First batch of ESSA school grades released in Arkansas

First batch of ESSA school grades released in Arkansas

(Ark.) School grades that include multiple academic and non-academic measure were released in Arkansas for the first time last week, and the results are overwhelmingly average.

Of the state’s 1040 public schools, more than 380 received a C grade and close to 300 earned a B.

Following the release of school grades, state education officials are emphasizing to district leaders and parents that the scores are meant to drive school improvement using brand new measures of success–not to brand low performers as failures.

Each school’s score includes student achievement on the state-mandated Aspire exams in grades three through 10, as well as gains and growth over time on the tests, the progress of English-language learners on the tests, four- and five-year graduation rates for high schools, and various indicators of school quality and student success, including attendance rates, reading and science achievement, computer-science credits completed, ACT college entrance exam results, and community service work.

Just a year ago, however, teachers and school leaders were unaware of the criteria on which their schools would be evaluated–and the Arkansas Department of Education made note that sanctions would not be handed down for a school's low index percentage score and failing grade based on the 2016-17 school year data.

“While comprehensive, the performance reports are just one tool parents, schools and communities can use to determine student and school success,” Johnny Key, state education commissioner, said last week in a memo to school leaders. “The tool should be used to encourage ongoing communication between all stakeholders as they work together to improve education for all students.”

Arkansas is one of 34 states that has received approval of its Every Student Succeeds Act school accountability plan from the U.S. Department of Education. Key said the scoring system should give administrators, teachers, parents and communities a better picture of overall school success.

The new letter grades assigned to schools and released to the public last week show that the majority of sites fall into the B to C grade range.

Of the 535 elementary schools in the state, 83 received an A, 146 received a B, 196 a C, 88 a D, and 22 an F. Among the 204 middle schools, 46 earned an A, 58 a B, 66 a C, 32 a D, and only 2 an F. And of the 301 high schools, 34 received an A, 86 a B, 122 a C, 50 a D and, 9 an F.

As part of compliance with ESSA, the lowest 5 percent of schools will be provided with comprehensive state support.

Schools in which specific subgroups of students were determined to be underperforming–including low-income children, foster youth, English-language learners or students with disabilities–will be provided with targeted support. High schools with graduation rates lower than 67 percent also will also receive targeted support services.

In addition to the overall letter grades, the state Education Department has made available scores for the different components of the index score for each school and district, as well as comparisons to state averages.

The department also released letters based on grade-range to parents and educators in an effort to help school leaders help stakeholders better understand the new school grades. Districts can distribute the letters that explains how to read and understand indicator scores for each letter grade or school rating.

According to Key, the state will also be rolling out resources for schools such as webinars and additional data in order to assist districts in writing plans this year that will improve how students are served – something he said will “eventually manifest in higher ESSA index scores and higher letter grades.”