Leader Blues

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Mixed report card

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District has received an overall C- and a D in math for the 2007-2008 school year from the Arkansas Policy Foundation.

The foundation, which looks at districtsí test scores statewide, gave Searcy all Aís, Cabot and Beebe all Bís and Lonoke all Cís.

PCSSD has fallen slightly since the 2004-2005 school year, the first time the state group ranked the school district. It received straight Cís across the board then.

The foundation grades districts in math and reading and then gives an adjusted overall grade.

The grades are based on student performance on national exams at the first- and ninth-grade levels. Through a formula, the test score averages are converted to a grade- point average between zero and four and then the district is given the corresponding letter grade.

In the latest study, 16 other school districts besides Searcy received either an overall A or A-. Nine districts received an overall F.

Searcy has continued to do well. In the first year of this type of analysis, the district received a B in reading, an A in math and an A- overall. In the latest study, the district had Aís in all three categories. It was one of nine districts in the state to get an overall A.

Cabot had a B in reading and math and a B- overall in the 2004-2005 study. In the 2007-2008 study, Cabot had Bís across the board. It was one of 33 districts to get an overall B.

Beebe had mixed results in the first study with a C in reading, an A in math and a B overall. In the latest ranking, Beebe had Bís in every category.

Lonoke has remained consistent with Cís in all areas in the first study and the same in the latest ranking. Lonoke was one of 58 districts to get an overall C.
PCSSD also had Cís in every area in the 2004-2005 study, but in the latest analysis scored a D in math, a C in reading and a
C- overall. The district was one of 25 districts to receive a C-.

The study also showed a relationship between the percent of single-parent families, students on free or reduced lunch, and parentsí education and the districtís grade. There was also a correlation between teacher pay and grades.

The more students on free or reduced lunch, in other words, low-income status, the worse the grade was for the district.

Districts receiving an A averaged 48 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch, while districts receiving an F were at 95 percent.

Again, in districts with the higher grades, there were fewer single-parent households. Districts with Aís had about 10 percent single-parent families compared to 19 percent in districts receiving Fís.

About 87 percent of parents in the top districts had a high school education compared with 68 percent in the failing districts.

In districts receiving Aís, 23 percent of the parents had a four-year college degree compared to 10 percent in the failing districts.

Also, in most cases, the higher the teacher pay, the better the districtsí scores. In districts receiving Aís, the average teacher pay was $47,980, but in failing districts, the average pay was $42,201. However, the most underpaid teachers, at $39,035, worked in districts receiving an overall D+.

Arkansas Policy Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that analyzes the impact of public policy on Arkansas and makes recommendations.

The foundation emphasizes the importance of tax policy and education reform.

In the arena of education reform, the group, according to its Web site, seeks intellectual honesty and complete openness in reporting the lack of academic progress in Arkansasí school system.