Friday, November 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> Area schools among those needing improvement

Leader staff writer

Most schools in the area need improvement, according to a recently released list by the state Education Department.

In fact, 90 percent of the state’s schools need improvement.

Only three schools are listed above average or in the “achieving” category. They are Southside Elementary in Cabot, Westside Elementary and Ahlf Junior High, both in Searcy.

Only nine schools across the state made the top category of “exemplary,” and none were from this area.

But two local schools were among the 43 that made the bottom category, “needs improvement priority.” They are Jacksonville High School and Harris Elementary.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman takes offense to the state listings, which place most of Cabot’s schools in the middle category, “needs improvement.” He says the designation can be misleading.

“As a district, our scores are strong and our annual measurable objective targets are quite high as a result. In comparison, there are districts in Arkansas whose scores are significantly lower than Cabot’s that are designated as ‘achieving’ because their AMO targets (objectives) are not as high,” the superintendent explained in an open letter to district patrons.

Simply put, a school with low scores has more room to improve than those with high scores like Cabot. Thurman also said part of the ranking problems stem from a change over in teaching methods across the state. Nearly all schools are following a new curriculum based on Common Core standards but are still being tested on the Arkansas state standards, and there are learning gaps between the two.

A school is placed in one of five categories — exemplary, achieving, needs improvement, needs improvement focus and needs improvement priority — based upon its annual benchmark scores.

From the scores, the state sets targets that the schools must reach to be considered achieving or exemplary.

“The better each district performed on the benchmark and end-of-course exams in 2011, the higher the targets were set,” Thurman explained, adding that the target levels will increase again next year.

Two groups are measured in math and literacy to see if a school or district is “achieving.” The first is all students. The second group is students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are economically disadvantaged.

“If a school or district doesn’t meet its annual measurable target in any single category, that school or district is assigned the designation of needs improvement regardless of the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced,” Thurman said.

For example, Stagecoach Elementary’s third graders on the 2013 Benchmark exams were 93 percent proficient or advanced in math and 89 percent did the same in literacy compared to state averages of 86 percent in math and 79 percent in literacy.

The school’s fourth graders were 96 percent proficient or better in math and 90 percent made the cut in literacy.

The state average was 82 percent for math and 85 percent for literacy. Yet the school did not meet its required goals and has been placed in the “needs improvement” category.

Most Cabot schools beat the state averages.

“It is exciting to have our schools recognized as some of the highest overall achieving schools in Arkansas, yet disappointing to be designated as ‘needs improvement’ on the accountability system,” Thurman said.

Here is how the Arkansas Department of Education ranked area schools:




Cabot’s Southside Elementary and Searcy’s Westside Elementary and Ahlf Junior High School.


Lonoke primary, elementary, middle and high schools; England elementary and high schools; Carlisle elementary and high schools; and Sherwood’s Lisa Academy North’s elementary, middle and high schools.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, schools are all Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School campuses, Bayou Meto Elementary, Clin-ton, Warren Dupree, Tolleson, Sherwood, Sylvan Hills, Cato, Pinewood, Arnold Drive and Oakbrooke elementary schools; Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and Northwood middle schools; and Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski high schools.

Cabot schools in this category include Eastside, Central, Westside, Ward Central, Mag-ness Creek, Stagecoach and Mountain Springs elementary schools; Cabot Middle School South and North; Cabot Junior High South and North, Cabot High School and Cabot Learning Academy.

Beebe schools that fell into this category were Beebe elementary, middle, junior high and high schools; Badger Elementary; Badger Academy; and Beebe Early Childhood.

In Searcy, it was Sidney Deener and McRae elementary schools, Southwest Middle School and Searcy High School.


Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence and Murrell Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville.

Needs Improvement Priority

Jacksonville High School and Harris Elementary.