Emergency rules OK'd to grade Arkansas schools on A through F system

Emergency rules for a new A-F grading system to be applied to the state's more than 1,000 schools won state Board of Education approval Friday and will now go to a legislative subcommittee in early March for final action.

State law requires each school's rating to be published in the annual School Performance Report that is due each year by April 15.

The Arkansas Department of Education staff sought to revise the A-F school grading system to align it with the state's new plan for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

That state plan was just approved by the U.S. Department of Education on Jan. 16, making the emergency rules for the grading system necessary to meet the April 15 deadline.

The A-F letter grades are to be based on the overall Every Student Succeeds Act school index score. That's a numerical score that takes into account student achievement; academic growth over time, including progress toward English language proficiency; and school quality and student success, which includes factors such as student attendance, participation in Advanced Placement courses and high school graduation rates.

The emergency rules include a slightly different grading scale for each of three grade spans: kindergarten through fifth grades, sixth through eighth grades and ninth through 12th grades. The minimum score for an A grade at the elementary school level will be 80.35. A B grade will be awarded to elementary schools that have index scores of 73.47 to 80.34. A C will be applied to schools with an index score of 65.98 to 73.46. A D is for scores of 58.97 to 65.97.

The grading is slightly more relaxed for the middle and high schools. The lowest A grade for a middle school is 78.37. Anything below 56.24 is an F. The lowest A grade for a high school is 75.40. Anything below 54.48 is an F.

The Every Student Succeeds Act index scores have been sent to the schools in draft form to review for errors. They will become final and publicized in mid-April.

The Little Rock School District earlier this week reported the draft index scores for three of its schools: Hall High, and Henderson and Cloverdale Middle schools. Application of the letter grades to the index scores would result in Hall earning an F and the middle schools receiving D's.

State Education Board members adopted the emergency rules with little discussion Friday.

Gary Newton, executive director of the Arkansas Learns organization that advocates for parent choice of schools for their children, said after the meeting that he welcomes the use of an A-F grading system for schools but wanted to reserve judgment on the emergency rules. He said it is important that the system be understandable.

"I think if it can be explained, we'll be in good shape. But right now I haven't been able to grasp it," he said.

The proposed emergency rules direct that schools that are high achieving and/or have high academic growth are eligible for the Arkansas School Recognition Program awards.

A ranking of the weighted achievement scores earned by schools will be the basis for monetary awards for achievement, with the awards going to the top ranking schools. The weighted achievement scores are one component, or one indicator, of a school's overall Every Student Succeeds Act index score.

Similarly, schools with high ranking Every Student Succeeds Act scores for academic growth -- including graduation rates -- will be eligible for the Arkansas School Recognition Program awards.

According to the emergency rules, schools that are exempt from the A-F rating system are open enrollment and conversion charter schools whose mission and enrollment are primarily focused on students who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. Also exempt are adult charter schools serving students older than 19, the Arkansas School for the Blind, the Arkansas School for the Deaf and the Division of Youth Services education system.

In addition to approving the emergency rules, the Education Board at its special teleconference meeting Friday approved sending out draft rules for a permanent A-F school grading system for public review and comment. Once those proposed permanent rules are finalized -- using the normal process for instituting new state rules -- the letter grade system would apply to schools from that time on.

Metro on 02/24/2018