Tuesday, April 19, 2016

TOP STORY >> Report card grades schools

Leader staff writer

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles examining the state-issued report cards on area schools.

As bad as the state report cards were last year for Jacksonville-based schools, the report released Friday shows an even grimmer picture. Four schools fell by a letter grade; four stayed the same and only one jumped up a letter.

All state schools are graded (A-F) by the state.

Among Jacksonville schools, only Jacksonville Middle School, saw an improvement, going from an F to a D. It had a score of 190, a full 11 points above an F.

Staying the same were Bayou Meto with C and a score of 225, dead center in the C category, Tolleson Elementary with a C and a score of 225 also; Warren Dupree with a D and a score of 180, one point above an F; and Murrell Taylor with a D and a score of 206, four points from a C.

Dropping a letter grade were Jacksonville High School, going from a C to a D with a score of 197, about the middle of the D category; Pinewood Elementary going from a D to an F with a score of 179, one point away from a D; North Pulaski High School, going from a C to a D with a score of 205, five points from a C; and Arnold Drive Elementary went from a B to a C with a score of 236, four points from a B.

All Jacksonville schools were listed as either needing improvement, needing improvement priority (the middle and high schools), needing improvements focus – met (Taylor Elementary).

The school report cards are part of a 2013 law requiring an easy-to-comprehend system that parents and others could understand.

What the state produced was report cards for each school averaging 18 pages each full of information, often conflicting, and no clear summary or explanation of the grade.

The report cards are for the 2014-2015 school year.

Dr. Laura Bednar, deputy superintendent for Pulaski County Special School District, said, “If we can’t explain the letter grades then it is an issue, and we can’t explain it.”

She said the grades are “very confusing and difficult. You just can’t use one type of test score to grade schools or students.”

Even though Bednar has problems with the state-required letter grades, she does agree that the district has plenty of room for improvement.

According to the state Education Department the report card is a summation of how well students are performing in math and English/language arts on state exams; how well students are meeting annual educational growth requirements; whether or not there are large achievement gaps between race and gender, and graduation rates.

The report cards, according to the state, do not reflect how well an individual student or teacher is doing and does not look at things schools may be doing right that aren’t in the graded categories.

Grades are assigned to schools based on points scored in major areas of measurement such as performance and growth. To get an A, a school must have 270 or more points. An F is anything under 180 points.

PCSSD spent almost $4,000 more per student than the state average in efforts to educate the students, but according to the state report cards, that extra expenditure has garnered Jacksonville mostly sub-par grades.

The two high schools have a graduation rate roughly 15 points below the state average and most groups of students are not up to the state average or the state required level of proficiency.

North Pulaski High School, which is in its last year as a high school, had 71.6 percent of its class of 2015 graduate. Jacksonville High School was at 66 percent, meaning one-third of the class did not graduate.

Bednar said what makes things worse is that all that parents or prospective school patrons will see when they go online is that letter grade and not all the good things going on behind it or in spite of it.