Program Review and Investigations Committee




<MeetMDY1> June 8, 2006


The<MeetNo2> Program Review and Investigations Committee met on<Day> Thursday,<MeetMDY2> June 8, 2006, at<MeetTime> 10:00 AM, in<Room> Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Tommy Thompson, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.


Present were:


Members:<Members> Senator Ernie Harris, Co-Chair; Representative Tommy Thompson, Co-Chair; Senators Charlie Borders, R J Palmer II, Joey Pendleton, Dan Seum, and Katie Stine; Representatives Adrian K Arnold, Sheldon E Baugh, Dwight D Butler, Charlie Hoffman, Ruth Ann Palumbo, and Arnold Simpson.


Guests:  David Baird, Superintendent (retired), Eminence Independent School District; Robin Thacker, Director of Secondary Schools, Henderson County School District; Bruce Swanson, Coordinating Principal, Henderson County High School; Kevin Noland, Deputy Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Education.


LRC Staff:  Greg Hager, Committee Staff Administrator; Kara Daniel; Rick Graycarek; Jim Guinn; Margaret Hurst; Van Knowles; Nadezda Nikolova; Rkia Rhrib; Deepsi Sigdel; Cindy Upton; and Jennifer Beeler, Committee Assistant; Program Review and Investigations Committee. Mike Clark, LRC Chief Economist.


Minutes of the May 18, 2006 meeting were approved, without objection, upon motion made by Rep. Hoffman and seconded by Sen. Stine.

Amended Recommendations 4.1 and 4.2 to the report Information Systems Can Help Prevent, But Not Eliminate Health Care Fraud and Abuse were approved upon motion made by Sen. Harris and seconded by Sen. Stine, without objection by roll call vote.

The amended report was adopted upon motion by Sen. Stine and seconded by Rep. Arnold, without objection by roll call vote.

Greg Hager and Nadezda Nikolova, Program Review staff, and Mike Clark, LRC Chief Economist, presented the report School Size and Student Outcomes in Kentucky’s Public Schools.

Mr. Hager stated that in November 2005 the committee directed that staff study the effect of school size on student achievement.

Mr. Hager stated that in Kentucky, at the end of the 2004-2005 school year, there were approximately 646,000 students enrolled in just over 1,200 public schools of regular instruction. The average schools size was about 525 students.  He noted that the report  did not cover stand-alone special education and vocational schools and most alternative schools.

Mr. Hager stated that to provide an overview schools were divided into primary, middle, and high schools based on the classifications used by the National Center for Education Statistics.  He said that Kentucky public primary schools’ enrollments ranged from 75 to more than 1,100 students; middle school enrollments ranged from 61 to more than 1,300 students, and high schools ranged from 84 to more than 2,200 students.

He stated that as of the 2004 school year the average primary school size was 400 students, the average middle school size was 600, and the average high school size was 800.  He stated that the primary and high school averages have been stable since 1987, but the number of students in the average middle school had increased by about 100.

He stated that among primary schools, since 1987 there has been a decline in the numbers of smaller and larger schools. He said that among middle schools, there was still a decline in the number of smaller schools, but there was an increase in other size categories.  The number of relatively large middle schools almost doubled.  He explained that for high schools there was a similar pattern as for primary schools: a decrease in the number of smaller and larger schools and an increase in the middle-sized schools.

Mr. Hager said that Kentucky falls in the middle if average school size is compared to seven neighboring states.  He said, depending on the level of school, 3 or 4 states had smaller averages and 3 or 4 had larger averages as of the 2004 school year.  He noted that there were some significant differences in averages among these states.

He stated that another comparison was the percentage of students in larger schools.  “Larger” was defined as 50 percent higher than the Kentucky averages: 600 students for primary, 900 for middle, and 1,200 for high schools.  For primary and middle schools, 3 states had lower percentages and 4 states had higher percentages than Kentucky in relatively large schools.  He stated that Kentucky had a relatively low percentage of students in larger high schools.  Kentucky had 30 percent of students in schools of 1,200 students or more; every other state but West Virginia had a higher percentage.

