Arkansas schools’ let­ter grades re­leased

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - Editor’s note: Arkansas Se­na­tor Ce­cile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee. CE­CILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Se­na­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — Arkansas has 1,034 pub­lic schools and each one re­cently re­ceived a let­ter grade, from A to F, to give par­ents an easy method of eval­u­at­ing them.

The re­lease of school re­port cards usu­ally oc­curs in April, and it cre­ates quite a bit of dis­cus­sion among prin­ci­pals, ad­min­is­tra­tors, elected of­fi­cials and of course, par­ents.

This year, the state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment worked with ex­tra dili­gence to pro­duce the re­port card six months ear­lier than usual. One rea­son was that school staff had re­quested more timely re­ports, so that they could more quickly use the in­for­ma­tion in the re­port cards to im­prove their schools.

Fail­ing schools can ap­ply for sup­port from state and fed­eral sources, and the sooner they ap­ply the sooner their stu­dents will reap the ben­e­fits of added resources. They can use the in­for­ma­tion in the re­ports to im­prove this school year, and not have to wait un­til next year.

This year, the number of schools that re­ceived an A grade fell from 163 to 152. How­ever, the number of schools that got a D grade also dropped, from 170 to 145. The number of fail­ing schools that got an F in­creased from 33 in the 2016-17 school year to 44 in the 2017-18 school year.

Both this year and last year, a lit­tle more than a third of all Arkansas schools re­ceived a C grade. Last year 384 got a C and this year 380 got a C.

The number of schools re­ceiv­ing a B went up strongly, from 290 to 313.

The let­ter grades are based on nu­mer­ous fac­tors, in­clud­ing stan­dard­ized test scores, stu­dent at­ten­dance, grad­u­a­tion rates and the pro­por­tion of stu­dents who read at their grade level.

The school re­port cards were re­leased at the same time as a much more com­plex in­di­ca­tor of school suc­cess, the ESSA In­dex.

ESSA stands for the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act, a 2015 fed­eral law that took the place of con­tro­ver­sial fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards known as the No Child Left Be­hind Act. Un­der the old fed­eral stan­dards, con­sis­tently get­ting low grades meant that a school could be pe­nal­ized.

Schools that re­ceived low grades will not be pe­nal­ized, the state Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner said. They will be of­fered ex­tra help from the state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment.

The most re­cent ESSA School In­dex and school re­port card can both be found on­line at the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s My School Info page. It is at myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov.

You can find the page with an In­ter­net search en­gine, such as Google, Ya­hoo and Bing, by typ­ing in My School Info and Arkansas.

The web page has search fea­tures so that you can look up spe­cific re­ports for your chil­dren’s school. It also has in­struc­tional videos, on the right side of the page un­der a head­line of “What’s New.” One of the videos will show you how to nav­i­gate the nu­mer­ous links on the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment web­site that con­tain re­ports and com­par­isons.

The leg­is­la­ture ap­proved Act 696 in 2013 to di­rect the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment to be­gin is­su­ing school re­port cards, to make it eas­ier for par­ents to eval­u­ate their chil­dren’s schools. The first re­port cards were for the 2014-15 school year.

Un­der Act 696, the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment con­sid­ers schools that get an A as ex­em­plary. B schools are “achiev­ing,” C schools “need im­prove­ment, D schools “need im­prove­ment – fo­cus” and F schools “need im­prove­ment – pri­or­ity.”

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