Tuesday, April 21, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Report cards a mixed bag

In the state’s efforts to give parents a simple way of seeing how their schools are doing, it has created an often contradictory, hard-to-understand report card that doesn’t show how the state decided on the grade for each school.

But, first, congratulations to Cabot’s four elementary schools — Eastside, Southside, Stagecoach and Mountain Springs — Lighthouse charter schools in Jacksonville and Little Rock Air Force Base and Lisa Academy in Sherwood for scoring A’s on their report cards. Yet three of the Cabot schools receiving A’s were also told they were in the “needs-improvement” category.

Has anyone seen a child’s report card filled with A’s and then the teacher noted “needs improvement”?

The contradictions are endless.

Some background: The legislature passed a law in 2013 requiring schools to be given a letter grade just like students, but, when a student gets a bad grade, nearly every teacher provides some sort of summary or detail: “Not turning in work, sleeping, high rate of absences.”

With the state’s letter grade for a school comes 16 to 21 pages of data. The parent must go through it all to try figuring out which pieces caused the grade.

To make things even worse, the letter grade is not even on the first sheet of the report packet. Instead, it appears in small print on page 6, 7, 8 or 9.

Aside from the letter grade, the state is still identifying schools as exemplary (only one in the state), achieving and then four worsening categories of “needs improvement.”

A school can be achieving and not get an A, or it can get an A and need improvement.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, Arnold Drive Elementary, which has been named a “Blue Ribbon” school for excellence (only 24 schools in the state hold that title) is a B-rated school? What? Plus, the state says it “needs improvement.”

Jacksonville High School, which has been making strides, received a C, but the 11th-grade literacy test from last year showed that more than 38 percent of its juniors cannot read or write sufficiently. Less than half scored proficient or advanced in algebra.

The school’s dropout rate is four times higher than the state average and nearly 60 percent require college remedial courses, but it still ranked a solid C. C means average, and it doesn’t sound like the high school is up to that point yet.

The state needs to spend less time coming up with cumbersome, unreadable reports and focus on how to help schools improve — the report card grade brings out discussion but offers no solutions.

At a time when many school districts are in turmoil, parents need to know what’s going in their child’s classroom: Who is teaching and learning and, just as important, who is in charge and if they have the qualifications to lead.

While our superintendents have done well, others have left a trail of doubt. Little Rock School Superintendent Dexter Suggs resigned Tuesday after allegations of plagiarism that were first reported last week by Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell on his Blue Hog blog, which also unmasked former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr over financial improprieties and Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio for his many ethical lapses.

Matt Campbell is batting 3-for-3. Arkansas schools need someone with his energy and guts to help report the truth about our schools.