Sen. David Givens introduces legislation to change Kentucky’s school accountability system in February 2019. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Kentucky’s school accountability system will be shifting for the 2019-2020 school year, thanks to recent state legislation.

The state changed how it identifies schools for additional support last year in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Then, it rolled out two labels: Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) — the bottom 5% of schools and those with student subgroups performing at that level, respectively.

Under those definitions, nearly half of Jefferson County schools were earmarked for additional support last fall. Roughly one-third of all Kentucky schools — more than 400 — were identified as TSI.

Now, those accountability identifiers could change, altering the TSI definition for fall 2019 and adding a third tier of support in fall 2020. If implemented as-is, Kentucky could see fewer schools identified for support but more underserved groups slipping through the cracks.

In the draft plan, a school needs to be in the bottom 10% of all schools with at least one student subgroup performing in the bottom 5% of all students for three consecutive years to receive a TSI designation. Currently, any school with an underperforming student group receives the label, regardless of how well the school is doing as a whole.

The current methodology is meant to identify groups that may be underserved but missed because the rest of their classmates are doing well. In the accountability results released in fall 2018, dozens of schools across the state found themselves labeled as TSI for African-American and special education student performance.

Limiting the designation to the bottom 10% of schools could cause some of those groups to be overlooked. But it would reduce the number of support schools in a time when state resources are tight.

“The goal is to target schools that are in real need,” said Jessica Fletcher, a Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman.

The changes would also add a new layer of support between the two existing levels: Additional Targeted Support and Intervention (ATSI). A school needs to have been identified as TSI and have a student subgroup in the bottom 5% of CSI schools to receive the more intense label, according to Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis and another educational expert’s reading of the state law.

This will be checked every three years, beginning in 2020.

CSI schools would continue to be identified in the same way: Any Kentucky school in the bottom 5% of all schools, or a high school with a graduation rate under 80%, would be labeled CSI. In a new change, any school identified as ATSI for three years would roll into CSI status.

TSI and ATSI do not get additional state support. Lewis said CSI schools can apply for federal school improvement funding. Bringing in state funding for school improvement — for TSI and ATSI schools — is an “absolute top priority” for KDE in next year’s budget session, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said.

Kentucky also will roll out a five-star school rating system in the fall alongside the accountability system. Using a composite score of indicators like test score growth, transition readiness and school climate, each school will be rated one to five stars, from lowest performing to best. This isn’t new: State education officials said last year the rating system would launch in fall 2019.

To keep an eye on achievement gaps in higher-performing schools, schools could lose a star in their rating if they have significant achievement gaps, Lewis said. The feature is some of the “most explicit attention” Kentucky has given to achievement gaps in its accountability system, Lewis added.

Additional differences in performance between student subgroups will be noted in a school’s ranking.

Nearly all of the substantial changes stem from recent legislation, not state education officials. After SB 175 passed this spring, the state education board aligned its regulation with new state law in April. The draft is still going through the regulatory process, Fletcher said.

SB 175 aimed to significantly alter how schools are identified for support, hopefully reducing the number of schools labeled as TSI. Initially, the bill wanted to change the TSI definition to only label schools if a student group performs at the bottom 5% of that subgroup — not all students.

State education officials said the initial bill could make it more difficult to spot achievement gaps and could run afoul of ESSA requirements. CSI and TSI statuses are expected to be judged in the same way, like against the bottom 5% of all students, KDE lawyers warned then. The bill was altered, passed and signed into law.

The bill also watered down the definition of transition readiness, reducing the benchmarks students need to hit to show they’re ready for college or career. The legislation added a college placement exam as one way to prove readiness, too.

A public comment section on the amended draft ends May 31. The draft may be edited based on those comments before being sent to the federal education department for review, said Fletcher. KDE cannot change things stemming from state law, most notably the TSI and ATSI designations.

This post has been updated to clarify the ATSI designation and add comments from Wayne Lewis.