Fort Smith School District plans to improve district test scores following low Every Student Succeeds Act School Index Report results – Arkansas Online

FORT SMITH — The School District is implementing a years-long plan to improve its Every Student Succeeds Act School Index Reports from the state.
The index gives annual reports on student performance tests for every school, but hasn’t released letter grades the past three years due to the covid-19 pandemic.
A news release from the district noted nationwide test scores were expected to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, but 46% of Fort Smith’s scores increased compared to its 2021 scores. The release noted eight schools maintained or exceeded pre-pandemic index grades for the 2021-2022 school year.
Kellie Cohen Minton, the district’s director of student achievement and accountability, said at a School Board meeting Monday national math scores were the lowest since the Every Student Succeeds Act test began in 1969, and reading scores dipped to where they were in 1992. She said despite that, Fairview and Spradling elementary schools and Kimmons Middle School were close to moving from a D to a C grade, and Bonneville Elementary, Ramsey Middle and Southside High schools were close to advancing from a C to a B.
Minton explained Arkansas schools’ scores were based on four areas: Are students attending school? Are they learning while they’re there? Are they making academic progress and are they graduating? The district determines how well students are learning through monthly reading and math assessments for kindergarten through fifth-graders, and three times a year for sixth-graders through sophomores, as well as end of unit assessments and daily or weekly assessments to determine what interventions a student needs, she said.
The 2022 graduation rates were roughly 90% for Northside High School and 95% for Southside High School, Minton said. The district created an individual improvement plan at each school to increase their scores, which can be found on the district’s website, she said.
“Last year, the board approved a comprehensive literacy curriculum, our primary curriculum resource that we use in K-5,” Minton said. “Well, it’s very comprehensive and we came to realize that our teachers deserved, needed additional support to be able to utilize all of these resources, so we said OK, let’s bring in the people with the most expertise in using these resources, so 11 of our schools whose students seem to need the support the most are receiving ongoing on-site consultation from Benchmark where their consultants come here, they model how to use the materials with our district essential standards, they engage teachers in collaborative conversation about what works, what doesn’t, then they come back the next week and continue the process.”
Minton said while the resources are provided at 11 schools, the remaining 15 schools can schedule time to see the modeling and use the resources.
Tiffany Bone, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she helped do a curriculum audit to help support student learning and therefore increase district scores like the index report. The audit questions what the district expects all students to learn and be able to do, and then what systems are in place to support that, she said.
Bone said the audit started last fall and ended in April. She said it was an extensive process that looked at the schools’ Vision 2023 plan, curriculum documents and whether they were consistent across the district, whether the district supported students’ needs for an equitable education, whether school assessments give feedback and are the results accessible to the district, and are all of the district’s resources aligned and supporting curriculum.
“Our teachers are teaching standards and they’re doing a good job,” Bone said. “We just need to look at the learning of the students and see what level of cognitive demand are we asking for, because our tests, our assessments that we’re talking about tonight, they’re not assessing students on a recall level. They’re assessing them to see, can they apply that learning? Can they use that learning at a higher level? So it’s not saying that our students cannot read. The great majority of the students can recall the words, they can read it, but they’re really asking them to apply.”
The news release said recommendations from the audit include developing the district and campus planning processes to bring greater continuity to the school system; developing board policy that provides direction for curriculum management; revising organizational chart and developing job descriptions, responsibilities and expectations; developing a curriculum management plan and an aligned curriculum that supports more rigorous and engaging instruction; developing the use of assessment to impact decision-making at all levels; creating a professional development plan that promotes high-quality instructional design and delivery; and developing budgeting procedures that regularly use cost-benefit analysis to better support funding of the district’s priorities.
Bone said the district is already working to implement the audit’s recommendations, but it will take three to five years to complete.
“There were lots of strengths that the audit found as well,” Bone said. “We have strong community support. They highlighted our partners in education. They highlighted the visioning process that we had in place and the fact that we are already looking forward to our next issuing process, of which part of these audit results will be a part. Every single person that they interviewed within our district, every single person was not satisfied with the status quo.”
Dalton Person, a School Board member, noted the index reports don’t reflect where the district is currently at, and he’s looking forward to seeing the results of implementing the audit suggestions.
The district underperformed against the state average, Person said, noting more than half of Fort Smith schools got D’s or F’s.
“That’s just simply unacceptable. But this is only one indicator of how our schools are performing, and it’s certainly not the most important indicator of how our schools are performing, so it’s up to us and the administrators to make sure that these schools, these administrators, these teachers get the support they need,” Person said.
Board member Talicia Richardson said students, parents and teachers could be overloaded with all these resources, and asked how the district can better educate them about what is available and how to use it. She said it’s aggravating to see these index reports when she knows teachers are working hard to teach students.
“I don’t want us to walk away from here — our teachers and administrators — deflated. This to me should be very inspiring because we have some very resilient kids, we have some very resilient families, they just sometimes need to know what they need to do and how they need to do it,” Richardson said.
Superintendent Terry Morawski said it’s up to administrators to set up the system for principals and teachers to be successful.
“So that’s really what this effort is, setting up that system, providing the supports for that, the funding, everything that needs to be in place, then we can talk about accountability,” Morawski said.

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