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Test Scores Soar at Letcher County Central High School

By Kari Cornett

March 1, 2023

As we approach the third anniversary of the onset of the pandemic, many districts are still trying to find their footing with reaching accountability measures for schools and students.  Despite the numerous challenges presented by COVID-19, Letcher County Central High School (LCCHS) in Kentucky was awarded a “green” rating from the Kentucky Department of Education, the second-highest rating available and higher than the state average, based on test scores from the 2021-2022 school year.  

This year, a new color-coded rating system replaced a previous five-star rating system for schools across the state. The five colors range from red (lowest rating) to blue (highest rating). A designation of “green” was earned by 58 high schools across the state, out of 228 total high schools; only 11 high schools earned a “blue” distinction. As a green school, LCCHS and its students have performed well across the board on measures such as state assessments, graduation rate, postsecondary readiness, and quality of school climate and safety. What led to these outstanding results? We went to Letcher County Central High School to find out.

Dr. Scottie Billiter, the school principal, cites positive relationships and a strong school culture as contributing factors to the school’s success. “Our teachers and students have been through a lot with the pandemic and I think, from what I saw of our virtual programming [during the pandemic], it was very strong and was a matter of students and teachers believing in each other and putting their best foot forward.” To help create a stronger sense of community during and after this tumultuous time, Dr. Billiter and his staff began a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) reward system in the school to accompany  supports that were already being implemented. 

As Dr. Billiter says, “PBIS focuses on positive behaviors in students and rewards them for that, and we’ve seen a very strong response from students and staff.” The school community was recently devastated by historic flooding in July of 2022, so he states that the school is “very cognizant” of the stressors students and staff are experiencing, and PBIS supports are an important component of the school’s strategy for improvement and increasing successful student outcomes. When asked what the school will continue to do for students and their community, Dr. Billiter emphasized, “We will keep pushing, keep believing, and keep building positive relationships.”

Similarly, fourth-year math teacher, TFA Appalachia alum, and Mountain Teacher Fellow Brittany Curry is continuing to push her students to greater heights, with 86 percent of her Algebra II students scoring proficient or distinguished on the state math assessment in the spring of 2022. This compares to the fewer than 40 percent of students across all grade levels in the state who scored at least proficient in math. She cites holding high expectations and increasing student self-efficacy, or their belief in their own abilities,  as the main components of her practice. Brittany states, “many students have poor self-efficacy when it comes to math… but the state exam helps students to see themselves as a success story that we can build from when compared to other students across the state.”

Her strong relationships with students allows her to “adjust for student needs” in her classes but continue to hold high expectations each day. When asked what she was most proud of, Brittany claimed, “I’m most proud of my Algebra II class - they’re non-honors students but not a single one of them scored a novice [on the state exam]. Every single one of them tried. I’m glad that even without me standing there to remind them, they still did it. A greater sense of self-efficacy has been transferred over into their life and they are intrinsically motivated and wanting to do well on their own.”

We congratulate the students and staff of Letcher County Central High School on their achievements and can’t wait to see what they accomplish this year.