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Report card mixed for Arkansas schools in 2022

Every Student Succeeds Act grades show pandemic’s effect, state says by Paige Eichkorn | November 10, 2022 at 7:19 a.m.
Little Rock School Board president Greg Adams said Wednesday at a news conference at district headquarters that the scores and grades for Little Rock schools were “disappointing, deeply concerning and, sadly, not fully surprising” given the fallout from the pandemic. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

PLUMERVILLE — Nearly 60% of schools increased their Every Student Succeeds Act index scores compared with 2021, the state Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education said Wednesday.

But the number of public schools receiving A and B letter grades decreased in 2022 compared with 2019, the agency reported at a meeting of the state Board of Education and the Vision for Excellence in Education and Arkansas Accountability System Steering Committee on Wednesday.

“As expected, this year’s reports do not reflect a complete recovery from the pandemic’s effects on student learning,” said Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key in a statement released Wednesday. “However, the results do suggest a rebound from the previous year. Since the height of the pandemic, districts and the state have used federal ESSER funds to implement programs designed to accelerate learning. The impact of these programs is promising; however, it is essential that the state and local school communities stay focused and continue best practices that will accelerate learning.” The 2022 state and federal accountability reports for Arkansas public schools include information about student achievement and growth, graduation rates and other indicators that measure student learning.

The state uses an A-F grading scale for schools based on the ESSA scores. This is the first time letter grades have been released since 2019 due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Assessments were given in 2021 and accountability reports, including ESSA Scores, were released. But the Arkansas Legislature granted a pause on issuing letter grades due to the pandemic’s disruptions on student learning.

Highlights from the 2022 reports include: On average, schools’ 2022 ESSA School Index scores are relatively stable for elementary and middle schools and increased at the high school level when compared with 2021 scores.

A total of 59.9% of schools’ ESSA School Index scores improved from 2021, compared with 11.79% from 2019 to 2021.

The number of schools receiving A and B letter grades decreased, while the number receiving C, D and F grades increased.

Despite a subpar overall performance, Key and members of the Board of Education and Vision for Excellence in Education and Arkansas Accountability System Steering Committee expressed optimism about the results from various schools that did achieve higher scores.

At the meeting in Plumerville, Eureka Springs School District was recognized for its high school’s improvement in letter grade from a B to an A and an ESSA score eight points up from last year. In the Rogers School District, Grace Hill Elementary was recognized with a six-point increase on their ESSA score from last year.

In the Pulaski County School District, Sylvan Hills Elementary improved its overall ESSA score from 62.54 last year to 75.72 and its letter grade improved from a C to a B. Principal Britney Hickman said the school started a guiding coalition and implemented the “What I Need” (WIN) program.

“For students, they receive individualized instruction on their level for 30 minutes a week,” she said. “And we did that with math, and that impacted our score in our achievement. We celebrate every milestone, any type of achievement small or large. We celebrate their progress.” Parkview Elementary in the Van Buren school district was also highlighted for showing growth for two consecutive years through the pandemic with a 68.54 ESSA Score in 2019, a 78.8 in 2021 and a 76.98 in 2022.

Principal Mary McCutchen said the school had recovered from a fire at the beginning of 2021 and had to start the school year with very few materials. The staff wanted to focus on how impactful their teaching was and prioritize student engagement and motivation.

“We’ve worked hard on our individual needs of our students,” McCutchen said. “We stayed focused on having a deep understanding of learning how students learn and develop those strategies to make sure that learning took place. We really focused on having some strong, powerful relationships with all of our students, knowing what they needed emotionally and academically.” A list of “Schools on the Move Toward Excellence,” which recognizes Arkansas schools that made significant progress, is available here:

The overall state and federal reports are available on the state Education Department’s My School Info website at

Kim Mundell, director of communications for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that while letter grades are important, many data components go into their calculation.

“A school’s letter grade may not have been where they wanted it to be, but they need to break that data down and look at where they did do well,” she said. “There may have been different areas that their data really improved greatly, and they had some really positive movement.” She added that the division encourages parents to look at the information and discuss with their districts “what are areas that they did well, and where they can improve.” Ouida Newton, chairman of the state Board of Education and the ESSA Steering Committee, said the reports are a tool that district leadership teams use to see on an individual student level what they can do to give them the best chance of success.

“If you think about students that were in kindergarten when the pandemic hit, how many things that they lost,” she said. “Can you imagine a kindergartener trying to learn in front of a computer? And so those skills have to be re-taught. But I was encouraged by what I heard, because districts are not just looking at third grade or fourth grade or kindergarteners, they’re looking at individual students. And when you start looking at individual students and individual needs, that’s where you can make some progress.” Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner at the state Education Department, noted that Arkansas is recognized for leading the nation in computer science, building teacher capacity through professional learning communities and the focus on the science of reading.

“We also want to be recognized for the positive student outcomes,” she said. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do but we’ve got all those foundations in place and we believe that it will happen, but we’ve got to continue to focus on it and we’ve got to continue not to be afraid of confronting where we are, and I think we did that today. I expect to see progress.” Little Rock School District Superintendent Jermall Wright, speaking at a news conference in the capital city, echoed some of the same sentiments regarding parental involvement in helping to turn the scores around.

The report shows the district has 20 schools — 15 elementary, four middle and one high school — receiving a letter grade of “F.” In 2019, four elementary schools had an F.

He said the schools need help “from our parents to improve student attendance and student engagement. We cannot be effective in this work, if we don’t work together. It is going to take the collective power of everyone to make our district a world-class learning institution.” Wright later added that the district wants to “push to increase the number of volunteers that we have in our schools, specifically mentors for a lot of our students.” Greg Adams, the president of the Little Rock School Board, called the scores and grades “disappointing, deeply concerning and sadly, not fully surprising” given the events of recent years, specifically the pandemic.

“The locally elected board returned in the middle of a historic and unprecedented pandemic,” Adams said. “And that pandemic has been horrible for the educational environment, to students, families and to teachers and staff.” Adams later said that he didn’t have an estimate on when the school district hopes to see a rebound in the scores.

“One of the things that has struck me, being involved in the past, is that if you can make change in education, it is a complicated thing, and really takes a great deal of persistence and perseverance, because the problems are complicated, and there’s not going to be a simple fix,” Adams said. “Our goal is not just to be back where we were in 2019, because that’s not where we wanted to stay. You know, we want to do better than that.”

Information for this article was contributed by Daniel McFadin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

  photo  Little Rock School District Superintendent Jermall Wright said Wednesday at district headquarters that “the collective power of everyone,” including parents and volunteers, is vital to help improve schools’ performance. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
 Thomas Metthe 


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