He said that the report also covered previous research on the effect of school size on student achievement, primarily as a guide for the analysis of Kentucky schools to be done by LRC staff.  He said that the research showed that smaller and moderately sized schools have been more likely to facilitate greater academic achievement, both overall and specifically for poorer (economically) students, African American students, and marginal students. Among other reasons, Mr. Hager stated smaller schools have been thought to be better because it is easier to change curriculum and teaching and there is more interaction between teachers and students, which can result in more accountability.

Mr. Hager stated that in terms of the impact of nonacademic outcomes, smaller schools have been found to be even more likely to produce better results, for example: more participation in extracurricular activities, higher attendance, lower dropout rates, and better performance on measures related to safer schools. Reasons for this include a greater sense of belonging by students and teachers and parents being more involved in the school.

He stated that there were factors to be kept in mind that could affect how school size affects outcomes for students.  The first was the distinction as to whether a school is small by intent or by default, which is often difficult to determine. He said there was also an issue of definition; what would be considered a small school or a large school in one state or in one time period may not be so defined in another state or time.  He said that there was no consensus in the research literature as to how to define school size categories  precisely. 

He explained that the third factor was the increasing emphasis on accountability, specifically the No Child Left Behind Act at the national level and the Commonwealth Accountability and Testing System (CATS) in Kentucky. Kentucky schools are held accountable based on students’ scores on assessments given on a core curriculum, which is the same for all schools at a particular grade level across the state.  He stated that this could mean that there was less freedom at the school level to tailor the curriculum than before.  Mr. Hager stated that detailed information was available on how each student performed on each assessment, which means that there is additional detailed information to monitor students’ progress, regardless of school size. He said that under No Child Left Behind, schools are held accountable for the performance of the whole school, but also for subgroups such as racial/ethnic groups and students with disabilities. Because schools are held accountable for these groups, there may be extra incentive to deal with these types of students.

Mr. Hager said that there appeared to be ongoing innovation relevant to school size, specifically anecdotal evidence that smaller schools have been doing more to offer additional services and larger schools have been trying to attain aspects of the smaller school environment.  For example, Eminence High School transports juniors and seniors to advanced placement courses at Jefferson Community College.  He said that relevant technology has progressed in recent years to allow for more online learning opportunities for students. The Kentucky Virtual High School offers more than 50 courses for high school and middle school students. He said that some larger schools are organizing smaller learning communities to create aspects of a smaller environment within a larger school. He stated that 13 Kentucky high schools have U.S. Department of Education grants to implement smaller learning communities.  A type of smaller learning community is a school within a school, of which Henderson County High School is an example.

Mike Clark presented a statistical analysis of how school size may affect academic and nonacademic outcomes for Kentucky’s public school students. He began by describing three types of comparisons that were made in order to evaluate differences in performance across various sized schools: student-level scores on the norm-referenced test and Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT); school-level academic indices for CATS; and school-level attendance, dropout, and retention rates.

Mr. Clark explained that the comparisons for elementary school students showed that performance of students enrolled at large schools was generally as high or higher as the performance of students in small schools.  He noted the results varied across types of assessments.

Sen. Harris asked what was covered on an assessment of practical living and vocational skills for elementary students [a type of assessment discussed by Mr. Clark].

Ms. Thacker said that there was a tested core content in this area for elementary students, mostly covering health, physical education, and consumerism.

Mr. Clark stated that the results for middle school students indicated that students enrolled at large schools typically preformed as well as students at smaller schools. This was true for all but the norm-referenced test.

Mr. Clark stated that the results differed somewhat for students in high schools.  Generally, students in large high schools had better scores than students at smaller schools.  Mr. Clark noted, however, that high school students enrolled in schools with 300 or fewer students scored better than students enrolled at somewhat larger schools.  Mr. Clark indicated that this result might suggest that there are some advantages to both small and large schools.  He noted that moderately sized schools might not be able to provide the close attention to students that small school might provide or the greater resources that larger schools might provide.

Mr. Clark noted that the relationship between school size and academic performance varied across different racial and ethnic groups.  While African-American elementary students enrolled at moderately sized schools scored lower than other African American elementary students, Hispanic elementary students enrolled at moderately sized schools scored higher that other Hispanic elementary students.

