El Dorado receives ‘D’ rating from state
District superintendent: Grade is not an ‘accurate representation’
The Arkansas Department of Education released letter grades for the 201617 school year for over 1,000 schools in Arkansas last week, with El Dorado High School receiving a D and two El Dorado elementary schools receiving F’s.
“The El Dorado School District’s grades are not something we are happy about and they are going to change for the better,” said Jim Tucker, El Dorado School District superintendent. “At the same time, the grades are not an accurate representation of our district and the quality of education we provide.”
The current grades were calculated using the new school accountability law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which puts more responsibility for improving schools at the state and district level. According to a news release from the state, “the ESSA School Index score (a calculation that includes students’ weighted achievement and growth on state required assessments for grades three through 10, graduation rates, and school quality and student success) provides parents an in-depth report of schools’ progress toward the approved indicators.”
Arkansas schools were graded in four different categories: achievement, growth, graduation rate (high school only) and school quality/student success. Each category is broken down into
in-depth and specific requirements, which the schools were graded on.
El Dorado High School received a score of 61.86, with 67.43 (a C) being the state average score.
Kimberly Friedman, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the department spent numerous hours obtaining stakeholder feedback throughout the process of developing Arkansas’ accountability system.
“That statewide feedback was incorporated into the rating system,” she said. “It is an equitable system in terms of being comparable across all schools and student groups across the state.”
Tucker said the accountability system is not fair because it “doesn’t recognize the diversity of the students across the state.”
Tucker also said there were a lot of components that went into the ESSA criteria that teachers don’t have control over, but he said now that they know what the criteria is, they can “figure out how to help with some of it.”
El Dorado High School sends 85 percent of their students to college, with 75 percent of those continuing to their sophomore year. Tucker said those statistics are above the national average and “way above the state average.”
Although unhappy with the grade, Tucker said they have plans to improve. Currently, every school in the district is developing a school improvement plan.
El Dorado High School Principal Alva Reibe said in an email to the NewsTimes that the school grading was seven-tenths of a point from a C.
“EHS believes we are a much better school than our rating, which is the result of a mathematical calculation,” Reibe said. “At EHS, we continue to strive to do the very best for the students and will continue to do so. We have always and will continue to improve regardless of a rating score … that’s what we do, constantly improving to do what’s best for our students.”
Tucker said all of the elementary schools in the district revamped their entire literacy programs this year, adding that literacy was one of the weak points for the district and he believes this will have a major impact.
“Based on the feedback that I’ve gotten from teachers this year, they think it’s going to make a difference and we feel like it will too,” Tucker said.
The district is also looking at a district-wide mentoring program for new and incoming teachers. The high school started a program called Teacher Leaders last year that has been beneficial, but Tucker said they realized that it is something that needs to be incorporated in kindergarten through 12th grade as well.
“I think we’ll see a drastic difference in new teachers and their teaching skills in the first year or two,” he said.
Reibe said the high school teachers are “very qualified teachers who are not only certified in their content area, but many are also National Board certified, Advanced Placement (college board) certified, have master’s degrees and/or additional college hours in their content area, curriculum and instruction and administrative leadership.”
There are currently 455 high school students in 18 Advanced Placement (AP) classes, “which is one of the highest numbers in the state for schools our size,” Tucker said.
Reibe said that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has visited the high school to recognize their AP students and teachers.
“Students can leave EHS with many hours of college credit already on their transcript,” she added.
This year, the high school added engineering, computer science and photography classes. For the upcoming year, Reibe said they are adding a program for tourism and hospitality and are looking into adding bioscience and an agricultural program.
“Many of the teachers spend time after school and on weekends planning ways to implement best practices and make their lessons optimal for student learning and engagement,” Reibe said. “Many of the teachers offer before and after school tutoring and test recovery for struggling students. EHS teachers are among some of the best in the teaching field in Arkansas and in the nation.”
Tucker gave examples of colleges El Dorado High School students have been accepted to this year including Vanderbilt, Rice, Notre Dame and the Naval Academy.
Hugh Goodwin Elementary School received a B, Barton Junior High School and Washington Middle School both received C’s, Northwest Elementary School received a D and Retta Brown Elementary School and Yocum Elementary School both received F’s.
For elementary schools, the ESSA added attendance as a grading measure, “which is not something we have a lot of control over,” Tucker said.
“We make phone calls, but if parents don’t bring them, they don’t bring them,” he said.
Washington Middle School was recognized as one of the top STEM schools in the nation this year. The district also started offering pre-AP classes in fifth grade.
“Students can receive high school credit at Barton Junior High School,” Tucker said. “You will not see that anywhere else in south Arkansas.”
Some of the extracurricular activities the district provides to students include Arts, Drama, Theatre, Archery, Orchestra, Jazz Band, Marching Band, trips to other countries and over 13 different athletic programs.
Tucker said the El Dorado School District provides many benefits for children, including the El Dorado Promise.
“(The Promise) drives everything else,” he said. “We try to strive to be the best we can because we know our students are going to be able to go to college.”
Friedman said the state expects to see improvements in the coming years, “but it is more important for schools and communities to use the information in their current reports to have meaningful conversations with stakeholders regarding areas in which the school is excelling, as well as areas that need improvement.”
“We encourage districts to focus on improvements that produce sustainable, long-term positive impacts on students, rather than short-term actions that temporarily boost the ratings but may not result in sustained student access,” Friedman said.
High School: The El Dorado High School received a D on this year’s new ESSA grading system. Although unhappy with the grade, El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker said they have plans to improve.