Arkansas has 1,034 public schools and each one recently received a letter grade, from A to F, to give parents an easy method of evaluating them.
The release of school report cards usually occurs in April, and it creates quite a bit of discussion among principals, administrators, elected officials and of course, parents.
This year, the state Education Department worked with extra diligence to produce the report card six months earlier than usual. One reason was that school staff had requested more timely reports, so that they could more quickly use the information in the report cards to improve their schools.
Failing schools can apply for support from state and federal sources, and the sooner they apply the sooner their students will reap the benefits of added resources. They can use the information in the reports to improve this school year, and not have to wait until next year.
This year, the number of schools that received an A grade fell from 163 to 152. However, the number of schools that got a D grade also dropped, from 170 to 145. The number of failing schools that got an F increased from 33 in the 2016-2017 school year to 44 in the 2017-2018 school year.
Both this year and last year, a little more than a third of all Arkansas schools received a C grade. Last year 384 got a C and this year 380 got a C.
The number of schools receiving a B went up strongly, from 290 to 313.
The letter grades are based on numerous factors, including standardized test scores, student attendance, graduation rates and the proportion of students who read at their grade level.
The school report cards were released at the same time as a much more complex indicator of school success, the ESSA Index.
ESSA stands for the Every Student Succeeds Act, a 2015 federal law that took the place of controversial federal education standards known as the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the old federal standards, consistently getting low grades meant that a school could be penalized.
Schools that received low grades will not be penalized, the state Education Commissioner said. They will be offered extra help from the state Education Department.
The most recent ESSA School Index and school report card can both be found online at the Education Department’s My School Info page. It is at this web address: https://myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov/
You can find the page with an Internet search engine, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, by typing in My School Info and Arkansas.
The web page has search features so that you can look up specific reports for your children’s school. It also has instructional videos, on the right side of the page under a headline of “What’s New.” One of the videos will show you how to navigate the numerous links on the Education Department website that contain reports and comparisons.
The legislature approved Act 696 in 2013 to direct the Education Department to begin issuing school report cards, to make it easier for parents to evaluate their children’s schools. The first report cards were for the 2014-2015 school year.
Under Act 696, the Education Department considers schools that get an A as exemplary. B schools are “achieving,” C schools “need improvement, D schools “need improvement – focus” and F schools “need improvement – priority.”