47 Kentucky Schools Named ‘Bright Spots’ in UK, Prichard Committee Report

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 19, 2020) — Forty-seven Kentucky schools have been labeled "bright spots" in a new report released by The Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky.

Researchers from CBER, with support from and in partnership with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, analyzed 2011-12 to 2018-19 education data from the state’s 1,466 schools. They identified key factors affecting academic achievement and constructed statistical models to predict an expected level of performance on state assessments.

“We looked at elementary and middle school performance on the K-PREP reading and math assessments, as well as the performance of high school students on the ACT," Michael Childress, research associate with CBER, explained. "Student, community and district characteristics were also taken into consideration."

For example, according to the findings, Knox County Middle School and South Laurel Middle School in Laurel County performed similarly on the 2018-2019 K-PREP middle school math assessment — demonstrated by 50.9% and 51.1% of their students scoring proficient or distinguished, respectively. But once researchers considered school district and community factors, only one of the schools performs “better than expected” — Knox County Middle School. 

“While South Laurel Middle School performs at a level we expect, Knox County Middle School performs much better than we expect,” Childress explained. In fact, it performs 20 percentage points higher than we expect.”

In total, 47 schools performed at significantly higher levels than predicted and are considered “bright spots.” The full list, which can be viewed here, includes 28 elementary schools, four middle schools and 15 high schools. 

“These are diverse settings — urban-rural, east-west, distressed areas as well as prosperous ones,” Childress said. “Our analysis confirms what research has long revealed — that less advantaged and minority students can face difficult obstacles in the pursuit of academic success.”

Two key findings of the analysis, consistent with others across the nation, are that teacher experience and the socio-economic status of students have a significant impact on achievement levels. “We know that teachers matter, and these results can offer insight into how Kentucky can continue to improve education, while also breaking the cycle of deep poverty in our state,” Brigitte Blom Ramsey, CEO of the Prichard Committee, said. "These results can inform additional research designed to reveal best practices that facilitate better-than-expected educational outcomes ⁠— given that Kentucky remains near the bottom of the nation for families living in poverty.”

“A strategic priority of the Gatton College is to increase external engagement and promote economic growth in Kentucky," Simon Sheather, dean of Gatton College, added. “By understanding how to leverage educational investments in the most effective ways, which this study helps us do, we can work to improve household incomes, individual health and the overall well-being of our citizens.”

Copies of the Kentucky School Districts as Educational Bright Spots report can found online.