The Arkansas Department of Education recommended Monday that J.A. Fair High School and McClellan High School in the Little Rock School District be removed from the list of campuses the state deems to be in academic distress.
Eight other schools and one district (Blytheville) were also on the list of distressed campuses recommended for removal, including one area charter school (Little Rock Preparatory Academy Elementary), Jacksonville Middle School and several schools in Pine Bluff.
Should the state Board of Education follow the recommendation from ADE (which it typically does in regards to academic distress designations) three campuses in the Little Rock district would be left on the distressed list: Hall High and two middle schools, Cloverdale and Henderson. The state board will take up the recommendations at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 9.
The district was taken over by the state board in Jan. 2015 because six schools (out of 48 campuses total at that time) were in academic distress. Baseline Elementary was removed from the distressed list previously.
LRSD Superintedent Mike Poore said the news “speaks very well to the efforts of our staff” and was “kind of an adrenaline shot — for our whole district, but specifically for those two schools.” He learned Fair and McClellan were likely to be removed late last week, he said.
What does the news mean for efforts to restore local control to the LRSD? “What I’ve been told is you’ve got to get all of them off [the distressed list], so we still have work to do on Henderson, Hall and Cloverdale,” Poore said. The district has to be careful to keep McClellan and Fair from losing ground and similarly vigilant in preventing other campuses from becoming distressed, he added. “We have to make sure we’re on top of our game.”
Academic distress is determined by student performance on standardized tests. If less than 49.5 percent of the student body meets proficiency standards in math and literacy for three years, a school is considered distressed. But the picture is complicated by the fact that Arkansas has switched its statewide standardized test two years in a row. The 2013-14 school year was the last year the state used the old Arkansas Benchmark test. In 2014-15, it began using PARCC, an exam that a number of states adopted when they switched to the Common Core State Standards. But due to a combination of conservative grassroots opposition to Common Core and logistical problems encountered in administering PARCC, Arkansas switched tests again for the 2015-16 school year. That year, the state rolled out the ACT Aspire. This spring, students will take the Aspire for the second year in a row.
Test scores have little meaning as a performance metric for schools and districts unless they are compared over time. That means the ACT Aspire results from spring 2016 need to be measured against the PARCC results from spring 2015 and to the Benchmark results a year before that. An apples-to-apples comparison of the three tests requires statistically deriving what are called “concordant scores” to link the three years together. (This analysis would have to account for the fact that PARCC scores were quite low statewide.)
In today’s press release, ADE didn’t state the percent of McClellan and Fair students that scored “proficient,” nor provide numbers for the other schools in the LRSD. Here’s the full release:
LITTLE ROCK — Based on three years of test scores, the Arkansas Department of Education recommends to the State Board of Education that one district and 10 schools be removed from the academic distress list.
Act 20 of 2016 (3rd Ex. Sess.) states that “the Department of Education may remove schools or school districts from academic distress status if the school or school district corrects all issues that caused the classification of academic distress.” The State Board of Education will consider the department’s recommendations at its Feb. 9 meeting.
At its April and August 2016 meetings, the State Board classified multiple schools and districts in academic distress. To be removed from the list, a school’s and/or district’s combined math and literacy proficiency percentages on the most recent three-year period of state mandated assessments must exceed 49.5 percent. Using scores from 2013-2014 and concordant scores from 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the following schools have exceeded the 49.5 percent student performance threshold for being designated as being in academic distress.
• Blytheville School District
• Belair Middle School (Pine Bluff School District)
• Blytheville High School–A New Tech School (Blytheville School District)
• Dermott High School (Dermott School District)
• J.A. Fair High School (Little Rock School District)
• Jacksonville Middle School (Jacksonville North Pulaski School District)
• Little Rock Preparatory Academy Elementary (Little Rock Preparatory Academy)
• McClellan Magnet High School (Little Rock School District)
• Mineral Springs High School (Mineral Springs School District)
• Pine Bluff High School (Pine Bluff School District)
• Watson Chapel High School (Watson Chapel School District)