The Richmond Register

September 21, 2012

Spending, test scores not full measure of schools, leaders say

By Ronica Shannon
Senior News Writer

RICHMOND — Local school superintendents both agreed Tuesday that a recent study by the Bluegrass Institute does not show a complete picture of what is going on inside Madison County and Berea Community schools.

The rankings are based on the ratio of school-district ACT test scores and per-pupil spending. The study is titled “Bang for the Buck 2012: How Efficient Are Kentucky Schools?”

According to the study, which was released last week, Madison County spent $10,044 per pupil in 2011 and had an average ACT score of 19. The district’s average daily attendance was 9,920, with 49 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals.

The average ACT score for Berea Community Schools was 20.1 and $10,942 per pupil was being spent. Berea’s average daily attendance last year was 972, and a higher percentage of Berea students, 60 percent, qualified for free or reduced-priced meals.

Free and reduced-priced meals go to students from low-income families.

“I think there is a place for easily measured metrics,” said Mike Hogg, superintendent of Berea Community Schools. “My concern is that those things become the ultimate measure of a school, and there’s a huge part of any school that gets ignored and that’s the aspect of affective education, goal setting and being good citizens. It’s only taking one piece of the entire puzzle and drawing conclusions. There’s much more to it than that.”

As for Berea Community’s ACT scores, “We’ve been on a steady increase each year,” Hogg said. “That means most of our students are college ready or ready to go into the workforce. Industries want kids who can read, write, do mathematics, solve problems. They’re looking for kids who work hard and who are going to show up on time.”

“I think we are taking a very close look at our spending,” Hogg said. “We’re using every dollar to maximize student learning. We are using those dollars to retain and recruit the best teachers.”

The per-pupil spending reported to the Kentucky Department of Education each year includes money in the general fund, grant funding, Title 1, Title 2 and food service dollars, according to Madison County Superintendent Tommy Floyd.

“Because of the many factors that vary from district to district, Madison County Schools does not compare itself with other districts,” he said. “Many factors weigh in to the per-pupil spending each year including those various funding sources as well as the wide variety of services offered by each district.”

Assessing student progress is also done with multiple data sources in Madison County Schools, he said.

“The district is effectively using data collected from EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) which includes the Explore, Plan and ACT tests,” Floyd said. “But, the ACT is only one piece of the assessment puzzle. Madison County Schools also utilizes MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) as a measure of individual student's progress throughout the year. The district is also preparing for the release of the KPREP scores from the state, which will also be used to measure progress. Madison County Schools analyzes as much data as possible to make the best decisions possible to foster success for each individual student in the district.”

One of the main conclusions of the Bluegrass Institute study is “that poverty is no excuse for failing to adequately prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century marketplace,” said Richard G. Innes, author of the report.

Some of the top-ranking districts had above-average test scores and below-average family income while spending less per pupil than some districts that ranked far below them.

The report can be viewed entirely by going to www.bipps.org.