January 20, 2010 Edition

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Schools respond to report

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

Following a recent Arkansas Department of Education news release naming 58 schools that appeared on a list of public schools with inflated grades, Lawrence County administrators are taking a closer look at how ADE chose the data used to compare the grades of high school students course work to end-of-year exams.

With the passage of Act 2197 in 2005 the end-of-course exams took on a greater significance. The ADE compared the scores of ninth and 10th grade students taking algebra 1 and geometry end-of-course exams to their grade average in the course. The result of this comparison is part of the criteria for qualifying for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship.

Those schools with students with a grade average of B or above but who did not score proficient on the end-of-year exam were labeled as having inflated grades. Schools with 20 percent or more grade inflation appeared on the list released by the ADE.

Students in those schools with 20 percent or more grade inflation will have a harder time qualifying for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship.

Three Lawrence County schools were on the list. The students being tested were in ninth and 10th grades, however the results will affect the seniors of 2010.

Walnut Ridge Principal Charles Lee said that no school wants to be on the list, but that it is a chance for schools to reevaluate and improve.

"The thing that bothers me the most is that it's not the students who took the end-of-course exams who are impacted by them. It is the seniors who are graduating this year who will be affected by the grade inflation report." he said.

The significance of the grade inflation list to students and their families is that to qualify for an Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship a student must meet certain criteria. If a student graduates from a high school identified on the grade inflation list, that student must either score a 19 or higher on the ACT or an equivalent test or score proficient on all end-of-course exams.

Hoxie School Supt. Dennis Truxler said that when he compared the data ADE said it used to the school's data there were some questions about the findings. According to the report Hoxie had 48 students who had a B or above grade.

Truxler said the ADE report listed Hoxie with 10 students who scored a B average in their class work but who did not score proficient on the end-of-year exams. According to Hoxie's data none of the 10 students listed had a B in the course. Truxler said he did not know where the ADE got the data they used.

Supt. Truxler said the school is planning an appeal based on the inconsistencies in the data used by the ADE. The 10 students gave Hoxie 20.8 percent grade inflation just a few points short of being below the 20 percent cut off ratio.

Sloan-Hendrix High School Superintendent Mitch Walton said in a release on Tuesday, "The grade inflation indicator does not look at the total curriculum and assessment process. It only assesses grades and test scores for algebra I and geometry."

Walnut Ridge had 11 students of 37 who failed to score proficient though they had a grade of B or higher showing, a 29.7 percent grade inflation.

Sloan-Hendrix had 22 students with a B or better in the course. Seven students of the 22 failed to score proficient on the exam. Their grade inflation was listed as 31.8 percent.

Terry Belcher, superintendent of the Lawrence County School District, said "Because the proficiency in the end-of-year exam is tied to the criteria for eligibility for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship this makes one exam carry a lot of significance."

Belcher said that although he does not see this report having a major impact on a majority of the students who are graduating this year it is impossible to say how it will affect individual students.

Principal Lee concurred, "It's horrible to know that even one student could be impacted by the score of another student," he said.

"Our teachers are taking a closer look at what can be done so that this does not happen again," Lee added. "We want to turn this into something positive, and use it to improve our school."

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