Bad news is good news at Cooper El­e­men­tary

The Weekly Vista - - News - LYNN ATKINS

While the bad news is that the Ben­tonville School District won’t be get­ting ad­di­tional help from the state, that’s also the good news. The schools in the Ben­tonville district, in­clud­ing Cooper El­e­men­tary, are do­ing so well they don’t need the ad­di­tional help, Le­an­dra Cleve­land, direc­tor of as­sess­ment and data man­age­ment for the district ex­plained.

When the state re­cently an­nounced the results of the school as­sess­ment pro­gram, all the Ben­tonville schools got A’s or B’s, she said. Cooper was one of the schools that earned an A and was the third high­est of the 11 el­e­men­tary schools in Ben­tonville.

The school grad­ing sys­tem changed over the past few years, she ex­plained, be­cause the fed­eral law changed. The Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act re­placed No Child Left Be­hind and the state de­vel­oped a new as­sess­ment sys­tem. One of the most im­por­tant changes, she said, is that 50 per­cent of the score is now based on stu­dent im­prove­ment.

“The new plan takes into ef­fect stu­dent growth,” she said. Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual stu­dent’s growth — as long as the stu­dent started in the district by Oc­to­ber — is fac­tored into the school’s grade.

“It’s a big dif­fer­ence,” she said. The old sys­tem looked at the per­cent­age of stu­dents who tested as pro­fi­cient. That meant that a rel­a­tively small num­ber of stu­dents — the ones who were al­most pro­fi­cient — could have a big im­pact on the over­all scores. If those “bub­ble” stu­dents re­ceived enough ex­tra help to raise their scores above that line, it didn’t re­ally mat­ter if other stu­dents pro­gressed or not.

Now, ev­ery stu­dent’s growth is mea­sured. The stu­dents who start out do­ing very well are still ex­pected to grow, and so are the stu­dents at the low end of the scale.

Teach­ers have con­stant ac­cess to the data, Cleve­land said, so they can tell how they’re do­ing.

Prin­ci­pal Chad Mims said his staff has per­fected a sys­tem in which ev­ery stu­dent spends some time ev­ery day in a small group en­vi­ron­ment. Teach­ers place stu­dents in a group ac­cord­ing to their in­di­vid­ual needs and the groups are con­stantly chang­ing as the stu­dents progress.

The sys­tem works at Cooper partly be­cause Cooper is the only el­e­men­tary school in the district that of­fers PE4Life, and that means that ev­ery stu­dent has PE ev­ery day. Each grade level is di­vided in half dur­ing the PE pe­riod, with half go­ing to their small group while half goes to PE. Then they switch.

While other schools use small group in­struc­tion, Mims be­lieves Cooper’s sys­tem al­lows more kids to take part in smaller groups.

Ac­cord­ing to the school’s grade, even the sub­pop­u­la­tions — like spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents or stu­dents from low-in­come house­holds — are do­ing very well.

Cooper, he said, is part of the top 5 per­cent of schools in the state.

The new sys­tem also con­sid­ers things like at­ten­dance, Cleve­land said, be­cause stu­dents who are en­gaged at school want to be there. In­di­vid­ual test scores are still con­sid­ered, as well, with an em­pha­sis on read­ing scores.

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