The Arkansas Department of Education has released new figures grading schools based on weighted standardized test scores, graduation rates, and overall school quality.
The majority of Arkansas schools received a “C” grade, with 33 receiving failing grades for the 2016-2017 school year. In the state-run Little Rock School District, the only schools to receive “A” grades were five elementary schools: Roberts, Williams, Forest Heights, Forest Park, and Jefferson.
The report comes a day after an analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showing a disparity in reading and math assessment scores between black and white students in fourth and eighth grades.
Education Department spokeswoman Kimberly Friedman said the NAEP scores were taken into consideration when assigning the schools grades, along with data on student engagement and college entrance exam readiness, among others.
“This is just one of the tools, the NAEP scores are just one of the tools available,” Friedman said. “We encourage parents, teachers, students… to take all of these different tools that are available, all the different data, and have those conversations.”
The new grading criteria are part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, passed by Pres. Barack Obama in 2015. Friedman said states’ individual ESSA plans, including Arkansas’s, give states more freedom in assessing school and student achievement.
Friedman said, though previous years’ scores are available on the department’s website, new scoring criteria for the 2016-2017 school year provide more detailed information than in years past.
“You can’t really say, if a school is maybe a ‘B’ school now and was an ‘A’ school two years ago, just don’t compare apples and oranges because they’re based on two different accountability systems.”
In all, Friedman says even the state’s 163 highest-scoring schools have room for improvement, and that the new grading system will be instrumental in gauging progress going forward.
“Even if a school is performing really well in one area, they may need improvement in other areas,” Friedman said. “Even schools that are ‘A’ schools, there’s always room for growth.”
Breakdowns of individual schools' ratings are available at the Education Department's My School Info website.