Five Arkansas schools have been classified as “exemplary” for 2012 under the state Department of Education’s new accountability system, while 155 are receiving special attention because of low performance overall or in certain targeted groups.

In a press conference Monday, Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner, released the school listing and described the new system, which is required under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Last authorized in January 2002, ESEA is the overall education bill containing No Child Left Behind.  NCLB requires schools to ensure 100 percent of their students are proficient in literacy and math by the 2013-14 school year.

Since few schools can reasonably meet that objective and Congress has been unable to agree on a fix, the federal Department of Education has granted two-year waivers to a number of states, including Arkansas, that can be extended another year if ESEA is not reauthorized.

The new system assesses schools based on test scores, student improvement and, in high school, graduation rates. The old system assessed schools based on the number of students scoring at least proficient on state exams and did not reward schools for improvement.

Under the waiver, Arkansas’ new system assigns each school a set of annual measurable objectives that were created based on assessments made in 2011. It then assigns schools one of five classifications: “exemplary”; “achieving”; “needs improvement”; “needs improvement priority” and “needs improvement focus.”

“Exemplary” schools have high student achievement and student improvement in all groups. “Achieving” schools meet performance or improvement goals in all groups.

“Needs improvement” schools meet neither at this time, but Kimbrell emphasized that designation should not be taken to mean a school is failing.

A school is considered a “needs improvement focus” school because of unsatisfactory performance by students in one of the following targeted assistance groups: students from low-income families, those with disabilities, and those who speak English as a second language. “Needs improvement priority” schools are the lowest-performing schools overall.

Schools in the priority and focus categories must meet their annual measurable objectives two years in a row in order to move out of that ranking. Of the 46 priority schools identified after 2011, 11 met their criteria for 2012 and can exit that category with another good year. Thirty-six of the 109 focus schools identified in 2011 met that criteria in 2012.

Schools in those two categories will receive additional state resources and technical assistance while they implement action plans during the two-year time period, and for another year if the waiver is extended. Kimbrell said failure to move out of that category could result in additional state oversight and in the school being labeled by the State Board of Education as being in academic distress. That designation carries with it a series of sanctions potentially leading to a school closure.

Nineteen schools were considered exemplary in 2011, but only five maintained that designation this year: KIPP Delta Collegiate High School in Helena-West Helena; Arnold Drive Elementary in the Pulaski County Special School District; Clinton Jr. High in Clinton; Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville; and Cotton Plant Elementary in Augusta.

Meanwhile, another 341 schools are considered “achieving” and 587 are considered to be in the “needs improvement” category using the 2011 data.

Kimbrell said he expects the accountability measures to be changed “probably pretty dramatically” by 2016 or if the ESEA is reauthorized.

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.
Steve Brawner

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