Kentucky School Districts as Educational Bright Spots

Every year a select group of Kentucky school districts perform better than expected on measures of educational achievement. These measures include things like the percentage of elementary students who achieve proficiency or distinguished in reading, or the proportion of less‐advantaged middle school students who show a similar level of competency on the math assessment.

There are wide differences in the learning environments, finances, and student outcomes among and within Kentucky’s 173 school districts. This is not surprising given that the largest school district in the state, Jefferson County, has 97,000 students and 165 schools, while the smallest, West Point Independent in Hardin County, has one school with 120 students. Since school districts are likely to reflect the underlying economic conditions of their surrounding communities, the socioeconomic characteristics of Kentucky’s school districts are as diverse as the state itself. Similarly, student outcomes are also widely distributed across the state’s 173 districts. From this broad range of student outcomes, family and community backgrounds, and school district characteristics, we identify districts that have performed better than expected—which we refer to as “bright spots.”

Using a holistic approach, seven different outcome measures were evaluated to identify any districts that met two conditions: first, when considering all of the students, the district performed better than expected in at least one of the years using the model without the district‐level effect; and second, when considering only less‐advantaged students, the district performed better than expected in 2017 using the model with the district‐level effect variable. By using these two conditions, we identify twelve districts where all students (on average) perform better than expected at least once during this period, and less‐advantaged students show steady progress over the time period culminating with a better‐than‐expected outcome in 2017.

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