How many times have we heard "please just give us the facts"? I think the first time I ever heard this phrase would have been when watching the old Dragnet series. Can't you just hear Joe Friday state, "Just the facts, ma'am!"
Maybe this is the perfect time to examine "the facts" behind the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) which governs accountability and creates a new focus on student performance. ESSA replaces the NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act), and in my opinion, is a great step toward moving our nation forward, moving our state forward, and moving the Little Rock District forward, the district of which I am proud to be Superintendent.
So here are the facts. In Arkansas, we are in our third year of using the ACT Aspire Assessment to monitor student performance. The results that LRSD shared in August actually are the same results now being shared by the Arkansas Department of Education in the new ESSA report card.
In August, we shared these facts:
• LRSD was one of 12 public school districts that improved in every tested area. (Data provided by Arkansas Learns)
• LRSD was one of the three school districts that met or exceeded its expected growth based on assessment results, given the District's free and reduced lunch population. (Data provided by the Office of Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas)
• LRSD's 2017 senior class improved its ACT college entrance assessment by .4 while the rest of the state dropped by .8. (Data provided by ADE)
When the new ESSA report cards were released recently, the facts revealed:
• LRSD had 5 As, 4 Bs, 11 Cs, 16 Ds, and 6 Fs.
• LRSD brought in more than $300,000 incentive money on these results.
Another set of facts that will soon be released by the OEP will include a review of how LRSD performed compared to other schools in the state related to growth. There is encouraging data for the District's middle schools, and data that reflects the work that needs to continue at the high school level.
These facts almost suggest that two different assessments were given, arriving at vastly different results. How does LRSD end up having six schools with Fs, and why are some of the schools, previously labeled under the former NCLB as Academically Distressed, no longer on the list, while others are in the F category? The simple answer is that the mechanism by which the data has been reviewed has changed dramatically.
I applaud our state for moving forward with the new ESSA system. Is it perfect? No. However, it finally does what educators have asked for years--honor the work that a classroom teacher and a school can do to provide academic growth for a student during a year.
If I had to share my largest concern, it would be that 11 indicators at the high school level are too many, and lessen the impact of the growth metric as used at the elementary and middle school levels.
One other suggestion that needs to be discussed would be elevating the growth model to be the key indicator in the ESSA School Accountability Model. Who can argue that the most important factor is what happened or did not happen to a child in a given year? Let's honor growth by enhancing its weight in the metrics for the ESSA model.
So what is next? We are armed with new data that is rich. This month our students are taking the ACT Aspire, and we will be anxious to get those results. Here is what we already have in place to improve academic performance, enhance earning environments, and create better cultures in our buildings:
• All schools are working on analyzing results. This review will look at the ACT Aspire given last year, and other available metrics to consider progress on literacy, math, science, and culture.
• LRSD is prepared to roll out new literacy curriculum for secondary schools that will allow teachers to differentiate with more ease and with more tools in order to better meet the needs of all learners.
• LRSD will roll out a new project-based learning approach for our middle schools, tied to businesses and organizations in our community.
• Our efforts to support students in need continue to strengthen. LRSD has great partnerships with Delta Dental, UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, and UALR, not to mention the now more than $27 million in volunteer hours contributed to our students and schools. Additionally, LRSD has the Bright Futures program, tied to the City of Little Rock and Goodwill Industries, designed to meet challenges beyond the school day that any Little Rock student may face.
• LRSD's efforts to impact post-secondary preparedness are centered around our new Excel program, increasing our ties to the business community at our Metro campus, and implementing a new tool, Naviance, to support students as early as the sixth grade. This allows students to explore their passions and interests, connecting them with college and workforce opportunities.
• LRSD is working to continue to improve learning environments. The District's second lien loan is allowing us to address heat and air issues, providing us an opportunity to replace dated security cameras, giving us resources to improve lighting, and helping us enhance our athletic facilities. Perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities is the new high school, slated to open in 2020.
• Our continued partnerships with the Central Arkansas Library System and Rock Region Metro allow all LRSD students 24-hour access to the library system, and weekly access to public transportation.
I know the results shared in the new report card might have been disappointing for many. I look at the results as baseline data for us to use to move forward. I can't prove that if you had entered our academic results from three years ago that the scores would reflect lower performance, but I believe that would be the case.
The results provide us with useful tools to support student growth and key performance indicators to help ensure that our students are on track and prepared for bright futures. We are a District on the Rise, and I appreciate the efforts of our staff, parents, and community to better serve our students.
We have much work yet to be done, we can do it--if we all work together.
Michael Poore is superintendent of the Little Rock School District.
Editorial on 04/22/2018
Print Headline: Grading growth, performance at LRSD