152 schools earn A’s, 313 get B’s in state scor­ing

New ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem notes drop in high­est mark

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

Ar­kan­sas De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers on Fri­day an­nounced the 2018 nu­mer­i­cal scores and let­ter grades for the state’s 1,034 pub­lic schools, giv­ing A’s to 152 schools, B’s to 313 schools and C’s to 380 schools.

Forty-four schools — in­clud­ing nine high schools — re­ceived F’s and 145 got D’s as part of the new school ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem that is re­quired by state and fed­eral law.

The A-to-F let­ter grades are based on each school’s “ESSA School In­dex scores,” which are nu­mer­i­cal scores cal­cu­lated with a for­mula de­vel­oped by state ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers in con­sul­ta­tion with oth­ers and ap­proved by the U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in Jan­uary — all in re­sponse to the fed­eral Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act of 2015.

The sys­tem takes into ac­count mul­ti­ple fac­tors, in­clud­ing re­sults from the ACT As­pire tests that were given last spring to stu­dents in grades three through 10 and im­prove­ment on the tests over time.

Other fac­tors in the for­mula in­clude high school grad­u­a­tion rates, progress by stu­dents who are English-lan­guage learn­ers, and in­di­ca­tors of school qual­ity and stu­dent suc­cess. Those in­clude stu­dent at­ten­dance, science achieve­ment and gains, col­lege en­trance exam scores, num­bers of stu­dents read­ing at their grade level and com­mu­nity ser­vice by


In 2017-18 there were fewer A schools as com­pared with the 163 A schools in the 201617 school year, and also fewer D schools. More schools earned B’s, and C’s in 2018 com­pared with 2017. There were also more F schools based on 2018 data than on 2017 data.

The Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict, which has op­er­ated un­der state con­trol since Jan­uary 2015 be­cause of chron­i­cally low test scores at six schools at that time, has four A schools: For­est Park El­e­men­tary, For­est Heights Stem Academy, Don Roberts El­e­men­tary and Jef­fer­son El­e­men­tary. The dis­trict has eight schools with F’s: Bale, Romine, Stephens and Wash­ing­ton el­e­men­taries; Cloverdale Mid­dle School; and Hall, J.A. Fair and McClel­lan high schools. Four­teen dis­trict schools earned D’s, 10 had C’s and four had B’s.

North Lit­tle Rock’s 12 schools in­clude two with F’s — Sev­enth Street and Boone Park el­e­men­taries — and one school with an A, Crest­wood El­e­men­tary. Pu­laski County Spe­cial’s 24 schools in­cluded two schools with A’s and no F’s.

Ben­tonville School Dis­trict’s 21 cam­puses earned all A’s and B’s. Spring­dale School Dis­trict’s 29 schools earned noth­ing lower than a C.

Jones­boro School Dis­trict’s nine schools in­cluded one F at the Mi­croso­ci­ety Mag­net School and no A’s. The Texarkana dis­trict had two B’s, three C’s and three D’s. The El Do­rado dis­trict had one B, four C’s and two F’s. The Pine Bluff dis­trict, just re­cently taken over by the state for fi­nan­cial prob­lems, had five F’s and one D.

Johnny Key, Ar­kan­sas’ ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner, said Fri­day that the newly re­leased scores and let­ter grades carry no threat of penal­ties for low-scor­ing cam­puses.

That’s a change from the old fed­eral No Child Left Be­hind Act of 2002 that spec­i­fied sanc­tions for schools that did not meet yearly achieve­ment re­quire­ments.

Those penal­ties ranged from al­low­ing stu­dents to trans­fer away from low-per­form­ing schools to re­mov­ing the prin­ci­pal at a school to clos­ing the school.

“There are ex­pec­ta­tions for mean­ing­ful plans and mean­ing­ful re­sults,” Key said Fri­day about the cur­rent sys­tem. “But it is dif­fer­ent. No Child Left Be­hind cre­ated a fear of be­ing pun­ished. We are re­ally try­ing to use our ESSA plan to change it from a fear of the pun­ish­ment that might come, to a recog­ni­tion [by schools] that, ‘We do need help and the de­part­ment and the ed­u­ca­tion ser­vice co­op­er­a­tives are there to help us over­come the chal­lenges we have so we can drive bet­ter stu­dent re­sults.’”

