Shared from the 2016-04-09 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette eEdition

Top state schools to reap rewards

Success on tests to pay out $7M

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette SOURCE: Arkansas Department of Education

The Arkansas Department of Education on Friday named the schools that will receive financial rewards totaling more than $7 million for student achievement or achievement gains on 2015 state exams.

Schools in the Bentonville School District are to receive the largest share of the reward money — about $1.2 million — for student success on last year’s Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests in math and English/ language arts.

Campuses in the Little Rock School District will receive in excess of $650,000. Some of the other recipient campuses are in the Armorel, Benton, Bryant, Cabot, Clinton, Conway, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Marked Tree, Pulaski County Special, Rogers, Salem, Scranton, Springdale, Valley View, Vilonia and White Hall school districts.

Some independently operated open-enrollment charter schools are on the list of recipients, too.

Statewide, the rewards will total $7,023,382.28. A total of 194 school names are on the list as recipients, but some schools appear twice among the 194 because they are both high achieving and showed great achievement gains.

Roberts Elementary in the Little Rock School District, for example, is to receive $87,141 for being among the top 5 percent in achievement and another $87,141 for being among the top 5 percent in achievement growth.

The state has about 1,100 schools, including charter schools.

Schools in the top 5 percent of achievement or achievement growth will receive $96.99 per student. The schools in the next tier, the top 6 percent to 10 percent in achievement or achievement growth, will receive $48.50 per student.

The money can be spent on employee bonuses, equipment purchases that will support student performance or the hiring of temporary employees to help maintain and improve student performance.

Leaders in different districts said Friday afternoon that they were elated to learn of the rewards.

“I am so proud of all our schools for their achievement,” Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore said, adding that the high number of state-recognized campuses “speaks to the learning environments created in every building, every day, at every grade level.”

A total of 12 campuses in Bentonville will receive reward funds — and four of those will get money for both high achievement and for achievement gains, meaning the students not only scored well but even exceeded scoring expectations based on past years’ performance.

Bentonville High, which has an enrollment of 4,350 students, will receive $418,103.39 for scoring among the top 5 percent of schools in the state.

“This is amazing,” Principal Jack Loyd said in an interview right after announcing the news to his administrative staff. “This is our first year to receive money, and we are happy, to say the least.”

Asked the secret to the school’s academic success, Loyd attributed it to the high quality of both the staff and the students.

“We are very fortunate with the caliber of student that we have, which is a testament to two things,” he said. “It is a testament to parents. Our parents do a really great job of raising kids in our community and that is awesome. The other part is our feeder schools. We start off with high expectations in kindergarten and we have wonderful elementary, middle schools and junior highs in Bentonville. They send us the best of the best.”

Loyd, who is in his first year as principal at the campus but has worked at the school for 10 years and in the district for 25, said the process for identifying how the reward money will be used will begin as quickly as next week with the election of a faculty member and a parent representative.

Those two will join him in deciding how to spend the money, using the guidelines established in Arkansas Code Annotated 6-15-2107, the statute that authorizes the Arkansas School Recognition Program.

That spending plan for Bentonville High and the other recipient schools around the state must be submitted to the state Education Department before the funds are distributed to the schools.

Paul Stolt, director of communications for the Bentonville School District, said the district has typically used the recognition program money to purchase laptop and tablet computers for students, as well as for academic interventions for students, staff training on project- and problem-based instructional methods, and on initiatives that provide students with hands-on, engaged creative activities.

B enton High School, with an enrollment of about 1,200 students, is to receive $105,207.46 for high achievement.

Mark McDougal, Benton’s assistant superintendent of human resources and administrative services, compared the buzz of Friday’s news to Christmas Day. He said he anticipates the high school and five other recipient schools in the district will use the money to “push to a whole new level.”

“It will be an individual site decision,” he said.

Twelve of the 48 schools in the Little Rock School District are recognized for high student achievement or achievement growth on last year’s PARCC exams.

Baker Kurrus, the state-appointed superintendent of the Little Rock district, was pleased “in many respects” with the results.

“If you do the math you will see that we have about 3,000 students who go to elementary schools that are in the top 5 percent of elementary schools in the state. That’s good news, and maybe equally or even more invigorating news is that we have got some middle schools on the move,” he said of Horace Mann Magnet Middle School and the Forest Heights STEM Academy that serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.

“Then you have Pulaski Heights, Mabelvale and Cloverdale in the top 5 percent of growth,” he added. “That’s really exciting, and Henderson Middle was in the top 10 percent in growth,” he added about the 2015 results.

“Wait until this year,” he said about the results of state testing that starts next week.

Despite the recognized gains made by the some of the Little Rock middle schools, four of them are, by law, ineligible for any of the reward money because of their state “focus” and “priority” school labels for achievement problems.

Pulaski Heights Middle is a “focus” school. Focus schools are those which have the largest achievement gaps between all students who are low income, special education or English language learners, and all students who are not in those categories.

Mabelvale Middle, Cloverdale Middle and Henderson Middle schools — also on Friday’s list for achievement gains — are “priority” schools. Priority schools are the 5 percent lowest-scoring schools in the state over several years. Focus and priority schools are specifically excluded from receiving financial rewards by the statute that created the reward program.

Camden-Fairview Middle School and Fayetteville High School, Forrest City Junior High, Nevada High, Lead Hill High School and Pine Bluff’s Southeast Middle School are similarly affected.

Kurrus said he understands that the focus and priority schools are ineligible for the reward money because they receive other funds to be spent in improving student achievement.

“It does send an odd message, doesn’t it?” he said.

Kurrus said the schools receiving the state reward money will decide how to use it, but “it won’t be wasted. This isn’t going to be pizza money. We are going to plow this right back into the academic program and continue to improve.”

The school recognition program was initiated with Act 1429 of 2013 and was revised by Act 854 of 2015 in part to include high school graduation rates in the calculations for high school rewards.

The performance or achievement awards are calculated by adding the number of students who met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC math and English/ language arts and dividing that number by the total number of math and English/ language arts test-takers. That is multiplied by 100 and the results for each school are ranked.

The calculations for determining performance gains uses a “value added” calculation that took into account past performances of students and compared that with their 2015 performance.

Twelve of the 48 schools in the Little Rock School District are recognized for high student achievement or achievement growth on last year’s PARCC exams.

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