LITTLE ROCK — More than two-thirds of Arkansas’ public schools are deemed in need of improvement and just 19 of the state’s 1,102 schools are considered "exemplary" under a new school accountability system unveiled Monday by state education officials.
The state Department of Education created the new system after the Obama administration granted its request for a waiver that would give it flexibility in holding schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Education officials also held five regional meetings across the state to gather input on desired changes.
"This waiver of flexibility does not eliminate accountability," state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said in a news conference Monday. "It does not relieve us of No Child Left Behind or the requirements of accountability under ESEA (Elementary Secondary Education Act) in any way. It actually helps us to better distinguish and measure success for students and progress for students in our schools across Arkansas."
Under the new system, 19 schools are currently classified as "exemplary," the highest ranking; 341 as "achieving"; 587 as "needs improvement"; 109 as "needs improvement focus" and 46 as "needs improvement priority," the lowest ranking. Individual school report cards are available on the Department of Education’s website.
Under the old system, schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind were placed on a "school improvement" list and classified according to how many years they had been on the list. The list had grown to include about 80 percent of the state’s schools.
Kimbrell said the old system imposed by No Child Left Behind assessed schools based on whether they met performance goals but did not take into account progress schools made to improve academically.
"The old system was really a one-size-fits-all," he said.
The new system assigns calls for each school to be assigned annual objectives that include specific targets for performance, improvement and graduation rate that are individual to that school and based on the school’s past performance.
Kimbrell said a school in need of improvement is not a "failing" school.
"It means that that school missed a target. Particularly, what we find is it misses a target with one specific group," he said.
Schools in need of improvement will receive funding from the state that they can target toward the students who are missing their targets, Kimbrell said. Such specific targeting of funds was not possible before the state obtained the waiver, he said.
Conway School Superintendent Greg Murry, who joined Kimbrell in the news conference, said that under the new system schools will have a real chance to improve their classifications, whereas under the old system the improvement list was sure to include all schools eventually because the goal of No Child Left Behind — that 100 percent of students be proficient by 2014 — was unrealistic.
"There are some students that just will not get to proficiency," Murry said.
Kimbrell said each of the state’s lowest-performing schools, or "needs improvement priority" schools, will be required to develop a plan for improvement. The state will assign a school improvement specialist to each priority school to help implement the plan and monitor progress.
If a priority school does not make significant progress within two years, its district can be classified as academically distressed, which could lead to a range of sanctions, including a state takeover of the district or annexation to another district.
To view a school report card, visit www.arkansased.org, click on "NORMES," then click on "School" and enter the name of a school.