In the 89th General Assembly, SB752 was sponsored by Senator Jim Hendren “To Clarify for Parents the Public School Rating System on Annual School Report Cards.” It passed the Senate and House with zero Nays and was signed into law by Governor Mike Beebe, becoming Act 696.
Why was it necessary?
Since 2011, Arkansas has received an ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act – of late, No Child Left Behind) waiver to designate its public schools in one of five categories. As a result, in 2013-14, public schools in Arkansas received the following designations:
|Designation||Number of Schools|
|Needs Improvement||793 (75%)|
|Needs Improvement – Focus||85 (8%)|
|Needs Improvement – Priority||37 (4%)|
One of the many problems of the system is that no school may fall into the lower two categories, Needs Improvement – Focus and Needs Improvement – Priority. They may only emerge. That leaves the vast majority (75%) of schools in Arkansas designated in the massive middle, allowing low performing and/or declining schools to be assuaged by their company.
On the flip side, if schools are in the Needs Improvement – Focus or Priority categories, that means they’ve been there since 2011.
Before that, schools received a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Few could recall whether it was best to receive a 1 or a 5.
Earlier this year, two years after Act 696 became law, the first A-F Report Cards were issued for every public school in Arkansas. As a result, the following grades, scores were received by 1,050 public schools:
|Grade||Score||Number of Schools|
|A||270 – 300||162 (15%)|
|B||240 – 269||322 (31%)|
|C||210 – 239||365 (35%)|
|D||180 – 209||158 (15%)|
In Giving Excellence a ‘D,’ New formula for grading schools fails students, May 1, 2015 Special to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the author asks readers:
“What grade would you give Springdale’s Jones Elementary?
“Consider the following data:
- At Jones, 97 percent of the children live in poverty and 85 percent are English learners. Despite these obstacles, the school had the highest literacy growth in the entire district on the 2013-2014 state Benchmark test, soaring from 26 percent to 78 percent proficiency over the past nine years.”
Consider the data, we did.
- It is correct that Jones Elementary is 97% Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), public education’s euphemism for poverty (56th highest in Arkansas).
- Jones Elementary is 81% (not 85%) Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students, the highest in Arkansas.
- It is incorrect that “Jones Elementary had the highest literacy growth in the entire district on the 2013-14 Benchmark test, soaring from 26 percent to 78 percent proficiency over the past nine years.”
- Rather than “the highest literacy growth in the entire district on the 2013-14 Benchmark,” Jones had the second highest decline in the district among 17 elementary schools (-7), from 72% in 2012-13 to 65% in 2013-14.
- Nine years ago, Jones had 31% proficient in Literacy, not 26%.
- Jones’s nine-year growth, while impressive, was +34 (from 31% to 65%), not +52 (from 26% to 78%).
- Over the past nine years, the lowest Jones score was 29% (not 26%) in 2006-07, and the highest was 73% (not 78%) in 2011-12.
Letter grades and scores are for one year’s performance and growth. So, because the percentage of Jones’s students proficient in Math and Literacy was 69% and 65%, respectively, and the cumulative scores did not improve, but declined 3 and 7 points, respectively, over the previous year, Jones received a D.
Meanwhile, here are how Springdale’s 17 elementary schools scored and compared:
|School||Grade||Score (of 300)||FRL%||LEP%||Math Proficient||Literacy Proficient||Math Growth||Literacy Growth|
|Robert E. Lee||B||245||90%||63%||72%||74%||-6||-3|
|Thurman G. Smith||C||210||74%||46%||76%||76%||-4||-1|
Note that two of the three schools with demographics closest to Jones – Bayyari and Parson Hills – were A schools. So, rather than criticizing a system which determined a single school’s disappointing grade, why not celebrate that 11 of 17 Springdale elementary schools received As or Bs?
The pattern is clear. If a school’s overall performance grade is low, the way to improve the grade is to show improvement. Unfortunately, the combination of lowest scores and fourth greatest decline in scores among elementary schools in the district resulted in Jones’s receiving the lowest grade and score.
A recent Talk Business poll showed that Arkansans graded their local schools comparably to the actual grades received:
While A-F is imperfect, it is vastly superior to its predecessors. The good news is that, finally, the grades do what the law and its sponsor intended – “To Clarify for Parents the Public School Rating System on Annual School Report Cards.” It is up to those being graded whether to view that clarity as stigma or motivation.
For a deeper explanation of public school report cards, visit: http://www.arkansased.gov/divisions/public-school-accountability/school-performance/report-card.
For Arkansas public education data made user-friendly, visit: http://www.officeforeducationpolicy.org/arkansas-schools-data