By RICK KRON

Leader staff writer

This is the second in a series of three articles focusing on the 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card.

Pulaski County Special School District, which includes Sherwood and Jacksonville schools, has higher teacher salaries and spends more per student than the state average, but nine of its schools are in severe academic trouble. Four of those nine schools are in the local area.

The 2009 annual performance report card ranks schools in 13 categories, under the No Child Left Behind Act’s adequate yearly progress guidelines, from achieving standards down to state-directed rehabilitation.

The district has 12 schools in the top category—including Sylvan Hills and Northwood middle schools—and nine at the bottom—such as Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools.

The report also shows that out of the district’s 37 schools, five were cited with accreditation problems and another eight are on probationary status.

The report also ranks schools under the improvement school ratings or gains model. Schools can be ranked in one of five categories, ranging from “Excellence for Improvement” down to “In Need of Immediate Improvement.”

The district has none in the top category and one in the bottom category. It has eight schools listed as exceeding standards, 14 meeting standards and eight approaching standards (on alert status).

The district spends $10,438 per student, while the state average is more than $2,000 less, at $8,308. The average salary for district teachers is $48, 906, which is about $3,000 higher than the state average of $45,826.

Plus, among those PCSSD students who go to college, close to two-thirds of them will need remedial classes because they didn’t gain the skills in high school. This problem is aggravated by the district having a grade-inflation rate almost three times higher than the state average.

GRADE INFLATION IN DISTRICT

To determine grade inflation, the state compares the students who get A’s and B’s to how they do on the benchmark. A rate of 20 or higher shows that the grades are inflated. PCSSD has a rate of 26.4

These are just some of the highlights on the district’s 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card, the state’s annual review of all public schools, recently mailed out to district families.

“We send this information to each student’s home in order to empower parents and community leaders to become more involved in helping local schools provide quality education for students,” said Dr. Charity Smith, assistant commissioner of public school academic accountability for the state Education Department.

The 17,410-student district had an attendance rate of 94.3 percent for the 2008-2009 school year, a graduation rate of 71.7 percent and dropout rate of 4 percent.

The attendance rate is about even with the state average and the dropout rate is a point higher than the state average; the graduation rate is about three percentage points higher than the state’s rate of 68.2 percent.

Even though the graduation rate was better than the state’s average, it’s the lowest in PCSSD in the past three years. The dropout rate has been sliced close to half in the past three years going from 7.3 percent down to the current 4 percent.

The district’s 2009 report card shows that 41 first-graders (2.7 percent) were retained, 19 second-graders (1.2 percent), 21 third-graders (1.4 percent), no fourth-graders, 2 fifth-graders (0.1 percent), 25 sixth-graders (2 percent), 31 seventh-graders (2.5 percent) and 32 eighth-graders (2.7 percent).

The district had an expulsion rate of only 0.2 percent; weapons incidents and staff assaults were at 0.3 percent and student assaults were at 0.4 percent.

ARNOLD DRIVE EXCEEDS STANDARDS

Looking at the individual schools (alphabetically) in the district, Arnold Drive Elementary is one of the few schools that is exceeding improvement standards based on the gains model and is achieving standards under the NCLB guidelines for adequate yearly progress.

But the on-base school’s accreditation was cited for problems. Citings usually involve teacher- license deficiencies, improper class sizes or failure to provide required reports.

The school, which has 218 students, has an attendance rate of 95.3 percent.

It retained one first-grader (2.1 percent), one second-grader (3.1 percent) and one third-grader (3.3 percent). The school reported no expulsions or other major discipline problems.

Just 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, making it one of the few area schools with a rate below the state average of 55.9 percent.

BAYOU METO IMPROVING

Bayou Meto Elementary is listed as an accredited school which is meeting improvements under the gains model and is achieving standards under the NCLB’s adequate yearly progress guidelines.

The school, with 359 students, has an attendance rate of 93.7 percent, a slight improvement over the two previous years.

In the 2008-2009 school year, Bayou Meto retained seven first-graders (2.7 percent), two second-graders (2.3 percent), one third-grader (1.5 percent) and one fifth-grader (2 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but the rate of staff and student assaults was at 0.3 percent.

Almost 57 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, about a point higher than the state average of 55.9.

CATO AND CLINTON ON ALERT STATUS

Cato Elementary is an accredited school that is on alert status both by the gains model and under parameters of the NCLB adequate yearly progress method. Under the gains model, the school is considered to be approaching standards, but under NCLB the school is in the “first year not to meet standards.”

The school, with 327 students, had an attendance rate of 94.9 percent.

It retained one first-grader (2.6 percent) in 2008-2209 and two second-graders (4 percent).

Student assaults came to 0.6 percent of its discipline problems.

The school had 65.1 students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Clinton Elementary in Sherwood is an accredited school approaching standards, meaning it’s on alert status under the gains model, but is achieving standards under NCLB.