Rep. Palumbo asked for clarification of the performance of Asian students.

Mr. Clark stated that the results showed that Asian students did worse in larger schools compared to Asian students in other size schools, not that Asian students did worse than other groups.

Mr. Clark then turned to the results for school-level comparisons.  He stated that the performance of elementary schools did not differ statistically across different sized elementary schools.  He stated that there were few differences in the performance of middle schools.  Middle schools differed only on the reading portion of the norm-referenced test and the math portion of the KCCT.  The performance on these assessments was lower at the moderately sized middle schools.

Mr. Clark noted that while the student-level analysis indicated that performance was generally higher at the larger schools, the school-level analysis suggested that the performance at the smallest schools and the largest schools were similar.  He explained that this difference might be caused by the process used to aggregate student-level scores to school-level scores.  Small differences in the scores of students would not necessarily result in differences in scores at school level.

Sen. Seum asked whether class size differed for smaller and larger schools.

Ms. Nikolova stated that based on previous research smaller schools were more likely to have smaller classes.

Mr. Clark summarized the report’s findings on how high school size affected three nonacademic measures: attendance rates, retention rates (percentage of students held back at the same grade level), and dropout rates. He said that dropout rates were lower in high schools with 300 or fewer students, but that above this category dropout rates did not increase as school size increased. He stated that retention rates were higher in middle-size high schools. Attendance was lower in high schools with 601 to 900 students.

Sen. Seum asked if the dropout rate was calculated in the same way throughout the state and if the figures were still being calculated as in 1987. He stated that he would be interested in seeing the difference in dropout rates pre- and post-KERA and whether there is a nationwide ranking system.

Mr. Clark stated that the Department of Education could better address the question. Representatives from the department in the audience responded that dropout rates were calculated the same way across school districts.

Sen. Seum asked whether the manner in which dropout rates were calculated affected the state’s education rankings.

Mr. Clark responded that differences in the calculation of dropout rates and other differences in measures would affect states’ rankings.

Mr. Clark continued the presentation, pointing out that results from staff’s analysis differed from many of the results from previous research.  He indicated that the differences could be due to changes that school officials have implemented to address their unique situations.  Mr. Clark also indicated that the relationship between school size and academic performance appears to be more complicated than researchers had initially thought.

Mr. Clark concluded that the results of staff’s analysis generally suggested that scores of students attending larger public schools in Kentucky were as high or higher than those attending smaller schools.  He indicated that there was also some evidence to suggest that smaller schools might also provide some benefits relative to somewhat larger schools. He cautioned that the reasons for the differences in scores were unclear.  He stated that differences could be due to advantages of school size, students seeking out certain sized schools, or schools with high scores attracting more students.

 Rep. Thompson introduced David Baird, retired superintendent for the Eminence Independent School District.

Mr. Baird stated that he seen great improvement in his more than 25 years with the school district.  He said that coming from a relatively small district, he had thought about the question of school size in terms of what is too small and what is too large.

He stated that Eminence did not offer advanced placement courses, but that students were transported to a local community college to do this. He said that some Eminence students leave high school with the coursework to be considered second semester freshman or sophomore level in college. He explained that Eminence has the Certificate of Initial Mastery, which is above the regular diploma. He said the system makes good use of technology, including the Kentucky Virtual High School.

He stated that cost effectiveness is an issue. He said small school districts must do many things collectively and that many administrators must handle the responsibilities of multiple positions.

Mr. Baird stated that nonacademic factors such as attendance, graduation, dropout rates, and retention rates affect academic achievement. He said small school districts do a good job of fostering positive attitudes among students, teachers, staff, and the community, which helped produced positive student achievement.  

He stated that behavior of students was very important.  In his 16 years as being superintendent, he had approximately one disciplinary hearing before the school board per year and 5 or 6 expulsions over the entire period.

Mr. Baird stated that in a small school, participation in extracurricular activities is so widespread that the school may have to recruit students in order to have sports teams and other activities. For example, he said that there were typically 25 to 30 students per year playing varsity football, which represented 50 to 60 percent of male students in the high school.  He said that being in a small school helps students with a feeling of belonging.

