State Capitol Week in Review

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The annual report cards for Arkansas public schools has been released by the state Education Department, and they show improvement over last year.

More schools earned an A grade and fewer schools were labeled with an F. The number of schools getting an A went up by 11 percent, and the number of schools getting an F went down by 14 percent.

The grades are based on test scores, changes in test scores from one year to the next, graduation rates and other factors that indicate students’ academic success.

The report cards can be found on the Department’s web site. An Internet search for Arkansas and “myschoolinfo” will bring up the main page. Then you can search for individual schools and school districts.

A report card provides a letter grade and a demographic analysis of the students. For example, once you find a school and click on the button that says “Statistics,” you will get information such as the percentage of students who are in special education classes and who live in low income families.

The page lists the average years of experience of the teaching staff, and the average pupil to teacher ratio in all the classrooms.

This year, the report cards were released earlier than in past years in order to give educators time to identify problem areas and adjust their teaching strategies accordingly.

The school report cards are part of the 2019 federal and state accountability reports. They indicate that 557 schools improved test scores, and 505 schools improved weighted achievement scores. For the third consecutive year, students’ graduation rates improved.

In 2017 the legislature enacted wholesale reforms in the accountability system for Arkansas schools. Although still very reliant on standardized test scores, Act 930 of 2017 ushers in “next generation accountability” to give local districts more flexibility and to factor in more varied measures of student achievement.

Some educators express caution that giving letter grades to individual schools can create misconceptions, if parents and civic leaders focus only on the letter grade.

Numerous factors must be taken into account to accurately measure how well a school educates children. One of the most important is the socio-economic level of the students. In general, children from prosperous homes have better scores on standardized tests than children from low-income homes.

Holding schools accountable is part of the legislature’s constitutional duty to provide all children with an equitable and adequate education, as mandated by the state Constitution and affirmed by the state Supreme Court in the historic Lake View case.

Arkansas Still Leads in Mallard Hunt

According to a recent report from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas is still the national leader in the hunt for mallards.

Last year hunters in Arkansas shot 477,817 mallards, which not only was more than in any other state but more than the entire Atlantic flyway.

Although anecdotal evidence from some hunters indicated that it was a less productive season than usual, it is no surprise that Arkansas led the nation in mallard hunting because of the abundance of wetland habitat that mallards prefer. Also, Arkansas is geographically situated along the migration route that mallards follow when they fly south for the winter.