The school, with 678 students, has an attendance rate of 95.4 percent.

The school retained nine first-graders (6.9 percent), five second-graders (2.9 percent) and one third-grader (1 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but weapons incidents and student assaults were 0.1 percent each of the total discipline problems.

Almost 57 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Warren Dupree Elementary is exceeding improvement standards under the gains model and is achieving standards according to NCLB guidelines, yet it’s on accreditation probation.

A school can be place on accreditation probation for a number of reasons including teacher license deficiencies, failure to teach required courses, lack of required staff, improper class sizes or failure to correct a cited problem within a given time.

Dupree, with 284 students, has a very strong attendance rate of 96.2 percent, up about two points from the 2006-2007 school year.

The school retained two first-graders (4.9 percent) and two third-graders (4.3 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but 0.7 percent of its disciplinary problems were weapons incidents.

Three out of four students, or 75 percent, were eligible last school year for free or reduced lunch.

HARRIS ELEMENTARY IS IMPROVING

Harris Elementary’s accreditation has been cited for problems. Under the gains model, the school is exceeding improvement standards, but is in year one of targeted school improvement under the NCLB parameters.

Harris, with 212 students, has an attendance rate of 92.9 percent.

In 2008-2009, the school retained one second-grader (3 percent).

Weapons incidents and staff assaults were both at 0.5 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems. Student assaults came in at 0.9 percent.

Nearly 95 percent of the students, which is about 35 percentage points above the state average, are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Even though Jacksonville Elementary is exceeding improvement standards under the gains model, it is nine rungs down the ladder on the NCLB scale which has the facility in “whole school intensive improvement.” The school is properly accredited and is one of the few where there are more teachers with master’s degrees (57.2 percent) than those with bachelor’s degrees (42.8 percent).

Jacksonville Elementary, with 537 students, has a 93.6 percent attendance rate.

The school retained one second-grader (1.2 percent) and three third-graders (4.2 percent).

The school reported no major disciplinary problems.

Slightly more than 86 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch programs.

MURREL TAYLOR ON PROBATION

Murrell Taylor Elementary’s accreditation is on probation, and the school is near the bottom level of NCLB’s adequate yearly progress chart. The school is in the 11th of 13 categories–“whole school intensive improvement.” The school is also approaching standards (alert status) based on the gains model.

The school, with 407 students, has an attendance rate of 94.1 percent.

It retained two first-graders (2.7 percent) and one second-grader (1.3 percent) last year.

The school had no expulsions, but staff assaults accounted for 2.2 percent of total discipline problems and weapons incidents were at 0.7 percent.

More than 88 percent of the school’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, about 30 percentage points above the state average.

Oakbrooke Elementary in Sherwood is an accredited school that is exceeding improvement standards based on the gains model, but is in “year two of targeted school improvement” under the NCLB guidelines.

The school, which has 464 students, has an attendance rate of 95 percent.

Oakbrooke retained one first-grader (2.1 percent), one second-grader (3.1 percent) and one third- grader (3.3 percent) during the 2008-2009 school year.

Staff assaults comprised 0.2 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems.

About 43 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, less than the state average of 55.9 percent.

PINEWOOD, TOLLESON ACHIEVE STANDARDS

Pinewood Elementary is one of the few PCSSD elementary schools that is accredited, meeting improvement standards and achieving standards.

The school, with 416 students, has an attendance rate of 94.6 percent.

It retained four first-graders (6.1 percent) and four third-graders (6.7 percent) last year.

The school reported no major discipline violations, and 65.4 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Tolleson Elementary is an accredited school achieving standards under NCLB guidelines, but is approaching standards (alert status) under the gains model.

The school, with 320 students, has an attendance rate of 95 percent.

It retained two first-graders (4.1 percent) and one second-grader (1.8 percent) last year.

Tolleson reported no major disciplinary problems.

Almost 63 percent of its students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

SHERWOOD NEAR STANDARDS

Sherwood Elementary’s accreditation was cited in 2008-2009 for problems. The school is approaching standards (alert status) based on the gains model, but is achieving standards under NCLB guidelines.

The school, with 375 students, has a 94.3 percent attendance rate. The school also has more teachers with master’s degrees (53.6 percent) than bachelor’s degrees (42.9 percent).

The school retained two first- graders (3.4 percent) in 2008-2009.

Staff assaults constituted 0.5 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems.

Close to 60 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Sylvan Hills Elementary is an accredited school approaching standards (alert status) under the gains model, but is in “year one of whole school improvement” based on NCLB parameters.

The school, with 404 students, had a 94.5 percent attendance rate for 2008-2009. Sixty percent of its teachers have master’s degrees.

The school retained one first-grader (1.8 percent) and one second-grader (1.5 percent). It reported no major discipline problems.

