Leader Blues

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >PCSSD’s academic progress is on the rise

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Despite having 10 area schools being on the state’s “needing academic improvement list” and another eight district schools on the list, the state education department says Pulaski County Special School District did make adequate progress in the 2007-2008 school year.

The district, which is on the state’s list of districts failing academically, will need to make more progress next year in order to get off the dreaded list.

“We are having success,” said Dr. Beverly Ruthven, the district’s deputy superintendent for learning services, “and expect to be off the list next year.”

In all, 25 of the state’s 245 school districts are in some phase of district improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act as a result of their students’ performance on the 2008 Benchmark Exams.

Those tests included literacy and math exams for students in grade three through eight, end-of-course exams in algebra and geometry and a literacy efficiency exam for juniors.

Last year, 11 districts, including PCSSD, were on the state’s failing list.

A district is placed into district improvement when it has failed to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years.

Likewise, districts must make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years to be removed from the list.

A district is put on the improvement list when yearly adequate progress is not met. By federal law, all students must be on grade level in the areas of math and literacy — meaning they must score proficient or advanced on the Benchmark Exams — by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

To reach that goal all districts, at this point, should have more than half their students already on grade level, and increasing that amount by about 7 percent a year.
In determining if a district should be placed on the list, the state looks at three grade groups, K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. The state also looks at the academic progress of particular groups such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians, economically disadvantaged students, students with learning disabilities and English-as-a-second language learners.

PCSSD is on the list for weaknesses among sixth through eighth graders in literacy among African-Americans, the economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities; 6-8 grade math among students with disabilities; 9-12 grade literacy among the combined populations, African Americans and economically disadvantaged; and in 9-12 grade math among the combined populations, African Americans, economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.

Ruthven said the district has been approaching the district’s academic needs on a number of fronts. She said the district has put an emphasis on teacher training, using alternative portfolio assessment for students with disabilities, improving on co-teaching, adding math and literacy coaches and using outside consultants to help get the district and staff focused on academic progress.

Ruthven said this year the district has added a freshman academy at every high school to help ninth graders, and is offering summer transition camps for incoming sixth and ninth graders who didn’t score proficient or advanced.

Area PCSSD schools on the school improvement list include Jacksonville Elementary, Jacksonville Girls Middle, Jacksonville Boys Middle, Jacksonville High, Murrell Taylor Elementary, Sylvan Hills Middle, Sylvan Hills High, North Pulaski High, Northwood Middle, Oakbrooke Elementary and Harris Elementary.

Other districts in central Arkansas that are on the improvement list include North Little Rock and Little Rock.