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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell, at the microphone, and Greg Murry, the Conway School District superintendent, release Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, the 2012 school-accountability reports. - Photo by Lisa Burnett

— The Arkansas Department of Education on Monday released its 2012 school-accountability reports for the first time under the standards of the state’s new system.

The system — which measures student performance by looking at student achievement, student growth and high-school graduation rates — assigned each school and district “annual measurable objectives” on the basis of 2011 assessment results.

Under this system, schools no longer compete with others in their districts or with those across the state, the department said in a statement. Instead, the department said, the school’s targets are individualized and apply to only that school and its students.

"[The system] actually helps us to better distinguish measured success for students and progress for students in our schools across Arkansas," Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said.

School classifications include “exemplary”; “achieving”; “needs improvement”; “needs improvement focus”; or “needs improvement priority,” the department said. The new classifications replace labels formerly used under No Child Left Behind.

“We have to forget what the old system’s labels meant,” Kimbrell said in the statement. “Needs Improvement should not be associated with school level improvement status of old. It simply means the school missed one or more targets. Under the new system, schools do not progress in year one, two, three, or go deeper into school improvement.”

Under the new system, five schools were listed as “exemplary”; 341 schools were categorized as “achieving”; 587 schools were under “needs improvement”; 73 schools were listed as “needs improvement focus”; 36 schools, “needs improvement focus: met one-year exit criteria”; 37 fell under “needs improvement priority”; and 11 schools were categorized as “needs improvement priority: met one-year criteria.”

"With those [schools under the 'priority category'], we're actually sending school improvement specialists into those priority schools that are working to help write the priority improvement plan, they're monitoring on a weekly basis, we're evaluating on a quarterly basis how well they're actually progressing and putting those interventions into place," Kimbrell said.

If schools do not meet their annual measurable objectives two years in a row, the Department of Education and the State of Arkansas will play a more prominent role in the school by putting guidelines into place for the school to improve.

The department said the new system is designed to provide a clearer understanding of how their schools and districts are performing after the Common Core Standards are fully implemented in 2014-15.

“We need to look at every idea and be more creative in boosting student achievement,” Kimbrell said in the statement. “We believe as we continue to work with districts in this transition period to improve education, we will see improvements for students in our state.”

The new accountability system will also allow school districts more flexibility in how they use federal funds, officials said.

"The flexibility [of the new accountability system], was not only in how we will make accountability issues work, but also in how school districts will be allowed to use those dollars to improve student achievement through their programming," Kimbrell said.

The full list of Arkansas schools' accountability statuses can be seen here.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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