Slightly more than 65 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

MIDDLE SCHOOL MAKING GAINS

Even though the boys and girls Jacksonville middle schools have been combined back into one school for this year they were two separate campuses for the 2008-2009 school year.

The girls’ middle school was an accredited school listed as meeting improvement standards under the gains model, but was in the 12th out of 13 levels–whole school intensive restructuring–based on NCLB standards.

The school, with 360 students, had an attendance rate of 94.6 percent. Close to 55 percent of the teachers have a master’s degree.

The school listed no retentions for the 2008-2009 school year.

Its expulsion rate was at 1.1 percent. Weapons incidents comprised 0.6 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems, while staff assaults was at 0.8 percent and student assaults at 1.7 percent.

Nearly 73 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, much higher than the state average of 55.9 percent.

The boys’ middle school’s accreditation was on probation, but the school was meeting improvement standards under the gains model.

But under the NCLB parameters, the school was in “year two of whole school improvement.”

The school, with 356 students, had a 95.2 percent attendance rate. The school had no retentions in 2008-2009.

Student assaults came to 0.3 percent of the school’s total discipline problems.

Nearly 80 percent of the students were eligible for free and reduced lunch.

NORTHWOOD RANKED AT BOTTOM

Northwood is on accreditation probation and is at the “state directed” level (the bottom of 13 categories) based on NCLB standards. But under the gains model it is meeting improvement standards.

The school, with 637 students, has an attendance rate of 94.4 percent.

It retained two sixth-graders (1 percent), three seventh-graders (1.4 percent) and three eight-graders (1.4 percent) last school year.

The school’s expulsion rate was 0.2 percent. Weapons incidents were 0.5 percent of the school’s discipline problems and staff assaults came in at 0.2 percent.

About 55 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

SYLVAN HILLS MIDDLE SCHOOL PROBLEMS

Based on the report, Sylvan Hills Middle School also has problems.

It is accredited but it is in the bottom category under NCLB.

It is in the “state directed” category meaning the state has stepped in because benchmark and end-of-course test scores have been consistently low for a number of years.

Under the gains model, the school is approaching standards (alert status).

The school, with 667 students, has an attendance rate of 94.3 percent. The school has more teachers with master’s degrees (49.2 percent) than bachelor’s degrees (45.9 percent).

In the 2008-2009 school year, Sylvan Hills retained seven sixth-graders (3 percent), 10 seventh-graders (4.1 percent) and 18 eighth-graders (9.6 percent).

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.7 percent.

Weapons incidents made up 0.7 percent of the school’s discipline problems and student assaults came in at 1.8 percent.

About 55 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

TWO HIGH SCHOOLS ARE STRUGGLING

The numbers for Jacksonville High School don’t look good either. According to the performance report, almost three out of four students will need remedial classes in college. The exact rate is 72.2 percent. The school has a graduation rate of 69.9 percent, a dropout rate of 6 percent and a graduation-inflation rate of 35.6 percent (a rate of 20 or higher is considered unacceptable).

The school is accredited but is in the bottom category—state directed—under the NCLB parameters. The gains model rating does not apply to high schools.

The school, with 1,047 students, has an attendance rate of 95.2 percent, up about five points from two years ago.

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.7 percent.

Staff assaults accounted for 0.3 percent of the school’s major discipline problems and student assaults came in at 0.2 percent.

Almost 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Things are not much better at North Pulaski High School, where more than half the students (53.8 percent) going to college will need to take remedial courses.

The school’s remedial rate is 53.8 percent, the graduation rate is 76.7 percent, the dropout rate is 5 percent and the grade-inflation rate is 19.1 percent (very close to the 20 percent unacceptable level).

North Pulaski is on accreditation probation and the school is in the bottom achievement category—state directed—based on NCLB guidelines.

The school, with 848 students, has an attendance rate of 92 percent.

The expulsion rate for the 2008-2009 school year was 0.5 percent. Student assaults encompassed 1.1 percent of the discipline problem while staff assaults were at 0.4 percent and weapons incidents were at 0.1 percent.

About 37 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

SYLVAN HILLS ON PROBATION

It’s a slightly better picture at Sylvan Hills High School.

The school has a graduation rate of 77.8 percent, a drop out rate of 6 percent and a grade-inflation rate of 10.5 percent (a rate of less than 20 percent is considered acceptable).

But 60.9 percent of the students are projected to need remedial courses in college.

The school’s accreditation is probationary and the school is in the target restructuring category (seven out of 13 levels) under NCLB.

The school, with 914 students, has an attendance rate of 92 percent, down about a point from the previous year.

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.3 percent.

Student assaults accounted for 0.8 percent of its discipline problems and weapons incidents were at 0.2 percent.

About 39 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, about 20 points less than the state average.