The Richmond Register

September 27, 2013

A guide to Kentucky’s new accountability system

School/district report cards to be released Friday

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Second-year data for Kentucky’s new school accountability system, Unbridled Learning, will be released Friday for all state schools.

Last year, the new accountability model brought many changes to the way schools are assessed.

Not only are there changes in scorekeeping methods, but also in the range of scores possible. For example, in the past, schools could score between zero and 140. Now, schools may score between zero and 100.

There were 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 ― there was an over-inflation of students meeting proficiency,” said Randy Peffer, who served as Madison County Schools’ chief academic officer from 2008 until last year, when he moved on to a position at the Kentucky Department of Education.

The new Kentucky standards in reading and math adopted in 2010 has risen the bar for students to meet proficiency, he said, therefore the number of students meeting proficiency was expected to drop.

After a final score is tallied for each school, it is ranked state-wide from highest to lowest, so that each fall into a percentile.

Schools in the 90th percentile and above are labelled “distinguished;” 70th to 89th percentile are “proficient;” and anything below 70th “needs improvement.”

In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Education granted Kentucky flexibility under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, according to a press release from the KDE. This flexibility allows the state to use the Unbridled Learning model to report both state- and federal-level accountability measures.

New ‘progressing’ distinction

This year, the label “progressing” can now be tagged onto labels of “distinguished,” “proficient,” or “needs improvement” for some schools.

This distinction means the school increased its score by a certain number of points to meet or exceed its annual measurable objective, or AMO. 

The school’s/district’s overall score will be used to calculate AMOs, which is number of points it must gain each year for the next five years to achieve proficiency. This is similar to the adequate yearly progress, or AYP measurement used in No Child Left Behind.

Under NCLB, a school’s AYP was used to determine whether schools were doing well. If a school made AYP, it was not subject to consequences, according to KDE.

In Kentucky’s new system, the term “AYP” was eliminated and now schools must achieve AMO.

Because 2011-12 was the first year using the new standards and accountability system, last year’s data was baseline and every school and district was given an AMO of 1 to exceed this year, said David Gilliam, Madison County Schools’ new chief academic officer.

From here on, however, every school labeled proficient and above will continue to have just an AMO of 1, he said.

Preliminary data from KDE indicates that several Madison County Schools increased their school score by at at least one point and achieved AMO, which gives them the distinction of “progressing.”

Focus schoolsIf a school has an individual group of students in an individual area scoring significantly below other students, they become a focus school, Gilliam said.

Last year, Farristown and Madison middle schools, Madison Southern High School, Mayfield Elementary and Model Elementary all were labelled focus schools, which is a two-year designation. All of these schools received this label because of low achievement scores in their “gap” group.

“Gap students” are those students that are identified as a minority, receive free/reduced lunch, receive special education, or are English language learners.

The scores of gap students also is one of the five components from which a school is assessed. The five components are explained below.

Next Generation Learners

Next year, Unbridled Learning will include program reviews on a school’s course-offerings in subjects such as practical living, arts and humanities and creative writing. This phase of the assessment was originally scheduled to start this year, but has been delayed.

The following year, the assessment will look at teacher and principal effectiveness.

However, this year, educators will continue use the first phase of Unbridled Learning ― Next Generation Learners.

There are five components to Next Generation Learners from which a school is assessed: Achievement, Gap, Growth, College/Career Readiness and Graduation Rates.

Elementary scores are based on the first three components, middle school scores are based on the first four and high school scores are calculated using all five components.

Achievement“Achievement” is determined by how students perform on K-PREP tests (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress), 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.

In the past, a school’s overall score was only determined by the results of these tests, formerly known as the KCCT (Kentucky Core Content Test).


“Gap students” are those students that are identified as a minority, receive free/reduced lunch, receive special education, or are English language learners, Gilliam said. The Gap score is derived from the same data components that make up the Achievement score except that it only looks at the scores from “Gap students” and it only awards points for Gap students that earn Proficient and Distinguished scores.

GrowthGrowth is defined as students who meet typical or higher gains on the assessment based upon their “academic peers” from one year to the next. Growth is measured only in reading and mathematics.

An “academic peer” is not just defined as students who are in the same grade level, but students who are compared to the others across the state who scored at the same level.

Schools are given points for students who achieve typical or higher growth. That means, students who are already performing at a high level will not necessarily score points for their school if they do not achieve growth from the previous year. Whereas, a student who earns low scores but has achieved typical or higher growth from the following year, will gain points for the school.

In the past, a student could never score more than “distinguished,” therefore assessments did not focus on the growth of every student, especially those who already scored at a high level, Peffer said last year.

Elementary and middle school growth is calculated using K-PREP. High school growth is calculated using PLAN and ACT, which are part of a series of tests explained in the next component.

College/Career Readiness

Only middle and high schools are scored with this component.

College Readiness is assessed using EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) which consists of three tests: EXPLORE, administered to eighth-graders in September; PLAN given to tenth-graders, also in September; and ACT, taken by 11th-graders in March. These test are administered nationwide.

In middle schools, College Readiness is based on the percentage of students who meet the EXPLORE benchmarks in three academic areas, Reading, English and Mathematics. The score range is between one and 25.

High school students are deemed “college ready” if they meet the ACT benchmarks in the same academic areas. The score range is between one to 36.

Finally, high school students are considered “career ready” by achieving a qualifying score on the ACT, the ASVAB (military assessment test), COMPASS (Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System), KYOTE (Kentucky On-line Test), the ACT WorkKeys, a job skills assessment system that measures foundational and soft skills, or KOSSA (Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards), an industry-recognized certificate in a vocational field.

Four-year adjusted cohort graduation rateThis component is only used in high school assessments and has changed this year.

Last year, the assessment looked the Averaged-Freshman Graduation Rate. For one cohort of students, the AFGR was an average of the number of freshman one year and sophomore the next year divided by the number of graduates during the cohort’s senior year.

However, the new four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates takes the group of students that enter the ninth grade, adds students who transfer into the cohort during the next three years and also subtracts students who transfer out, emigrate to another county or pass away during that same period, Gilliam said.

The graduation rate is then determined by calculating the percentage of students in the four-year adjusted cohort that graduate with a regular high school diploma is four years, he said.

Grade level break down


The K-PREP tests assess elementary students in third, fourth and fifth grade in Reading and Mathematics. However, fourth-graders also will be assessed in Science and Writing Mechanics. Fifth-graders will be assessed in Social Studies and Writing on-demand.

An elementary school’s overall score is based on Achievement (30 percent), Gap (30 percent) and Growth (40 percent).

MiddleAs in elementary schools, the K-PREP tests assess all middle school students in Reading and Mathematics. However, sixth-graders also will be assessed in Writing on-demand and Writing Mechanics; seventh-graders in Science; and eighth-graders in Social Studies and Writing on-demand.

A middle school’s overall score is based on Achievement (28 percent), Gap (28 percent), Growth (28 percent) and College Readiness (16 percent).


High school student’s are administered K-PREP End-of-Course assessments given in English 10, Algebra 2, Biology 1 and U.S. History for the school’s “achievement” component. Sophomores and juniors also are assessed in Writing on-demand.

A high school’s overall score is based on Achievement (20 percent), Gap (20 percent), Growth (20 percent), College/Career Readiness (20 percent) and Graduation Rate (20 percent).

BonusesThere also is potential for bonus scoring in “achievement” if the percentage of students scoring Distinguished is greater than the percentage at the Novice performance level. Schools can gain 0.5 points per percentage point.

High schools also are awarded a 0.5-point bonus for each percent of students who meet both College Readiness and Career Readiness standards.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.