Outside factors can impact academic ratings

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - The Nebraska Department of Education released ratings for school districts across the state, but there's a lot of outside factors that can effect those scores.

Hastings Public Schools scored a "Good" on the Education Rating, but there's more than meets the eye. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

Schools are ranked on a scale from "Excellent" to "Needs Improvement." Hastings Public Schools was ranked as "Good," which would be equivalent to a two out of four on a number scale. The scores are based primarily on test scores.

AQuEST scores show the district ranked below the state average in English, Math and Science. They did, however, score close to or better than their peers in those subjects.

English - HPS scored 47 percent; peers scored 45 percent.
Math - HPS scored 47 percent; peers scored 48 percent
Science - HPS scored 60 percent, peers scored 65 percent.

One thing that isn't accounted for in that overall title of "Good" is the district's poverty rate. Sixty-two percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches, which is higher than both the state and peers.

"I think if you look at the poverty rates of the schools and the scores of the AQuEST they line up almost on a 1:1 correlation," said Jeff Schneider, superintendent of HPS.

Within the district, Lincoln Elementary School received the worst rating. They got a "Needs Improvement."

Lincoln Elementary also has the highest poverty rate out of all the schools in the district. Ninety-one percent of their students qualify for free and reduced lunches.

That percentage is significantly higher than both the state and similar schools.

Cara Kimball, principal at Lincoln Elementary School, agreed that there's a relationship between poverty rates and test scores. She said some of their students face challenges other students might not have.

"We do have a high poverty demographic. So that means that we might have some students that are coming to school without having a lot of resources at home, and we try to provide that at school," Kimball said.

Lincoln Elementary is below the state and peer scores in math and science, but scores above their peers in English.

English: Lincoln scored 40 percent, peers 38 percent
Math: Lincoln scored 29 percent, peers 38 percent
Science: Lincoln scored 35 percent, peers 57 percent

Kimball said another contributing factor is that many of their student's parents both work long hours.

"You might not be able to contribute as much to sitting down with somebody and doing additional work outside of school. There may not be time for that," Kimball said.

What the scores don't show is that both Lincoln Elementary and the district improved in several areas from last year's scores.

Lincoln Elementary is emphasizing guided reading in the classroom, and student's math discourse to further improve scores, and help their students grow.

"Our challenges as compared to the state are much greater than the average school in the state, yet we scored right in there with the average's in the state. We were competitive in that stand point," Schneider said.

Schools throughout the district have their own action plans based on what their students needs. They mostly center around reading and math.