Favorite

Give the new school report card a D 

The state issued its first school report cards using letter grades, A-F, to rank hundreds of state public schools.

Public school critics hail it as a needed step toward accountability and a help for parents.

I'm skeptical.

The report cards do little to measure the true differences in schools. There's an A-rated charter school in Pulaski County where students likely to achieve — white children from middle class backgrounds — don't seem to advance much under the school's tutelage. There's an F-rated school in Little Rock that has made strides in achievement, a small miracle with a population of transient, poor families, many of whom speak English as a second language.

Some points are awarded in the grading formula for poor populations and score advancement, but not nearly enough to overcome economic advantages.

I received a letter about this from someone involved in education. What follows borrows heavily from his careful analysis of what's wrong with the new grading system.

The once-a-year criterion-based tests don't measure growth in student achievement across grades. Norm-referenced tests — comparing scores with like students rather than on knowledge of a subject — are better indicators.

This method of testing doesn't allow comparisons between Arkansas and other states.

The "best" schools tend to be those that serve "elite" populations. An elementary in Little Rock's wealthiest neighborhood and a majority white, upper-income charter school whose motivated parents overcome immense distances to enroll are almost certain to perform well. But the tests don't measure whether value has been added to these already advantaged kids.

The tests look backward, rather than forward. The grades, released near the end of the 2014-15 school year, are based on scores a year ago. Scores need to be produced sooner to make quicker adjustments. Some schools have, indeed, made changes this year that don't reflect in last year's scores.

The scores exclude many schools: alternative schools, schools operated by youth correctional facilities and others. Yet many low-rated schools grapple with big at-risk populations, too.

The grades tell us nothing about recent changes in leadership, age of a school or the nature of the community where the school is located.

High schools with poor test scores can make up ground with high graduation rates. These graduates sometimes are unprepared. I'm reminded of a famous charter school that touts its graduation rate. Some conventional public schools nearby have shown better college success than the charter school's students, as measured by graduates making sufficient college progress to retain state scholarships.

The state uses complex formulas – different ones for elementary and high schools — to produce a simple letter grade. This grade suggests apples-to-apples comparisons, when they are anything but.

A difference of a scant few points can separate an F from a D and a D from a C. Does a B equal a B? I'm thinking of a specific inner-city high school with a majority population of impoverished kids. Is it really "worse" than a magnet high school in the same city with its self-selected better-off student body, because of a seven-point difference on a 300-point scale?

I'd normally credit the person who contributed most of this critique. But he had implored me not to bring my old charter school doubts into the discussion. I don't want to appear to be singling him out by naming him. He heads a charter school development organization. It operates a school that got an F on the report card. It targets so-called underserved kids. It aims to be high performing despite high poverty. It's not easy. Is it fair to judge his school a failure based on a single grade from a standardized test administered a year ago? I'm not ready to say so.

Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015

Most Shared

  • Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist resigns

    Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • Lawsuit filed against ADC officials, prison chaplain convicted of sexual assault at McPherson

    A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens' Unit chaplain Kenneth Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Kids count, not confidentiality

    The trial for the murder of Isaiah Torres, 6, was a reminder again of a gaping hole in the law pertaining to child protective services.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • Fixing blame: President Trump

    Did the press fail? Were liberal-leaning journalists on the coasts responsible for missing the Trump wave among middle-to-lower income white voters with lower educational attainment?
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Can we get along?

    he Times production deadline fell before polls closed this week, so I'll look to the past and future.
    • Nov 10, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Worth it

    • And loyal, to a fault.

    • on December 6, 2016
  • Re: Worth it

    • Alas, Gene's memory ain't what it used to be. He wrote a column some time…

    • on December 5, 2016
  • Re: Forget identity politics

    • Hillarys 'Stronger Together' nonsense failed because she failed to make it a reality. As Gene…

    • on December 5, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation