By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer
Sixty-one percent of schools in Northern Kentucky met their goals for improving test scores this year. That's better than the 56 percent statewide.
Three of the region's districts are in the top 5 percent statewide. They are:
Fort Thomas, ranked No. 2.
Walton-Verona, No. 6.
Beechwood, No. 7.
Four districts are in the bottom 15 percent statewide: Covington, Newport, Bellevue and Dayton.
The test scores are important because of the way they shape schools' reputations. Results are posted online every year and sent to parents in the mail.
Graphs showing each school's progress - or lack thereof - are often displayed in school board meeting rooms.
The test is known as CATS, for Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.
Scores reflect multiple-choice and short-answer tests taken by students every spring, as well as dropout rates and other factors.
In Northern Kentucky this year, elementary schools generally showed more improvement than middle and high schools.
That's typical, experts say, partly because elementaries are smaller and teaching methods more uniform, which makes them easier to change.
In Covington and Newport, two urban districts that tend to post lower scores overall, officials said they were pleased with the results.
All of Newport's schools are either making progress or have met improvement goals for 2004, meaning that they will not face state intervention.
In Covington, Ninth District Elementary has boosted its reading score by a whopping 35 points - from 56 to 91 - over the last four years. Ninth District also is the first Covington school to break 70 in its overall score.
Mayor Butch Callery says he'll be celebrating that feat by letting Ninth District students throw pies in his face.
The district's other five elementaries also made reading gains.
That's significant because reading is the foundation of learning, and Covington teachers have focused intensely on it for the last four years, district spokesman Bill Weathers said.
The picture is not as bright for a handful of middle and high schools in the region.
Three Northern Kentucky high schools - Ludlow, Bellevue and Holmes - are not showing satisfactory progress, the state says.
As a result, Ludlow district staff this year must conduct a review of the high school. Bellevue and Holmes, which have lower scores than Ludlow, will undergo more intense scrutiny.
Bellevue's review team will include district and state officials; while Holmes, the most troubled high school in Northern Kentucky, will be audited by a state team. The Covington School Board and Holmes' site-based council also must sign off on a written plan for improving the school.
The district said it welcomes the help.
It's already using a grant to create "smaller learning communities" for eighth- and ninth-graders at Holmes.
The program includes a behavior-management system, small-group instruction and a new freshman course that covers studying, test-taking and conflict resolution.
Some educators say high schools face another challenge unrelated to instruction: Teenagers simply aren't motivated to do well on CATS. The scores won't appear on their report cards, and they know it.
"Testing is not their No. 1 priority," said Kim Banta, principal of Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood.
Her school met its goal and boasted the highest score of the three high schools in Kenton County.
That's partly because teachers focused a lot of class time on short-answer questions like those that appear on CATS, Banta said.
"It's been very purposeful: 'This is what we need to do. The kids need to practice this,' " she said.
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