountability model.

Harlan High School had plenty of reasons to celebrate with their four-star rating and overall academic scores that placed them near the top of all 228 Kentucky high schools in nearly every category. With an emphasis on meeting ACT benchmarks and demonstrating transition readiness, schools are expected to ensure students are engaged in rigorous coursework in order to demonstrate competency across all subject areas.

A high schools overall star rating is determined by combining scores from four indicators: proficiency, separate academic, transition readiness and the combined four- and five-year graduation rate. For each indicator, cut scores were established with rating labels ranging from “very high” to “very low.” HHS students performed in the “very high” range in every indicator except transition readiness.

Morton said the accountability system puts the burden of performance on the schools and “all elements of this system are within our power to determine outcomes.”

“For example, the transition readiness score, which accounts for nearly one-third of our accountability index, depends directly on our ability to prepare students to pass advanced placement exams, dual credit courses or complete career pathways and industry certifications,” Morton said.

“This will be a focus for us moving forward, we can improve that score by empowering students to achieve passing scores on these exams and in those classes,” said HHS Principal Britt Lawson. “We will be working closely with our students to ensure they master the content so they can meet these minimum requirements. We must do more than just give them the opportunity to take dual credit and AP courses, but have an obligation to make sure they are achieving at a high level as well. With nearly 97 percent completion rate of advanced placement courses and more than 50 percent of our students graduating with an average of 12 or more hours of dual credit, the tools are in place to improve.”

Student performance in reading, math, science and writing was at the top of the 228 high schools in Kentucky. HHS students had the second highest writing proficiency scores in the commonwealth. Science and reading had top 10 placements with sixth and eighth respectively. Math scores were the highest in recent history at 12th. With students scoring at such a high level in on-demand writing and science, HHS’ overall separate academic indicator score was also among the highest in the state.

The 2019 combined four- and five-year graduation rate for HHS was 98.1 percent, which is slightly down from the previous two years of 100 percent.

Jennifer Parsons, supervisor of instruction, was pleased with the overall results of the school and district, noting to achieve at a high level requires focus and teamwork.

“The dynamics of high performing schools and school districts requires every person to be an active part of the process. The school community, administrators, and teachers are all very focused on the whole student and not just test scores. The entire school experience is important to the overall success of students,” Parsons said. “Navigating from kindergarten through graduation is a journey, but ultimately it comes to an end. At the end of the day, we have an obligation to provide opportunities for students to grow and ensure we are equipping them for the workforce or a college campus. Historically, we have been able to do that at a high level and these results demonstrate that regardless of the system, the students of Harlan Independent are performing among the best in Kentucky.”