Once upon a time, the educational institution of this state seemed more focused on talking confusing Educanto and changing the standardized test every few years, better to make the results of their efforts as opaque as possible. Why be transparent and accountable when all those annoying parents can get angry so easily? What are some generations of failed schools? It’s hard work to make sure no child is left behind.

Several years ago, however, things started to change. The test stopped changing from year to year, so the rest of us could compare scores every spring. And letter grades were introduced for schools and districts, so the public could better understand which schools were succeeding in their efforts and, perhaps more importantly, which ones weren’t.

There was some backlash against letter grades (don’t label schools!), but people gradually agreed that if letter grades were good enough for students to give to their parents, they should be good enough to be given. data to the public by schools and districts.

When this change was first discussed in Arkansas, we recall that some interested guys in Florida explained their system to us: They said their only regret with letter grades was that they hadn’t given each school two grades.

One for success.

And one for improvement.

Because a school that receives an average grade could do a great job. That is, if the students were making a ton of progress, but happened to be starting from challenging starting points. (Here’s why longitudinal evaluation of test scores can identify the best public school teachers. But that’s an entire editorial.)

We were reminded of this last week after reading the Wednesday paper. There was only one article on the front page that was not election oriented. And the story deserved front-page comedy. Because one-third of Arkansas public schools scored D or F for the 2021-22 school year.

It was terrible news.

According to Cynthia Howell’s story, 32 percent of state schools received Ds or Fs. Compare that to the 19 percent who “achieved” those scores in 2019.

On the other hand, only 8% obtained As last school year, compared to 16% in 2019.

Grades are based on the ACT Aspire test and also on things like graduation rates, student attendance, AP courses offered, and the like.

The UA-Fayetteville Office for Education Policy keeps up with these numbers. It even provides spreadsheets to focus on what’s happening. Sarah McKenzie, executive director of the office, said the pandemic has something to do with grades. And there is little doubt about this.

Then this, buried a bit in the copy: Sarah McKenzie said she’s a proponent of A-F letter grades for schools because they’re easy to understand. But she suggests changes:

According to the story: “He suggested that schools receive two grades: one based on achievement and the other based on improvement, or growth, in achievement…

“McKenzie highlighted Little Rock’s eStem Charter Middle School for achieving the highest growth rate in the state, but it received only a letter C grade. It’s not like the school isn’t doing a good job, McKenzie said, but it is serving a disproportionately higher population of students from low-income families…”.

Imagine a school doing its best in the state to improve (i.e. educate) the children assigned to it, but getting a gentleman’s C for its efforts. This would appear to undermine the system of letter voting.

The state distributes bonuses to schools based on two grades, one for performance and one for improvement, and – just in time for this conversation! – those bonuses came out last week. The state said 178 Arkansas schools will receive a total of $6,877,600 in bonuses for high achievement and/or substantial student improvement. As measured by standardized test scores.

The state provides bounties of $100 per student to the top 5 percent of top-performing schools and the top 5 percent of top-performing year-over-year-performing schools.

This should continue. Why outstanding schools in outstanding neighborhoods with outstanding tax bases should be recognized to keep students engaged and ready for college. And outstanding schools with challenging postcodes should also be recognized to improve the prospects of their students.

So why can’t we distribute two votes as well? And let parents know that even if their school is challenged academically or financially or in any other way, it is still making headway in this never-ending battle to educate our children.

We can do it. We did this.

If two heads are better than one, so are two degrees.

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