Schools that are among the 5 per­cent low­est-per­form­ing will not only re­ceive ex­tra sup­port from their school dis­tricts and the state, but they are also el­i­gi­ble for fed­eral school im­prove­ment grants.

“Our ESSA plan al­lows us to in­di­vid­u­al­ize, to work with the dis­trict and the school to see what a school needs,” said Deb­o­rah Coff­man, as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner for pub­lic school ac­count­abil­ity. “It’s not one size fits all. They are serv­ing kids and work­ing hard. They have some unique sit­u­a­tions.”

Key said changes in the tim­ing for the re­lease of the ESSA School In­dex scores will ben­e­fit schools and stu­dents.

“We have the data so much ear­lier now in the process that they won’t lose an en­tire year,” Key said. “They have the data and they know they are go­ing to get some school im­prove­ment funds, and so there is go­ing to be a quicker re­sponse by the schools to what the data is telling them.”

State ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers found much to be pleased with in the ac­count­abil­ity re­ports.

Coff­man said 275 schools showed one-year gains in their ESSA School In­dex nu­mer­i­cal scores.

A to­tal of 158 schools im­proved their let­ter grades be­tween 2017 and 2018.

The Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s “My School Info” link on its web­site in­cludes lists of schools that raised their over­all ESSA School In­dex scores, as well as those schools that raised the achieve­ment score com­po­nent of the in­dex.

The agency web­site is arkansased.gov.

The 330-stu­dent Har­mony Grove High School in Saline County raised its D grade from the 2016-17 school year to an ESSA School In­dex Score of 68.44, a B.

“I don’t think that we have any se­crets,” Prin­ci­pal Chad Withers said about mak­ing gains. “We have a bunch of great teach­ers and some good kids. We were dis­ap­pointed in our grade last year and we had some con­ver­sa­tions about it. We had some peo­ple here who took those things per­son­ally.”

“It’s not that we did any­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” Withers added. “We just rolled up our sleeves and tried to go to work.”

Fort Smith’s Ball­man El­e­men­tary School im­proved test re­sults by al­most 14 points as com­pared with the 2017 re­sults. As a re­sult, Ball­man’s over­all ESSA School In­dex score rose by 8.38 points to 79.25, which is a B but is just .01 of a point short of an A let­ter grade.

Prin­ci­pal Lori Grif­fin said her school re­ceived a grant to test the pro­fes­sional learn­ing com­mu­ni­ties model of op­er­at­ing. Con­sul­tants worked in the build­ing last year, coach­ing teach­ers on ways to help pupils.

“We re­ally grew in our learn­ing,” Grif­fin said.

“It’s a to­tal change of cul­ture,” she also said about the en­hanced level of col­lab­o­ra­tion among teach­ers in their plan­ning lessons and as­sess­ing stu­dent progress.

The school stops core in­struc­tion for 30 min­utes ev­ery day dur­ing which time teach­ers and all other staff mem­bers — state-li­censed and non­li­censed — work with small groups of chil­dren to ad­dress their aca­demic needs.

“We’re look­ing at data on a daily ba­sis and guid­ing our in­struc­tion based on that data,” Grif­fin added.

The Farm­ing­ton School Dis­trict’s Bob Fol­som El­e­men­tary School, which serves kinder­garten-through-third-graders, had a 20.43 point gain in achieve­ment on the As­pire tests last spring, which kicked the school’s over­all ESSA In­dex score to 80.69, an A.

Fol­som Prin­ci­pal Shan­non Cantrell at­trib­uted the gain in large part to ex­pand­ing the use of Chrome­book com­put­ers among third-graders in their rou­tine school work to fa­mil­iar­ize them with the tech­nol­ogy.

“In third grade we have worked to be closer to a [one-stu­dent, one-com­puter ra­tio], be­cause that is the very first year kids take the ACT As­pire test, and it is all on the com­puter,” Cantrell said. “That’s a big dif­fer­ence when you are used to do­ing ev­ery­thing with pa­per and pen­cil.”

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