152 schools earn A’s, 313 get B’s in state scoring
New accountability system notes drop in highest mark
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.”