Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot schools score high marks

Leader staff writer

Seven Cabot schools have received high ratings and financial bonuses for gains made on student achievement tests last year. The recognition is part of the Arkansas School Performance Report Card, which lets parents, educators and communities know how their schools are doing in terms of improving academic performance. It is based on literacy and mathematics test data for grades third through eighth.

Westside Elementary School received a top rating of five based on its gain in the number of students who moved to a higher category on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam in 2008, compared to 2007. A school will receive a $5,600 cash award calculated according net changes on the Benchmark exam performance levels, which are below basic, basic, proficient or advanced.

According to a new feature in this year’s school performance reports, schools statewide were scored on a scale of one to five according to gains in improvement on the Benchmark, with five being the highest score. Schools scoring five were declared schools of excellence; schools scoring four were declared schools exceeding improvement standards.

Those scoring three are called schools meeting improvement standards. With a score of two, a school is approaching improvement standards and is put on “alert.” Schools with a score of one are deemed schools needing immediate improvement.

Six Cabot schools received a score of four and cash awards: Southside Elementary ($8,700), Northside Elementary ($7,600), Ward Central ($7,700), Cabot Middle South ($65,400), Cabot Middle North ($59,900) and Magness Creek ($8,200).

Eastside Elementary School received a score of three.

Four schools received a score of two: Central Elementary, Stagecoach Elementary, Cabot Junior High North and Cabot Junior High South.

The Academic Center for Excellence received a score of one.

School Superintendent Tony Thurman is troubled by the school rating system, which may confuse parents who are being mailed a performance report on their child’s school. He wants them to understand that the gains model is an effective tool for measuring how well a school is doing to bring up low test scores, but for high-proficiency schools, it is not a good indicator of performance.

“The gains information presented on the report card is extremely misleading,” Thurman said. “For instance, we have schools that haven’t performed as well overall with higher gain scores than schools with considerably higher proficiency scores. Basically, it was more difficult for a school to score high using the gains formula if they were already scoring above 90 percent proficient on the state exams. A school that was scoring in the 60 percent proficient range was able to gain more in proficiency and thus scored higher on the gains index.”

Thurman pointed out that Stagecoach and Central elementary schools have lower gains scores but are two of the higher performing schools in the Cabot district. For example, Central’s students outperformed students statewide on average on both the literacy and mathematics proficiency exams.

“It is frustrating for one of the highest performing elementary
schools in the state to be ranked so low using this formula,” Thurman said.

Thurman said he hoped that school patrons “look at the proficiency percentages of the overall population of the school for a balanced perspective on how a school is doing.”

In regard to the Academic Center of Excellence (ACE), the one Cabot school to receive a one, Thurman said, “We realize that we have a lot of work to do at ACE but feel good about the programming we are providing for these students.

The ACE is a conversion charter school which opened in 2004 under the auspices of Cabot Public Schools. The school provides an alternative learning environment, which includes individualized instruction to students who are at risk of dropping out.”

According to the school performance study, “meaningful” gaps in achievement exist for certain student subgroups, in some grades, on either the literacy or mathematics portion of the Benchmark exam.

For example, fewer third and fourth-graders with disabilities scored at proficient or above on either section of the test. Girls out-performed boys on the literacy portion for both grades and on mathematics in fourth grade. (See chart for proficiency percentages for all subgroups for the third and fourth-grade Benchmark exams.)

Thurman said that the Cabot district is “addressing achievement gap concerns first and foremost by ensuring that every student is receiving a high level of instruction based on grade level learning goals in every classroom.

There may always be students that struggle even with high quality instruction. For those students, regardless of the subpopulation, we must provide additional support to ensure their success. This may be assistance from support staff in the building, enrollment in our after school program, or referral to our summer programming.”

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