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ARKANSAS SCHOOL GRADES: Education chief sees scores as stimulus

State’s Key expects new grading system to factor into goal-setting by schools

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Photographs by John Sykes Jr.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key is shown in this file photo.

The index scores and A-to-F grades announced by the Arkansas Department of Education last week for the state's more than 1,000 public schools will drive future improvements in student achievement, state Education Commissioner Johnny Key said.

The 2017 school index scores and resulting letter grades -- 163 A's, 290 B's, 384 C's, 170 D's and 33 F's -- are published in today's edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A school's index score is an amalgamation of several components for which there are also scores. Making up each school's overall score are:

• Student achievement on the state-required ACT Aspire exams in grades three through 10.

[DATABASE: Search all 2016-17 Arkansas School Performance Reports]

• Student achievement gains or growth over time on the Aspire tests.

• The progress of non-native English-language learners on the tests.

• Four- and five-year graduation rates for high schools, if applicable.

• Multiple indicators of school quality and student success, such as student attendance, ACT college entrance exam results, reading and science achievement, computer-science credits and community service work.

The components are given different weights in the calculation, with achievement and achievement growth counting more in the calculations than, for example, the school-quality indicators.

Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville received the highest index score in the state, with 98.3 percent and a letter grade of A. The state average for high schools was 72.29, a B.

There are no sanctions for a school's low index percentage score and failing grade based on the 2016-17 school year data, Key said, adding that teachers and school leaders were unaware a year ago of the criteria on which their schools would be evaluated.

"That's pretty significant for districts and communities to understand," he said, adding that the goal now is to be very transparent about what goes into the calculations so that principals and teachers can respond accordingly for the future when their schools will be identified for varying levels of additional support by their districts and the state.

The lowest 5 percent of schools will be provided with comprehensive support, for example.

Schools in which subgroups of students are underperforming -- be they white, black, Hispanic, poor, English-language learners or those in need of special-education services -- will be provided with targeted support. High schools with graduating rates of less than 67 percent also will be provided help.

"As we roll this information out," Key said last week, "we are also rolling out information such as webinars and data so school districts can answer the question 'How do we make plans this year to improve how we serve our students?' The answers will eventually manifest in higher ESSA index scores and higher letter grades."

ESSA is an abbreviation for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, which is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It was in response to that law that Arkansas education leaders, in consultation with other public school stakeholders, developed the numerical index scoring system. Arkansas is one of 34 states that has so far received U.S. Department of Education approval of its Every Student Succeeds Act compliance plan.

The "My School Info" link on the state Education Department's website is the interactive repository of all the letter grades and index scores for each school, as well as the scores for the different components of the index score, and comparisons to state averages. Scatter plots and bar charts show the distribution of the schools in terms of the different performance categories. Graphics also show the two-year performances, 2016 compared with 2017, of student subgroups.

After the release Wednesday of the 2017 Arkansas School Performance reports and the ESSA School Index Scores, the My School Info link received more than 130,000 page views in two days, the Education Department said Friday. The online resource has had more than 500,000 total views since it was established in November 2016.

Henry Anderson, director of secondary education and data analysis in the 8,500-student North Little Rock School District, is ecstatic over the breadth and depth of the new school accountability data system and the potential it offers for educators and students.

"This is a great time to be in education and to have the flexibility to really do what is best for kids," Anderson said Friday. "We don't have to be cookie cutter about it, but to really say 'This is my population of students,' and 'This is what we need to do to help them be able to achieve.'

"I love it," Anderson said.

Seven schools in the North Little Rock district, including the high school, received D's. The high school's ESSA School Index Score is 62.45. There was one C, two B's. The district's one A went to Crestwood Elementary.

"You look at your scores and you say, 'Where is it where we can work to increase our scores?'" Anderson said. "My School Info is awesome because it shows us our scores versus the state averages. This is a dynamic report that allows us to see our enrollment and information about our subpopulations of students. We can see our scores and our grades and we can see how far away we are from the next higher letter grade."

Anderson said the compiled, one-stop-shop of data will enable North Little Rock staff to look at student absenteeism, graduation rates, ACT college entrance exam results and student enrollment in concurrent-credit college courses -- all of which can factor into the school's index score. Improve those and possibly improve the index score, he said.

"The report allows you to see the schools that are scoring above your schools and you can begin conversations with those schools and ask them: 'What are you doing in regard to x or to y? What are you doing on student success and school quality? How are you getting more students to enroll in concurrent-credit courses?'"

