Berryville school test scores didn't improve enough, board is told

Friday, December 21, 2012

BERRYVILLE -- Berryville Middle School and High School failed to adequately improve students' standardized test scores last school year, school board members learned Monday night.

The information was one finding of a report delivered by Testing Coordinator Patricia Connor, who also handed in her letter of resignation at the meeting --she is accepting a position with the Arkansas Department of Education.

Connor's report showed how test scores in the district stacked up against new accountability standards imposed this year by the state. Despite the difficulties in the middle and high schools, Connor told board members that, overall, the district had received a clean bill of health.

The scores presented Monday were better than the preliminary results released by the state earlier this year. Connor said that was because the district was successful in appealing a number of "record keeping" errors by the state, which had led to students' scores being miscounted or not counted at all.

Significantly, Connor said 17 high-achieving students' scores had been unaccountably omitted from the initial set of numbers -- artificially deflating performance.

The change in accountability standards came as a result of a June 29 decision by the U.S. Department of Education to grant Arkansas a waiver of certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Arkansas was the 33rd state to be granted such a reprieve since President Barack Obama announced the waiver program last year, according to a report prepared by the Office of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.

In exchange for the concession, the state had to submit a plan for establishing its own educational accountability system, to replace the federal government's.

The first provisions of the state's plan are being implemented this school year, and it was these Connor referred to in her report.

The new system differs from the old one in a couple major ways, according to the Office of Education Policy report.

First, the system changes the way student subgroups are evaluated. An innovation of the No Child Left Behind Act had been to score schools on the performance of these groups, as well as the overall student body.

According to the report, those groups -- including English Language Learners, Economically Disadvantaged Students, and Students with Disabilities -- have now been lumped together into one "Target Achievement Gap Group."

Second, the new system moves the goal-post significantly closer for schools in the state. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, 100 percent of all students were to become proficient by 2014, and schools were graded based on whether they achieved Adequate Yearly Progress toward this goal.

Under the new system, schools were given the more manageable mandate to halve the gap between their current achievement, as of 2011, and 100 percent proficiency, and they have been given until 2017 to meet the goal. Also Annual Measurable Objectives have replaced Adequate Yearly Progress as the measure of success.

Based on this new system, Connor told board members Berryville Middle School and Berryville High School had both been classified by the state as "Needs Improvement" for 2012 to 2013.

Middle school students -- both overall and in the targeted group -- did not achieve the Annual Measurable Objectives in math. However, Connor said Berryville students had still outperformed state averages.

In the high school, literacy was the problem area, with English learners and disabled students scoring well below the Annual Measurable Objectives.

Also Monday, board members adopted a resolution in support of a grant for constructing sidewalks and school-crossing beacons.

Harris said the district hoped to install flashing school zone beacons on Freeman, Campbell, and School streets.

The money is being applied for through the federal Safe Routes to School program. That program, administered locally by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, aims to encourage school children to walk and bicycle to school, rather than be driven.

As part of the application, high schoolers in Kelly Swofford's EAST Lab class have inventoried the city's existing sidewalks using GIS mapping software.

Harris told board members that the City of Berryville had agreed to be the "sustaining partner" for the grant, meaning city staff would maintain the improvements after the grant funds run out.

The City of Berryville plans to apply for a second grant through the same program -- to fund the construction of a pedestrian-activated stoplight for school children crossing Highway 62 to the Berryville Community Center.

Council members approved a resolution to move forward with the second grant at a meeting Tuesday night. The deadline for the grant applications is Feb. 28.

In other business, board members:

* Approved a request by High School Principal Randall Betts to create two new teaching positions -- one each in math and English -- due to increasing enrollment.

* Renewed the district's yearly contract with Allied Technology for $27,301. The company, based in Little Rock, provides computer networking services for the district.

* Increased the pay for substitute bus drivers to the flat rate of $30 per trip, in an effort to recruit more drivers. The pay had previously been $20 for short routes and $25 for long routes.

* Approved eight student transfer requests -- six out of and two into the district -- for spring 2013.

* Accepted the resignations of Connor; custodians Teresa Clark and Rhonda Grady; and paraprofessional Judy Kell.

* Added the following people to the substitute list for the 2012 to 2013 school year: Amanda Ferguson (cafeteria), Alisha Ginn (K-12/cafe/custodian), Marilyn Harter (K-12/cafe/custodian), Alfonso Rangel (K-12), Nicole Utt (cafe/custodian).

* Received a facilities update from Doug Harris, director of facilities and special programs for the district.

* Received updates from each building principal

Editor's Note: To read the principals' monthly building reports, visit http://bit.ly/12sgGBv.

The Berryville School Board's next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 21 in the Intermediate School Cafetorium. For more information, call 870-480-4669.

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  • Ohhhhhhhh, shucks! Well, raises and bonuses for everybody!!

    -- Posted by Atlas Shrugged on Sat, Dec 22, 2012, at 4:37 PM
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