Arkansas Department of Education posts grades for Fort Smith area school districts

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,368 views 

Accountability reports released by the Arkansas Department of Education Wednesday (Sept. 28) showed a majority of the schools in the Fort Smith metro area, like the rest of the state, earned the same letter grade or a higher grade in 2023.

Each year, the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) releases the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) School Index Report for the school year.  The annual ESSA Index reports on student performance for every school within a school district by issuing a “School Letter Grade.” Letter grades reflect a school’s overall performance.

The ADE returned to using letter grades in 2022 after not doing so in 2020 and 2021. Compared to 2022, 72.4% (728 schools) in the state earned the same grade, with 14.5% (148 schools) earning a higher grade. A total of 144 schools (14.1%) earned a lower grade, the ADE said in a news release.

Letter grades are part of the state accountability reports. With the exception of letter grades in the state report, both the state and federal reports mirror each other in many ways and include data about student achievement and growth, graduation rates, and other indicators that measure student learning.

This year’s report shows that Fort Smith Public Schools, the largest district in the region, had two As, two Bs, eight Cs and 14 Ds. Three of the schools in the district – Fairview Elementary School (from D to C), Sutton Elementary School (from F to D) and Southside High School (from C to B) rose a letter grade with the 2023 report. Three schools dropped a letter grade: Beard Elementary, Cavanaugh Elementary and Cook Elementary each dropped from a B to C. The other 19 schools held at the same letter grade.

This was the first year for Fort Smith Virtual Academy to be graded in the report. It received a D. Belle Point Alternative Center is not graded.

Multiple variables factor into the scores, including student attendance and individual student growth, a news release from Fort Smith Public Schools said. The district views these scores as an opportunity to reassess its strategies, enhance its curriculum, and increase resources to support students and staff, the report said.

“We take these scores seriously and are committed to making the necessary changes to improve student success. Since the introduction of our Continuous Improvement Plan last year, we recognized that elevating math and reading scores across the district would require time.  We wholeheartedly embrace these scores and are dedicated to ensuring that progress continues and we remain optimistic about future scores,” said Dr. Terry Morawski, FSPS superintendent.

FSPS has an enrollment of 13,829, down 17 from the 2022 report, with an average teacher to student ratio of 14:1. The district serves pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.The average experience of its teachers is 12.7 years. Of the student population, 23% are English language learners, 72% are low income and 14% are eligible to receive special education.

The state’s report showed that Alma Public Schools had two Bs and two Cs. Both Alma Intermediate School (C) and Alma Middle School (B) went up a letter grade from last year. The other two schools in the district remained the same.

Alma has an enrollment of 3,143, down 67 from the 2022 report, with an average teacher to student ratio of 14:1. The district serves kindergarten through 12th grade. The average experience of its teachers is 11.53 years. Of the student population, 1% are English language learners, 43% are low income and 14% are eligible to receive special education.

Fort Smith Future School received a D grade again this year. The future school serves grades nine through 12 and had a population of 241, down 10 students from the prior year. The school has an average student to teacher ratio of 12:1. The average experience of its teachers is less than one year. Of the student population, 12% are English language learners, 73% are low income and 18% are eligible to receive special education.

Greenwood Public Schools had three As and three Bs, according to the report. All schools but Greenwood High School received the same grade as last year. Greenwood High School raised its score to an A from a B. Greenwood, which serves grades pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, has an enrollment of 3,882 students, an increase of 34 from the last report, with an average teacher to student ratio of 13:1. Average teacher experience is 13.5 years. Of the student population, 2% are English language learners, 29% are low income and 16% are eligible to receive special education.

Van Buren Public Schools had one A; two Bs; five Cs; and three Ds. Butterfield Trail Middle School (C to D), Central Elementary School (C to D); and Northridge Middle School (A to B) each went down one letter grade. Parkview Elementary School raised its grade to an A and River Valley Virtual Academy raised its letter grade to a C. All other schools in the district remained at the same letter grade as in the 2022 report.

Van Buren, which serves grades kindergarten through 12th grade, has 5,811 students (an increase of 211 students from the previous year. It has an average student to teacher ratio of 14:1 with an average teacher experience of 12.2 years. Of the student population, 10% are English language learners, 57% are low income and 15% are eligible to receive special education.

Link here for more details on school district grades.