Posted on April 23, 2018
By Kaitlyn Rigdon
In recent letter grades issued to public schools throughout the state, the El Dorado School District received a D for its high school and two of its elementary schools were given Fs.
But how was that determination made?
According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Arkansas’ State Plan, the purpose is to “provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”
The Arkansas Department of Education released letter grades for the 2016-17 school year for over 1,000 schools in the state, with the grades being based on information received for the 2016-17 School Performance Report.
The department developed the ESSA School Index to be used for annual meaningful differentiation of schools to identify schools, and student subgroups in need of support within schools, based on multiple indicators, valued by stakeholders.
The Arkansas State Plan states that the ESSA School Index is comprised of multiple indicators, including achievement, growth rate, graduation rate, English learner progress in English language proficiency and school quality/student success indicators for each grade span.
The information was obtained by stakeholder feedback throughout the process of developing Arkansas’ plan.
Kimberly Friedman, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the stakeholder feedback was provided by students, parents, educators, legislators and community members throughout the development of the plan. Information was also obtained by reviewing letter grades, report cards and ESSA School Index scores.
There was a “Listening Tour” created to receive feedback from over nine different communities in Arkansas. Three questions were listed: What are the most important characteristics of your schools? What are the best measures of success/quality of your school? How do we make sure every student in Arkansas has opportunity for success?
They also received feedback through surveys, meetings and social media. More than 500 individuals submitted answers and feedback.
According to the plan, after feedback was collected, the department formed advisory teams to provide more detailed input on specific topics.
The reports show how a school’s overall student body and its subgroups did compared with the state averages.
The letter grades were posted on April 11 and Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key said the grades in the Arkansas plan aren’t meant to define a school or a district and noted there are no penalties for schools that received D’s and F’s.
In the El Dorado School District, Retta Brown Elementary School and Yocum Elementary School both received Fs. Both schools also have the highest rate of low-income students within the district.
District Superintendent Jim Tucker said that when signing children up for kindergarten, parents are given an option as to which elementary school they want their child to attend.
“The doors typically open around 7:30 a.m. and we bring (the parents) in and they register their child for kindergarten and they let us know what (school) they want their child to go to,” Tucker said. “It’s a first come, first serve basis.”
The reason that registration is designed this way, rather than having a specific school designated to a specific area, is because each elementary school has a specific focus, known as “focused elementary schools.”
While having the same curriculum, the four elementary schools each focus on a different student interest. Hugh Goodwin is the Academy for the Arts, Northwest is the Environmental Studies Academy, Retta Brown is the Academy for Communications and Technology and Yocum is the Academy for Math and Science.
Tucker said he would put all of the teachers at the elementary schools in the school district “against any teacher in the state.”
“They are outstanding, they do a tremendous job, they love what they do, they’re good at what they do and they love their students,” he said. “We’ve had teachers that have come to the El Dorado School District from A schools that have a letter grade A in other parts of the state and they tell us that we do more for students in our district than they ever did in the district where they came from.”
Friedman said the state would encourage schools to find other, higher-performing schools that share similar student populations “and learn how those schools are meeting the needs of their students.”
Park Magnet School in Garland County received the top elementary school grade in the state with an A. The school has an enrollment of 273 and 57 percent of its students are low income. The second top elementary school was Salem Elementary School in Fulton County, which also received an A, and has an enrollment of 447 with 67 percent of its students being low income.
“It isn’t about competing with lower-poverty schools,” Friedman said. “The Arkansas ESSA Plan is about continuous improvement though out the state, and that is what schools should do.”
Friedman said that it requires constant reflection on school processes and how those processes are meeting student needs, planning the actions for improvement, implementing those actions, then reflecting on the results.
“Then the process starts again,” she added.
Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or krigdon@ eldoradonews.com .