Sen. Harris asked Mr. Baird to elaborate on Eminence’s success in football.

Mr. Baird stated that Eminence’s eight man football team won the state eight man championship five years in a row and was national runner-up two years.

Mr. Baird stated that in a smaller environment practices, procedures, and policies can be easily implemented and changed because there is less bureaucracy.  He stated that almost on a daily basis he was in the school, so a teacher or custodian could ask a direct question of the superintendent.

Rep. Simpson asked what the student-teacher ratio was.

Mr. Baird stated that the ratio was 15:1.

Rep. Simpson asked about the percentage of teachers with advanced degrees.

Mr. Baird stated that 50 to 60 percent have at least a master degree.

Rep. Thompson introduced Robin Thacker, Director of Secondary Schools, Henderson County School District and Bruce Swanson, Coordinating Principal, Henderson County High School.

Ms. Thacker stated that Henderson County High School did not become a grades 9 though 12 school until the 2002-2003 school year and that implementation of the school within a school concept was relatively recent.

She stated that the school’s index scores have continued to improve. She said that retention and dropout rates have been decreasing, which has resulted in increased graduation rates. She stated that their students performed at or above the state levels on  ACT, SAT and other nationally recognized tests. She stated that even though they are a large school they are still meeting the needs of educational excellence for their student population.  She said that the large school setting allows for a greater variety of activities so that a student can get involved in something in which he or she is especially interested.

Ms. Thacker stated that the student teacher ratio was 19:1 at the high school, but that they are trying to focus on the freshmen classes and they are at a lower ratio and as the students progress through different grades the class sizes will grow.

She said that there was a voluntary scholastic review, which resulted in commendations for the school-within-a-school concept and the efficiency with which the student population was served.

Mr. Swanson stated that achievement does not boil down to the size of the school but the mindset of the teachers, leadership, and community.

He stated that when he came to Henderson County in 1998-1999, it had already been decided for financial reasons that there would be one high school. To address the concerns about the size of the school, Henderson County High School has implemented schools within the school. Students are assigned to one of three academic units: blue, red, or green. There are 780 students each in the blue and green units and 680 in the red. Each unit has one principal, two guidance counselors, and about 33 teachers. The school has one football team, one basketball team, and one academic team.

He stated that they are considering a 9th Grade Academy to provide 9th grade students with  more attention and a core set of teachers. He explained that they would try to determine how well students had performed in middle school, so that guidance counselors could track each student better.

Sen. Harris asked how the color of the unit is determined and is there any difference between the units such as vocational or other career paths.

Mr. Swanson stated that incoming 9th graders are assigned to the units at random but adjustments are made to assure the units are equal in terms of gender, ethnicity, and previous academic achievement.

Sen. Harris stated he felt that this was an especially interesting report. He said  that in the research comparing large schools to small schools, the variance in results is not great; what matters is leadership, curriculum, class size, parental involvement, and quality of teachers.

Rep. Palumbo thanked Mr. Baird, Ms. Thacker, and Mr. Swanson for their work in the interest of Kentucky’s future.

Rep. Thompson asked if they could get any additional resources what would be their preferences.

Ms. Thacker stated that if more resources were available she would like to see more go to preschool education.

Rep. Thompson asked if there was full-time preschool in Henderson County.

Ms. Thacker stated that there was but it was limited due to lack of space.

Mr. Baird stated he would like to see additional curriculum specialists or support in classrooms so when students are identified as struggling or not at grade level, there could be a specialist to work with them.

Sen. Harris asked about the administrative burden that should be lifted from teachers.

Mr. Baird stated that daily paperwork and record keeping are necessary but take time away from other tasks. 

The report School Size and Student Outcomes in Kentucky’s Public Schools was adopted upon motion by Rep. Palumbo and seconded by Rep. Hoffman, without objection by roll call vote.

Rep. Thompson stated that the next regular meeting, there would be follow-ups to two previously adopted reports: Planning for Water Projects in Kentucky and Offshore Outsourcing of Kentucky State Government Services.

Rep. Thompson asked the staff to distribute the up-to-date list of study topics for later review by committee members.


Meeting was adjourned at 12:10 p.m.