Thursday, April 16, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Individual public schools received a letter grade, from A to F, on school report cards issued by the state Education Department.
            The legislature mandated the letter grades in Act 696 of 2013 to make the school report cards easier for parents to understand.
            Among other things, the report cards indicate how well individual schools are teaching mathematics and literacy, based on students’ scores on standardized tests.  For high schools, the grades take into account graduation rates. 
For all schools, the grades also take into account large achievement gaps indicating that at-risk groups are falling behind the student body as a whole.
            Of the 1,050 public schools in Arkansas, 162 received an A, 322 received a B, 365 received a C, 158 received a D and 43 received an F.
            Narrowing academic achievement gaps has long been a priority for Arkansas educators, and its importance is shown by how much it counts toward an individual school’s letter grade. For example, if 93 percent of a school’s student body scores well on standardized tests it can still receive a relatively low grade if the remaining 7 percent score poorly.
            With this in mind, the Education Department reminds parents that school report cards are not a measure of how well an individual student or an individual teacher is doing. Also keep in mind that grades do not necessarily reflect how well the school is doing in other subject areas besides math and literacy. Nor do grades reflect how well school personnel take care of students’ nutrition and health needs.
            A school that receives an A is one where students score well on statewide tests and meet performance goals. Groups of students such as African-Americans, whites, Spanish-speaking and special needs students are meeting progress goals. 
In schools that receive a D or an F, most students do not score at the proficient level on standardized tests. In schools that receive a C, some groups may not meet performance goals, resulting in an achievement gap.
            The goal of letter grades is not simply to make school report cards easier for parents to understand, but also to encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s school work. 
It is hoped that parents talk more with teachers and school officials, that they volunteer for school activities and that they make sure their children do homework, attend classes and complete assignments.
            School report cards are listed on the state Education Department’s web site. The letter grades are only a small part of a school’s overall performance evaluation. Report cards include total enrollment, information about how many teachers are licensed and in what degree levels they have earned, per pupil expenditures, retention rates, graduation rates, expulsions, demographic statistics and specifics on test scores.
            The letter grades do not entail any penalty or reward for individual schools. The formula for arriving at letter grades was developed by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's Office of Innovation for Education and the Education Department, with input from administrators, teachers and foundations.
The formula accounts for the number of students from low income families, who generally do not do as well academically as students from middle and upper income households.         

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