University report card shows that NWA education ratings improve

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Good schools are an essential part of Northwest Arkansas’ long term growth plans and a new report card says the region’s public school students are making positive strides in academic performance.

The 2013 Northwest Arkansas Report Card, published by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council, revealed several positive results for local students.

One key area of improvement was seen in the state’s benchmark exams over a five-year period. The report, which shares information about student performance in 17 school districts, recorded improvements in literacy and mathematics over the five-year period, ending 2013. The average literacy score increased from 69.1% to 81.3%. Mathematics scores rose from 73.7% to 78% in the same five-year period.

“With all of the changes happening in the education world right now – new standards, new tests, more competition – we should all be continually impressed by the progress of Northwest Arkansas schools, as they maintain their excellent standing in the state and across the nation,” Michael Crouch, school performance evaluator for the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, said in the statement.

Bentonville is the second largest school district out of the 17 surveyed in the report, with an enrollment of 14,880 during the past school year. Total enrollment grew 61.6% from the 2004-2005 school year.

Springdale remains the largest district with an enrollment totaling 20,141, an increase of 39.3% during the past five years.

Rogers reported 14,452 students last year, an increase of 13% in the five-year period. The smallest of the four major districts is Fayetteville with 9,142 students, growing 11.3% since the 2004-2005 school year.

The top academic results among the 17 schools in the region were scored by Haas Hall, a charter school for grades seven through 12. Haas Hall achieved 100% proficiency in literacy and mathematics on the state’s benchmark exams.

Bentonville recorded the best marks among the large schools with 88% proficiency in math and 90% proficiency in literacy. Among the small public schools Pea Ridge had the best overall proficiency scores at 89% in math and 86% in literacy.

Arkansas school overall recorded proficiency rates of 75% in math and 79% in literacy. Decatur, Greenland, Lincoln and West Fork scores were below the state averages in math and literacy, according to the report.

“The data presented (in the 16-page report) are all taken from public sources; anyone could gather this data,” said Gary Ritter, director of the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy. “The value of this report is that it pulls a great deal of interesting and relevant data into one accessible document and website. Our mission is to encourage the use of data and evidence in policy making.”

He said the report aims to present these results to key educational stakeholders: parents, school leaders and community leaders.

Kim Davis, the council’s education and workforce director, said being able to tell the story of Northwest Arkansas schools is important to attracting talent to the region. Working professionals, who are interested in jobs with leading Northwest Arkansas companies, want to know about such things as the region’s cost of living, quality of life and school systems, Davis said.

Given that many Northwest Arkansas companies draw workers from out of state it’s important to see how well local schools rank against other major metro areas.

The report also shows how Bentonville stacks up against other peer areas such as Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Carrolton, Texas or Huntsville, Ala. In literacy, Bentonville fared well against the peer districts, At 62% it slightly trailed Huntsville, Ala., and Kansas City. In math, Bentonville ranked a close second behind Kansas City in the norm-referenced testings results at just under 60% proficiency.

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Other schools within the Northwest Arkansas region did not measure up as closely with these same peer districts.

Link here for the report (PDF) from the Northwest Arkansas Council and the UA Office for Education Policy.

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