As for student subgroups, the two-year comparisons of available data allow for an analysis of instructional strategies to determine what is working or not. An increase in the test scores for English-language learners in the district is attributed in part to providing core academic teachers some strategies for working with those students, he said.

A Section on 04/15/2018

Comments

RBear says...

Let's hope school districts and their boards truly dig into these scores. I would also hope community leaders do the same, including the current candidates for mayor of Little Rock. There are so many indicators where Little Rock is failing and that needs to change. The city has degraded so much under Mayor Mark Stodola there is no reason to give him another chance to fix the wrong. He is part of the problem along with the city manager. It's time for new leadership in the city.

Posted 15 April 2018, 7:27 a.m. Suggest removal

Razrbak says...

It's telling that the Little Rock School District, run by Key, had half of the high schools in LR with a 'F". If the state agency responsible can't meet the standards its time for a new director that actually has teaching credentials and experience.

Posted 15 April 2018, 8:03 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

Very good point Razrbak. Thanks for bringing that up.

Posted 15 April 2018, 8:04 a.m. Suggest removal

PopMom says...

Setting standards is one thing. Achieving them is another. The teachers need training as to how to increase literacy. Every grade is important in terms of development. Instead of just working on remediation in high school, schools need to ensure that children make progress every year. The schools are not making the children work hard enough. They need to be reading much more than they are in some of these schools. The state needs to mimic the successful efforts of other schools with socioeconomically deprived children. Of course, the kids in Fayetteville can read; many of the parents teach at the University.

Posted 15 April 2018, 8:40 a.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Would be interesting to see per pupil expenditures to corresponding rank.
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Henry Woods and John Walker and their failed liberal social policies destroyed LR schools in the 1980's and the schools may never recover. It's just sad. Really, really sad.
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Hey Pop - Newton and Searcy Counties have some of the most socioeconomically deprived kids in the US yet those kids seem to do OK in school. And you can bet none of those kids' parents teach at the UofA. Might those be some schools to mimic?

Posted 15 April 2018, 10:57 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

Bismarck was in the top tier of schools. It would be interesting to see what’s going on in that school district. Overall, the report provides information to help districts.

Posted 15 April 2018, 11:20 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

Key has been on the job for about 3 years. What is the LRSD grade trend? And how fast do we expect him to turn the schools around?

Posted 15 April 2018, 12:23 p.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

NUN we should have been seeing some positive numbers after 3 YEARS. In reality, the onus lies on Michael Poore who is actually engaged in the process. Now he hasn't had that much time so maybe we should give him a pass this year. But most companies don't give CEOs 3 YEARS to start to see a turnaround.

Posted 15 April 2018, 1:26 p.m. Suggest removal

Jfish says...

Rbear, I was thinking the same thing about Bismarck since I pass through their sometimes when going to Lake DeGray.

Posted 15 April 2018, 1:29 p.m. Suggest removal

drs01 says...

Charter schools, which the LRSD has fought for years,have A ratings. And schools districts in counties surrounding Little Rock seem to be doing okay as well. You can't fix a problem that is the LRSD in a short time when it has been a real cluster for years.
A change in the mayor position won't resolve the problems any faster. It's the ENTIRE city government. the local Chamber, the LR convention people who are to blame. They tend to focus on tourists and downtown revitalization instead of giving a damn about the school district problems. And you might include those Pulaski county legislatures as well. They have done everything possible to DRIVE citizens out of this city, and to block those who have stayed from getting into Charter Schools. Yes, the private schools for the Haves continue to flourish.
The LRSD is BEYOND recovery regardless of who is mayor. I've read a lot of chatter here that one candidate for mayor is the SALVATION. That is pure BS. The mayor is a figurehead with very little real power to effect change.

Posted 15 April 2018, 2 p.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

drs once again, you go off on a tirade without any REAL solutions. You just write the whole thing off and blame EVERYONE. With regards to the mayor, it's a start to the overall issue of Little Rock problems. Having ACTUALLY worked with a city government in a city that constantly rates in the top 10 in the nation, you gain an understanding of solutions. What's your creds in actually doing something about civic problems? I'm guessing none. Just another aginner that just gripes and complains, but does NOTHING. Am I right about that? What have you ACTUALLY done?

Posted 15 April 2018, 2:46 p.m. Suggest removal

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