Letter grades of A through F will again be given to Arkansas public schools and posted online by the state Department of Education, but the year-old grading formula is being adjusted because of a change in student tests and the addition of "challenge points."
The Arkansas Board of Education has approved revised "emergency" rules for the school-rating system and for the state's school recognition and award system, both of which are required by state laws.
Both sets of emergency rules -- revised because of last school year's switch to the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests -- are scheduled to go to a legislative review committee next month for final approval. Both sets of rules will be revised again after the state gives another new testing program, the ACT Aspire exams, later this school year.
Once the rules receive a final OK from lawmakers, schools eligible for rewards for high achievement or for academic growth will be identified and invited to submit proposals for how they will spend any rewards they receive. The awards are $100 per student for schools in the top 5 percent of achievement and top 5 percent of academic growth. A smaller award of $50 per student will go to a second tier of high achievement or high rate of academic growth.
Additionally, once the rules receive legislative approval, the A-through-F letter grade for each school will be calculated and posted prominently on each school's 2014-15 "Annual School Performance Report Card." Those performance reports from the Department of Education are scheduled to go online April 15.
In a change from the past, the letter grade will be displayed on the first page of the multipage online report for each school, said Annette Barnes, the Arkansas Department of Education's assistant commissioner for public school accountability.
For the 2013-14 school year, each school's letter grade was posted several pages into the school's online report -- past all of the grade-by-grade information on student math, literacy and science test results. The placement of the letter grades prompted some complaints that the grades were hard to find and even hidden.
There are no awards or penalties tied to the school-rating system other than the publicity the grade produces in a school district and community, Barnes said.
The school-rating system, required by Arkansas Code Annotated 6-15-2101, was developed by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's Office of Innovation for Education in consultation with the Arkansas Department of Education staff and representatives of different education-related organizations.
The newly revised formula is made up of as many as four components, which include a weighted performance score based on student achievement on the PARCC exams last spring and a growth score. Graduation rates and other factors also can be included in the calculation.
As many as 300 points are possible in the school-rating system.
A school that receives 270-300 points will be given an A. Schools earning 240-269 points will be given a B. A school receiving 210-239 points will receive a C, and a school scoring 180-209 points will be given a D.
For the first time, schools can receive up to three challenge points for math achievement and three more for literacy test achievement.
Denise Airola, director of the Office of Innovation for Education, said the challenge points were developed in response to calls from stakeholders who said credit should be given to schools for "going above and beyond."
"If you are really close to the next grade, it would bump you over," Airola told the Education Board on Friday regarding the impact of the challenge points. "If you are in the middle, it may not make a grade difference, but it gives you more points, it gives you positive information toward the overall picture of your school."
Challenge points are awarded based on the difference between expected school performance -- taking into account the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at a school -- and the actual performance on the math exams and the English/language arts tests.
If the students did better than they were expected to do, thEn their school will earn 2-3 points, with three points going to those schools with higher rates of performance.
Points are not subtracted from a school if the student performance falls short of expectations, Airola said.
The overall formula for calculating a school's letter grade involves several steps, including a "value added model" that compares how a student performed on the test to how he was predicted to perform based on achievement in previous years.
Education Board member Diane Zook of Melbourne told Education Department staff members that she doubted the overall formula for calculating a school's letter grade conforms to what lawmakers intended when they passed the school-rating law.
"If I remember correctly, the legislation said it wanted something easily understood by parents and patrons," Zook said. "I'm many-degreed and a good reader and comprehend well, but I had to go into another room by myself and read this twice before I could fully understand. I just don't see this as meeting the spirit of the legislation to be easily understood by parents and patrons. Is there anything that can be done in summary form?"
Kendra Clay, the Education Department's legal counsel, responded that the A-through-F grade is the feature that is easily understood, not necessarily the formula. Parents will have a context for the school grade based on their own school experience, she said.
Parents will understand that a C is better than a D, Zook agreed, but then they will ask why the school received its grade and what must the school and students do better. She suggested an explanation be prepared to tell the parents that, for example, a school had a graduation rate of only 79 percent and it needed to be higher to receive an A grade.
"We need something really short, sweet, simple ... because we want the parents to understand, because we want the parents to be partners," Zook said.
Education Commissioner Johnny Key told the board there are several different measures of school performance, and those measures can conflict and, as a result, are confusing. Schools may have received award money for high achievement but a grade of less than an A, he said as an example.
"When you line these things up, they don't match," Key said. "That is something we are working on."
He said he anticipates revisions being made in the 2017 legislative session to the state's school-rating laws as well as to the student testing laws that make up the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing and Academic Achievement Program, which is known as ACTAAP.
New federal legislation -- the Every Student Succeeds Act -- also will cause some changes in how schools are held accountable for student achievement, he said.
"We will try to bring these things together so they are more comprehensive and understandable," Key said. "Until then, those multiple methods of assessing and rating schools, I believe, will continue to create some confusion. We will do our best to mitigate it."
Regarding some of the other components of the revised school-rating formula for 2014-15, the weighted performance score in the formula is determined by giving points for the students' performance on each PARCC exam last spring.
Schools will receive zero points for each student's test that earned a Level 1 score, which is the lowest performance level on the PARCC test. Partial points will be given for each Levels 2 and 3 score on the PARCC exams. One point will be given for each Level 4 and Level 5 score. A Level 4 score indicates that a student met grade-level expectations on the test. A Level 5 score indicates a student exceeded expectations.
If there are more Level 5 scores at a school than Level 1 scores, bonus credit is awarded. The school receives 1.25 points for each Level 5 score above the total number of its Level 1 scores.
All of the points earned at a school are added together. That is divided by the total number of tests given. And that result is multiplied by 100. The result is the school's weighted performance score.
To calculate the school's growth score, which involves the "value-added measure," a student's predicted score in 2015 is subtracted from his actual score for 2015 to generate his value-added score. The value-added scores for all students are averaged for the school to become the school's growth score. The school's growth score is part of the overall calculation of the school's grade.
Education Department staff members will apply the grades after the rules are approved.
For the 2013-14 school year, there were 162 schools that earned A grades, 322 schools earned B's, 365 schools earned C's, 160 earned D's, and 43 earned F's.
Metro on 02/16/2016