Friday, May 01, 2015

EDITORIAL >> State flunks report cards

Schools give students report cards, so the idea of the state giving schools a report card makes sense.

But, in many cases, what the state came up with deserves an “F.”

The report the students receive is usually one or two pages with the grades or mastery level clearly visible and teacher’s comments explaining why the grades are good or not. About the only one happy with the schools’ grades are Lighthouse Academy charter campuses in Jacksonville.

The state designed report cards that run 14 to 21 pages long. They’re full of data that only a CPA would enjoy reading, bury the grade in one of the middle pages and leave parents, administrators, students and others with no explanation as to why the school got the grade it did.

Many area schools received a “C” on the state report card this year — the first time letter grades were used. But all the schools in Cabot and many in Beebe and elsewhere were rated as “schools of excellence” by the state three years ago.

Searcy’s superintendent, Diane Barrett, was kind in saying, “Basing a judgment of a school’s quality on just the assigned report grade may be misleading.”

But Belinda Shook, the head of Beebe’s schools, made it very clear: “There are so many flaws to it all, and it is not an accurate assessment and very frustrating grading system. Using the scores from the Benchmark is like giving a third grader a report card from second grade.”

Tony Thurman, Cabot’s superintendent, was more succinct, “It’s confusing, misleading and very frustrating.”

Jacksonville’s Arnold Drive Elementary, a Blue Ribbon school and consistently among top schools in the area, received a “B.” Many Jacksonville schools just missed a “C,” but all parents, prospective businesses and political leaders will see is a “D.”

Beebe High School, honored for its Advanced Placement scores, received a “C.”

How can schools go from the top to average that quickly? For the most part, they can’t, and that’s what has superintendents upset.

In fact, the state gave out more “C’s” than any other grade. That means our new state motto is “Arkansas –where we make kids average.” Yep, “C’s” are great for business development. And, again, superintendents don’t want to be labeled with average and below-average schools when they and everyone connected with those schools know better.

Sure, some of the schools just missed getting a “B” by a few points, but close only counts in…well you know the old saying.

So who is to blame for this apparent decline in education? The state.

Three years ago, when Cabot and others were smiling because their schools were rated excellent or exceeding standards, the state was testing and comparing oranges to oranges. This last year it was oranges to sauerkraut — yes, that far off base.

Three years ago, schools were teaching what was called Arkansas standards, and the annual Benchmark (a major factor in the report card grade) tested those standards.

Last year, most schools were teaching Common Core, but the Benchmark was still testing Arkansas standards – and the two did not line up well. In fact, many schools tried to cram all of the Common Core information in the third quarters of school to have time to touch on the missing information that they knew the state was testing on.

Teaching 101 says to see how well students are doing and test them on what you taught them.

This coming year will only be worse. Schools are still teaching Common Core. The good news is the state-required exam tests Common Core curriculum. The bad news is it was all done on computer and many districts did not, because of technology or financial restraints, teach sufficient keyboarding skills to know for sure if the test score is a reflection of knowledge or lack of computer agility.

Perhaps the schools need to grade the state.