School accountability reports for local districts generally positive


Dollarway School District is working toward academic progress, White Hall has a number of achieving schools, while several Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel schools are making strides toward improvement, according to a state report.

The Arkansas Department of Education officially released Monday the 2012 school Elementary and Secondary Education Act accountability reports for the first time under standards of the state’s new accountability system.

School classifications include Exemplary, Achieving, Needs Improvement, Needs Improvement Focus or Needs Improvement Priority. These new classifications replace labels formerly used under No Child Left Behind.

When a school misses its targets, that does not mean it is a failing school, according to the ADE, but instead means that school leaders and teachers look at the data to find out which students are not making gains and that they develop teaching and learning strategies to help each student achieve.

Dollarway School District

While the Dollarway School District experienced a takeover by the Arkansas Department of Education in June that resulted in the removal of its board of directors and superintendent, the news coming out of the ESEA Accountability Reports for the Dollarway School District shows that progress is being made.

Achieving: James Matthews Elementary School, Townsend Park Elementary School

Needs Improvement Priority- Met Year 1 Exit Criteria: Robert F. Morehead Middle School

Needs Improvement Priority: Dollarway High School, Altheimer-Martin Elementary School

“First of all congratulations to the administration, faculty and staff, especially at those achieving schools,” district Superintendent Frank Anthony said. “Likewise to Robert F. Morehead Middle School because they met standards last school year. I believe that all of our priority schools were at the achieving level in literacy. A lot of good work has been put in place.”

Anthony said that progress was made in part due to the contributions of several external providers.

“We have done some extensive work with school improvement external providers JBHM and Academic School Turnaround,” Anthony said. “They were working with the district before I started in June and they are back this year. We also have someone from the ADE assigned to each of the priority schools who work with the administration and staff in collaboration with the external providers. Hopefully, we also have a little expertise of our own to contribute to the process.”

Anthony said that everyone in the district understands the sense of urgency that they are all under and that as a result all are working smarter and harder.

“The key word is ‘working’ smart,” Anthony said. “We must continue to let the data drive instruction. Formative and summative assessments let us know how we are doing.”

“This is welcome news for the Dollarway School District,” Anthony said. “It does show that if you roll up your sleeves you can make some progress if your heart is in the right place. We have 1,300 kids in the district and our heart needs to be with those babies.”

White Hall School District

The White Hall School District demonstrated academic strength in its Accountability Reports.

Achieving: White Hall Jr. High School, Redfield Jr. High School, Hardin Elementary School.

Needs Improvement: White Hall High School, Moody Elementary School, Taylor Elementary School, Gandy Elementary School.

White Hall superintendent Larry Smith was proud of the collective efforts of students and staff.

“It does make you feel good,” Smith said. “It is certainly a tribute to the staff and the administrators on campus as well as the kids who have done a great job.”

Smith said that classifying schools as Needs Improvement can be misleading.

“If you’re performing at 90 percent there is not as much room for improvement as there is when you’re performing at 20 percent,” Smith said. “But if you’re not continuing to push that improvement envelope you are going to fall behind. Our high school graduation rate got us into Needs Improvement and we need to get that headed in the right direction. We certainly want to have more than an 83 percent graduation rate.”

Pine Bluff School District

The Accountability Reports for the Pine Bluff School District shows one school is achieving while several need improvement.

Achieving: 34th Avenue Elementary School.

Needs Improvement Priority- Met Year 1 Exit Criteria: Jack Robey Junior High School

Needs Improvement: Broadmoor Elementary School, Southwood Elementary School, W.T. Cheney Elementary School.

Needs Improvement Priority: Pine Bluff High School, Belair Middle School, Greenville Elementary School, Oak Park Elementary School.

Pine Bluff School District Interim Superintendent Linda Watson said that the district is making great strides towards improved student achievement.

“Jack Robey met standards and 34th Elementary is an achieving level school,” Watson said. “We are very excited by this. Pine Bluff High School missed meeting standards by only one sixteenth of one point so we were very close. We still have to improve on the percent tested and the percent graduated.”

“While we still have five priority schools in the district, Jack Robey will be able to exit the priority list if it meets standards this year as well,” Watson said. “I wanted that school to meet standards because they were so close. They had already met standards for literacy and math but not for the number of students tested. The state requires that we test 95 percent of our students and after we appealed to the state they accounted for students who were expelled, suspended or incarcerated and found that Jack Robey met standards.”

“We met standards across the district in literacy but we are still at needs improvement in math,” Watson said. “Our literacy and math coaches in the schools are working hard to improve student scores. We are heading in the right direction.”

Watson Chapel School District

The Watson Chapel School District report shows one school achieving while others are working toward improvement.

Achieving: Watson Chapel Jr. High School.

Needs Improvement: Edgewood Elementary School, L.L. Owen Elementary School, Coleman Elementary School.

Needs Improvement Focus: Watson Chapel High School.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Brenda Melton said that all in all the Watson Chapel district is performing strongly.

The three elementary schools are all operating on level, Melton said.

“Watson Chapel Junior High School is an Achieving school and Watson Chapel High School is in Focus status and we have a school improvement specialist for that school to help them increase student achievement,” she said.

Pine Bluff Lighthouse Academy

The school was classified as Needs Improvement.

Report details

The new system measures student performance on state assessments looking at student achievement, student growth and at graduation rates for all high schools.

The ADE created the new system after the Obama administration granted its request for a waiver that would give it flexibility in holding schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The system maintains a focus on helping students achieve proficiency in literacy and math, but also gives credit for performance improvements, according to information provided by the ADE.

Each school and school district is assigned Annual Measurable Objectives, which were set from the 2011 assessment results as required by the U.S. Department of Education.

Each school is held accountable for every student, according to the ADE. Each school’s AMOs or targets are individualized and apply only to that particular school and its students.

Schools no longer compete with those in their district or with those across the state or chase a state level target, according to the ADE.

“A school has to meet its Annual Measurable Objectives in performance, growth or graduation rate for two consecutive years to exit [needs improvement] status,” said Phyllis Stewart with the ADE.

Under the new system, out of the state’s 1,102 schools: 19 are considered exemplary; 341 as achieving; 587 as needs improvement; 109 as needs improvement focus; and 46 as needs improvement priority.

Arkansas News Bureau writer John Lyon contributed to this story.