Friday, February 10, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Phony report on schools

Arkansas, home to more than 200 failing schools, a number of academically and fiscally distressed school districts (including the Pulaski County Special School District), ranks fifth in the nation in education according to a study published by EdWeek, a well-known education journal.

How can it be that a state, according to its own flagship university, scored in the 53rd percentile on standard tests for third- through eighth-grades — meaning just above average — and yet can outperform 45 other states and the District of Columbia in the field of education?

How can it be that both the governor and the state’s education commissioner can extol, extrapolate and just get plain excited about a report that clearly doesn’t make any sense?

It’s simple: The report doesn’t put much emphasis on student achievement.

Let’s repeat that — a study on the quality of education that placed Arkansas fifth in the nation gave the state a “D” in student achievement, but also gave very little credence to that achievement in the overall score for the study.

The report, prepared by the nonprofit Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, looked at six educational components: chance for success, K-12 achievement, standards, assessments and accountability, the teaching profession, school finance analysis, and transitions and alignment. Even though the general public would think the product or the outcome — in this case, achievement — would carry the most weight in a study. The “experts” disagreed, giving each component the same weight, meaning that student achievement was only 17 percent of the state’s total score.

Not only did the state receive a “D” in student achievement, it also received a “C-” in chances for success, but it still ranked fifth in the nation. How can it be?

Simple: The study gave the state high marks in paperwork, vision and effort. Arkansas was awarded an “A” in standards, assessments and accountability. That means paperwork.

It also received an “A” in transitions and alignment — more paperwork, ideas and vision.

So the state is great at paperwork, but not in reality. Let’s look at the reality.

According to the report, the state ranks 49th in chances of success if the student’s family is 200 percent below the poverty level and 47th in chances of success if the student has only one parent with a college degree.

The study also shows that only 30.1 percent of fourth-graders in Arkansas are proficient readers and 29.3 percent of the state’s eighth-graders are proficient in math, yet we are fifth in the nation? Not really.

Arkansas is ranked 50th in the percentage of adults with two- or four-year degrees. According to the study, only 28.2 percent of Arkansans have a degree, a problem that is connected to the state also being 50th in annual income.

Put together all the factors in the study’s “Chance for Success” category and the state comes out eighth from the bottom.

In the K-12 achievement category, Arkansas doesn’t get above 34th in the nation when it comes to students being proficient in reading and math. The high school graduation rate is a dismal 69.7 percent.

Yet the study still declared Arkansas the fifth best in the nation and Gov. Mike Beebe was quoted as being very excited, and Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner, announced that he was “very pleased.”

How can that be? Paperwork has become more important than achievement. Amazing.