LRSD Academic Distress Begins, Ends with Student Pipeline

It is often repeated, sometimes by journalists and bloggers, that Little Rock Central is one of the best high schools in the state, if not the country. This declaration is uninformed at best and propaganda at worst, seemingly based on AP (Advanced Placement) performance and number of National Merit scholars. 

Since 2011, Central has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs Improvement – Focus school, among the 122 lowest performing schools in Arkansas. While it is a top 20% performer in Literacy, it is bottom 34% in Algebra, bottom 24% in Geometry, and bottom 49% in Biology. Central has had three opportunities to emerge from this designation, but has yet to do so.

The silos of excellence in Little Rock School District secondary schools in Benchmark and End of Course exam performance are in Literacy at Central and Parkview High Schools. In every other category, LRSD secondary schools rank among the bottom 51% to bottom 3% in the state.

Therefore, on the four End of Course exams, the highest performing high school in the LRSD is not Central, but Parkview, which beats Central in three (Algebra, Geometry, Literacy) of four categories. Central only exceeds Parkview’s performance in Biology.

Benchmark exam performance is comparatively worse in middle schools, where performance ranges from bottom 38% (highest) to bottom 3%. And again, that’s among schools not designated in Academic Distress.

The highest performing middle school, Pulaski Heights, is also a Needs Improvement – Focus school (bottom 122 in Arkansas), ranking in the bottom 34% in Math and bottom 38% in Literacy.

The silos of excellence at LRSD elementary schools are at Forest Park, Roberts and Williams for Math, and Forest Park, Gibbs and Williams for Literacy. The highest performing school in all of LRSD? Forest Park, which ranked 43rd in Arkansas in Math and 4th in Literacy.

Otherwise, only eight elementary schools in Math, and six in Literacy are in the top 50% in Arkansas. The remaining 22 are in the bottom 48% (highest) to the bottom 2% of all schools in Arkansas.

It is unfair to blame Academic Distress solely on the receiving middle or high schools. Equally, it would be folly to address it in Academic Distress school isolation. Below proficient academic performance is a systemic, district-wide issue, which requires triage at every stage of the student learning pipeline.

Ultimately, all Benchmark and End of Course exams show is how Arkansas students compare to other Arkansas students. When the difference between what passes for proficient in Arkansas and what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) considers proficient is 30, 40, 50 points different, Little Rock, and all of Arkansas, are in for a rude awakening with the results of this spring’s apples-to-apples, nationally norm-referenced, Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments. (Source:

Below are the data on all LRSD schools not designated in Academic Distress. Note that the two lowest performing schools in the Little Rock School District, not in Academic Distress, were Geyer Springs Elementary and Forest Heights Middle. It was a new superintendent, Dr. Dexter Suggs, who proposed, collaborated, and implemented the schools’ transitions to a K-8 STEM and Gifted and Talented Academies, respectively, over the objections of some on the board who now oppose State intervention. He has proposed a comparable reboot for Hall, an Academic Distress school, but the board has yet to act.

LRSD High Schools (Compared to End of Course Exam Schools)

*Needs Improvement – Priority School (Lowest 37 in Arkansas)
**Needs Improvement – Focus School (Lowest 122 in Arkansas)

**Central (2,519 Students)

  • Algebra (238th of 360, 68% Proficient)
  • Geometry (241st of 319, 63% Proficient)
  • Literacy (53rd of 276, 81% Proficient)
  • Biology (148th of 290, 44% Proficient)

Parkview (1,024 Students)

  • Algebra (232nd of 360; 69% Proficient)
  • Geometry (175th of 319, 73% Proficient)
  • Literacy (32nd of 276, 83% Proficient)
  • Biology (183rd of 290, 37% Proficient)

LRSD Middle Schools (Compared to Benchmark Exams of 861 Schools)

**Dunbar (669 Students)

  • Math (773rd; 53% Proficient)
  • Literacy (732nd; 66% Proficient)

Forest Heights (580 Students)

  • Math (840th; 39% Proficient)
  • Literacy (847th; 46% Proficient)

Mabelvale (649 Students)

  • Math (761st; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Mann (759 Students)

  • Math (571st; 67% Proficient)
  • Literacy (644th; 72% Proficient)

