State issues report card for schools

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Carroll County schools received their annual report card last week.

On April 15, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) released a document assigning every school in Arkansas a letter grade based on a 300-point scale. These grades, according to the ADE, are based on the results of state-required Benchmark and End-of-Course math and literacy tests, as well as the size of the achievement gap and the school's graduation rate.

The Berryville School District and the Green Forest School District improved their scores from last year. Berryville's elementary, intermediate and middle schools were given a C, with the high school scoring a B. Green Forest's elementary scored a B, and its intermediate and high schools received a C. Berryville's middle school and Green Forest's intermediate school were given a D in last year's evaluation, jumping up a letter grade this year.

Despite faring best last year, the Eureka Springs School District received the lowest overall scores this year. Eureka Springs received a C from ADE for its elementary, middle and high schools. Both the middle school and high school received a B in last year's evaluation. Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the lower scores might have resulted from the way state standardized testing has evolved.

"We went from Benchmark to PARCC and now we're on ACT Aspire. We've been jumping a lot the past few years," Pruitt said.

"It's hard to say why you have a C," Pruitt continued. "Hopefully now that we're with the ACT Aspire, it's going to give us an opportunity to adjust and improve from there."

Green Forest Superintendent Matt Summers said he does not believe the ADE's grades accurately reflect a school's performance.

"We're pleased with the B for our elementary. We have a lot of outstanding teachers and students there, but even that grade is not reflective of all the great things our district has going on," Summers said.

Summers noted that Green Forest Elementary was in the top 20 percent of schools in the state two years ago but still received a C from the ADE.

"The state department even gave our school a check that year in recognition of our success, so to be told later that we were average was confusing and frustrating," Summers said.

The ADE grades, Summers continued, are more political than educational.

"A lot of what the state views as significant may not be on the local level," Summers said. "I think you could look at our students' test scores and find that we're superior to a lot of the state."

Berryville Superintendent Owen Powell pointed out that the formula used to determine the grades isn't simple to understand.

"It looks at growth, education gaps for specific groups of students and graduation rates, then rolls that into one score," Powell said.

The ADE grades focus on growth, Powell noted, by comparing each year's test scores with the previous year. If a school is scoring around 90 percent on state tests and continues to do so, he said the ADE will likely assign the school a C because its scores show no growth.

"Only about 1 percent of Arkansas schools scored an A this year. About 54 percent scored a C. The state has set the bar pretty high," Powell said.

Powell continued, saying the Berryville Middle School was only two points away from a B this year and the elementary and intermediate schools were on the higher end of the C scale.

"A large part of why our high school keeps receiving a B is our high graduate rate," Powell said. "We have an 85 percent graduation rate, which is higher than much of the state."

Powell explained that schools must take the ADE grades into consideration.

"I don't put much weight into the scores personally, but the public will view our schools based on that data. We have to look at them, and we will continue to work towards an A rating," Powell said.

Pruitt agreed. Moving forward, he said he hopes the Eureka Springs School District can earn higher scores.

"We take the grades very seriously. We feel like we have great teachers, outstanding students and a good curriculum to offer those students," Pruitt said. "We just have to keep working diligently and hard, and I think things will come together."

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