While its too early to tell whether Kentucky’s new 5-star accountability rating system for its public schools is an improvement over previous incarnations, officials with the Corbin Independent School District know one thing for sure — by just about any measure, things are looking pretty darn good.
When compared to its peers, Corbin was ranked the fifth best district in the state among 174 school districts. Among K-12 districts, it’s was ranked fourth.
“The one thing that’s constant no matter what measure you use, if your percentage of students scoring distinguished or proficient goes up, then you are going to improve, and that’s exactly what happened for us,” said David Cox, Superintendent of the Corbin Independent School District.
While Corbin was a top 20 school during last year’s accountability cycle, school district leaders felt more could be done. Cox said he felt like the district’s efforts were “scattered” and needed to be “laser focused” on doing what has been proven to work. That meant reviewing year-end exit exams to see if they were rigorous enough. It meant fostering “professional learning communities” where instructors teaching the same subject could compare notes and work together to figure out the best strategies for moving kids toward proficiency in subjects like math, reading and science.
“We decided last year that our theme would be back to basics. We even had shirts made for all the teachers,” Cox said. “For whatever reason, we had gotten away from some of the things we used to do, so we wanted to get back to what we know works … and it has.”
For most Kentucky schools, getting significant upward movement in the number of students scoring proficient or distinguished in mathematics has been a struggle. Cox said Corbin had a 29.5 percent increase in the number of students scoring proficient in math. That works out to about 67 more kids per grade level moving up on common assessments.
That’s a huge increase, and it fueled success across all of the districts schools.
In the new star system, Corbin was a 4-star district. It’s individual schools scored as follows:
• Corbin Elementary School (comprised of Corbin Elementary School and Corbin Intermediate School) 78.2 — 4 star.
• Corbin Middle School, 74.3 — 4 star.
• Corbin High School, 74.9 — 4 star.
Corbin Middle School would have been a 5-star school but was deducted a star because it failed to show sufficient growth in proficiency among special needs students.
Cindy Davis, Assistant Superintendent for Corbin Schools, said she’s worked hard to put the focus on really getting to know the students in the district, and having teachers form personal relationships with them to foster learning.
“I think that’s a big thing is having a relationship with those students. Really getting to know them,” Davis said.
“If they buy into the teachers and really trust them, then it will make a difference, no matter what they are teaching,” she added.
That’s meant structuring classrooms and teaching sessions to where it is easier to find out what certain students need to be successful. Common planning sessions for teachers has also been a big factor in the district’s success.
The district has recently hired a Chief Academic Officer to ensure continued success.
Cox said refocusing the districts instruction methods and priorities took some effort, and didn’t happen without some “gnashing of teeth.”
“It’s not always the smoothest thing to do, but I compliment our teachers because they bowed their necks and got it done.”