**Pulaski Heights (831 Students)

  • Math (571st; 67% Proficient)
  • Literacy (535th; 76% Proficient)

LRSD Elementary Schools (Compared to Benchmark Exams of 861 Schools)

**Bale (307 Students)

  • Math (696th; 60% Proficient)
  • Literacy (749th; 65% Proficient)

Booker (515 Students)

  • Math (718th; 58% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Brady (363 Students)

  • Math (748th; 55% Proficient)
  • Literacy (614th; 73% Proficient)

Carver (322 Students)

  • Math (303rd; 78% Proficient)
  • Literacy (463rd; 78% Proficient)

Dodd (287 Students)

  • Math (633rd; 64% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

Forrest Park (407 Students)

  • Math (43rd; 91% Proficient)
  • Literacy (4th; 97% Proficient)

**Franklin (323 Students)

  • Math (844th; 38% Proficient)
  • Literacy (791st; 61% Proficient)

Fulbright (564 Students)

  • Math (151st; 84% Proficient)
  • Literacy (95th; 89% Proficient)

*Geyer Springs (224 Students)

  • Math (815th; 46% Proficient
  • Literacy (838th; 49% Proficient

Gibbs (262 Students)

  • Math (151st; 84% Proficient)
  • Literacy (75th; 90% Proficient)

Jefferson (412 Students)

  • Math (81st; 88% Proficient)
  • Literacy (121st; 88% Proficient)

**King (471 Students)

  • Math (696th; 60% Proficient)
  • Literacy (784th; 62% Proficient)

Mabelvale (527 Students)

  • Math (760th; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (688th; 69% Proficient)

McDermott (363 Students)

  • Math (724th; 57% Proficient)
  • Literacy (764th; 64% Proficient)

Meadowcliff (337 Students)

  • Math (651st; 63% Proficient)
  • Literacy (732nd; 66% Proficient)

Otter Creek (593 Students)

  • Math (444th; 73% Proficient)
  • Literacy (588th; 74% Proficient)

Pulaski Heights (369 Students)

  • Math (427th; 74% Proficient)
  • Literacy (535th; 76% Proficient)

Roberts (904 Students)

  • Math (43rd; 91% Proficient)
  • Literacy (95th; 89% Proficient)

Rockefeller (296 Students)

  • Math (762nd; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (764th; 64% Proficient)

**Romine (316 Students)

  • Math (815th; 46% Proficient)
  • Literacy (825th; 54% Proficient)

**Stephens (157 Students)

  • Math (684th; 45% Proficient)
  • Literacy (679th; 68% Proficient)

Terry (376 Students)

  • Math (187th; 82% Proficient)
  • Literacy (462nd; 78% Proficient)

**Wakefield (552 Students)

  • Math (669th; 62% Proficient)
  • Literacy (778th; 63% Proficient)

Washington (433 Students)

  • Math (748th; 55% Proficient)
  • Literacy (808th; 58% Proficient)

Watson (383 Students)

  • Math (773rd; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (834th; 50% Proficient)

Western Hills (239 Students)

  • Math (661st; 54% Proficient)
  • Literacy (778th; 63% Proficient)

Williams (407 Students)

  • Math (56th; 90% Proficient)
  • Literacy (75th; 90% Proficient)

Wilson (261 Students)

  • Math (724th; 57% Proficient)
  • Literacy (813th; 56% Proficient)

When 20 of 29 elementary and 5 of 5 middle schools not in Academic Distress rank in the 500s, 600s, 700s and 800s of the 861 Benchmark Exam schools in Arkansas, it’s obvious where triage should be immediately administered. However, that does not mean moving performing teachers from performing schools to low-performing schools. Rather, it means bolstering performing teachers in low performing schools, and removing (not reassigning) low-performing teachers from classrooms altogether. Student learning can no longer be sacrificed while a teacher gets coached up for the job he/she was hired to do.

Achievement gaps are not just among demographic groups, but may also be seen in the learning of individual students. Throughout the state and in every region, Literacy scores exceed Math by an average of six points. In those LRSD schools where Literacy outscores Math by ten or more points (Central, Parkview, Dunbar, Mabelvale Middle, Booker, Brady, Franklin, Mabelvale Elementary, Stephens), those responsible for Math learning, from the classroom to the building to the district, should step up or step out.

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