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Education chief sees scores as stimulus

Education chief sees scores as stimulus
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The index scores and A-to-F grades announced by the Arkansas Department of Education last week for the state’s more than 1,000 public schools will drive future improvements in student achievement, state Education Commissioner Johnny Key said.

The 2017 school index scores and resulting letter grades — 163 A’s, 290 B’s, 384 C’s, 170 D’s and 33 F’s — are published in today’s edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A school’s index score is an amalgamation of several components for which there are also scores. Making up each school’s overall score are:

• Student achievement on the state-required ACT Aspire exams in grades three through 10.

[DATABASE: Search all 2016-17 Arkansas School Performance Reports]

• Student achievement gains or growth over time on the Aspire tests.

• The progress of non-native English-language learners on the tests.

• Four- and five-year graduation rates for high schools, if applicable.

• Multiple indicators of school quality and student success, such as student attendance, ACT college entrance exam results, reading and science achievement, computer-science credits and community service work.

The components are given different weights in the calculation, with achievement and achievement growth counting more in the calculations than, for example, the school-quality indicators.

Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville received the highest index score in the state, with 98.3 percent and a letter grade of A. The state average for high schools was 72.29, a B.

There are no sanctions for a school’s low index percentage score and failing grade based on the 2016-17 school year data, Key said, adding that teachers and school leaders were unaware a year ago of the criteria on which their schools would be evaluated.

“That’s pretty significant for districts and communities to understand,” he said, adding that the goal now is to be very transparent about what goes into the calculations so that principals and teachers can respond accordingly for the future when their schools will be identified for varying levels of additional support by their districts and the state.

The lowest 5 percent of schools will be provided with comprehensive support, for example.

Schools in which subgroups of students are underperforming — be they white, black, Hispanic, poor, English-language learners or those in need of special-education services — will be provided with targeted support. High schools with graduating rates of less than 67 percent also will be provided help.

“As we roll this information out,” Key said last week, “we are also rolling out information such as webinars and data so school districts can answer the question ‘How do we make plans this year to improve how we serve our students?’ The answers will eventually manifest in higher ESSA index scores and higher letter grades.”

ESSA is an abbreviation for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, which is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It was in response to that law that Arkansas education leaders, in consultation with other public school stakeholders, developed the numerical index scoring system. Arkansas is one of 34 states that has so far received U.S. Department of Education approval of its Every Student Succeeds Act compliance plan.

The “My School Info” link on the state Education Department’s website is the interactive repository of all the letter grades and index scores for each school, as well as the scores for the different components of the index score, and comparisons to state averages. Scatter plots and bar charts show the distribution of the schools in terms of the different performance categories. Graphics also show the two-year performances, 2016 compared with 2017, of student subgroups.

After the release Wednesday of the 2017 Arkansas School Performance reports and the ESSA School Index Scores, the My School Info link received more than 130,000 page views in two days, the Education Department said Friday. The online resource has had more than 500,000 total views since it was established in November 2016.

Henry Anderson, director of secondary education and data analysis in the 8,500-student North Little Rock School District, is ecstatic over the breadth and depth of the new school accountability data system and the potential it offers for educators and students.

“This is a great time to be in education and to have the flexibility to really do what is best for kids,” Anderson said Friday. “We don’t have to be cookie cutter about it, but to really say ‘This is my population of students,’ and ‘This is what we need to do to help them be able to achieve.’

“I love it,” Anderson said.

Seven schools in the North Little Rock district, including the high school, received D’s. The high school’s ESSA School Index Score is 62.45. There was one C, two B’s. The district’s one A went to Crestwood Elementary.

“You look at your scores and you say, ‘Where is it where we can work to increase our scores?'” Anderson said. “My School Info is awesome because it shows us our scores versus the state averages. This is a dynamic report that allows us to see our enrollment and information about our subpopulations of students. We can see our scores and our grades and we can see how far away we are from the next higher letter grade.”

Anderson said the compiled, one-stop-shop of data will enable North Little Rock staff to look at student absenteeism, graduation rates, ACT college entrance exam results and student enrollment in concurrent-credit college courses — all of which can factor into the school’s index score. Improve those and possibly improve the index score, he said.

“The report allows you to see the schools that are scoring above your schools and you can begin conversations with those schools and ask them: ‘What are you doing in regard to x or to y? What are you doing on student success and school quality? How are you getting more students to enroll in concurrent-credit courses?'”

As for student subgroups, the two-year comparisons of available data allow for an analysis of instructional strategies to determine what is working or not. An increase in the test scores for English-language learners in the district is attributed in part to providing core academic teachers some strategies for working with those students, he said.

A Section on 04/15/2018

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