Friday, September 21, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Best schools in spotlight

Too often when schools are in the news, it’s for a negative reason. It happens not only here, but across the country. So it was with great pride when The Leader last week spread the word about five top achieving schools in the area.

What made the report truly stand out is that the rankings were based on student performance, not the size of lesson plans or the amount of documentation or how well the principal met deadlines. No, this ranking by the University of Arkansas’ Office of Educational Policy was an unbiased look at the important stuff — student achievement.

It was unbiased in that this group didn’t know a Pulaski County Special School District fiasco from a PCSSD ruckus — it had blinders on, allowing it to focus solely on Benchmark test scores.

Not only did the report take the information provided by the state, but it delved into it even further. The thinking was if two schools were both 90 percent proficient or better, which school was the better one? One school could have had all its students in the proficient range, which is very good, while the other could have all of its students in the advanced range, even better, yet both would look the same on paper.

With this in mind, the Office of Educational Policy developed the GPA or grade-point average method of looking at the Benchmark scores. Students were assigned a number from one through four based on their test scores: Advanced received four points, proficient was worth three points, basic was awarded two points and below basic got just a point. In this way, the OEP could really see what schools were doing.

Using the GPA method, the group saw that Arnold Drive Elementary on Little Rock Air Force Base and Stagecoach Elementary in Cabot were doing an outstanding job.

Ninety-five percent of Arnold Drive’s third, fourth and fifth graders scored proficient or advanced on the literacy and math portions of the 2011-2012 Benchmark exams, nearly perfect, and that equated to a GPA of 3.71, cum laude honors at any high school or college.

Those scores helped rank Arnold Drive as the 16th best elementary school in the state. Looking even closer, because of matching GPA rankings, the school was actually tied for 10th best in the state, just 0.15 of a percent out of first place, amazing!

Stagecoach was ranked the 21st best school in the state with 94 percent of its students scoring proficient or better on the Benchmark exams, which equated to a GPA of 3.68. Again, because of identical GPAs among the leaders, Stagecoach was actually tied for 13th place — news that should elate everyone.

There was also good news at the middle- school level, where Ahlf Junior High in Searcy and Cabot Middle School South tied with identical percentages and GPAs. Both schools had 89 percent of their students scoring proficient or advanced, which equated to a GPA of 3.43. Those numbers put them in a tie for the 12th best school in the state, but because of other ties among the leaders, the listing shows Ahlf as the 14th best middle school and Cabot as the 15th.

Another school in Searcy, Southwest Middle School, also made the top 25 list, coming in 21st with 87 percent proficient or advanced and a GPA of 3.41.

Congratulations to all the students, teachers and staff for an outstanding job. We are proud of them.