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CFSD schools score low grades; superintendent highlights growth

by Bradly Gill | January 17, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

The Every Student Succeed Act index scores for the Camden Fairview School District at first blush show disappointing results, but Camden Fairview Superintendent Johnny Embry said a deeper dive is needed to get a true scope of the situation.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, "The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, and ... reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation's national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students."

According to reporting from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, more than half of Arkansas schools improved their ESSA index scores in the 2021-2022 school year.

But the number of public schools receiving A and B letter grades decreased in 2022 compared with 2019, according to the state Dept. of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state uses an A-F grading scale for schools based on the ESSA scores. This is the first time letter grades have been released since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each school in the CFSD was given a letter grade reflecting student achievement, growth and school graduation rate.

ESSA scores for Camden Fairview

  • Camden Fairview Elementary: D
  • Ivory Primary School: F
  • Camden Fairview Intermediate: F
  • Camden Fairview Middle School: F
  • Camden Fairview High School: D

Camden Fairview Superintendent Johnny Embry said each of Camden Fairview's schools showed improvement in the latest report card, noting that 621 of Arkansas's 1,056 schools showed growth.

"All five of ours showed growth," he said. "Now, if you listed the schools that had the fastest growth and improvement ESSA score, out of that 1,056, Ivory was number 40. Intermediate was number 47 , So they are recovering and what we have to remember was that the damage was done two or three years, that we are recovering from."

Achievement scores have improved for the schools. Showing that in the 2020-2021 year 84.09 of third graders needed ELA assitance while this year 71.88 percent were in need. ELA scores from 9th graders similarly went from 72.57 to 66.50.

Embry also highlighted the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're picking up kids that are coming to us behind, not because we didn't do a good job of teaching last year, but the impact of COVID -- kids missed a whole quarter of the year and we started school virtual -- and kids from poverty that don't have a mastery of technology, do not do good learning virtually," he said. "Even though our letter grades aren't where we want them to be, look how fast we are recovering. The fact that all of our schools grew when 40% of the state didn't -- I think that speaks well to what we are doing and that we are on the right track. "

Embry also noted that Camden Fairview was recognized by the Office for Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas as a school that is "Beating the Odds" because students demonstrated high growth on the ACT Aspire even though the school serves a high percentage of students who participate in the free and reduced lunch program.

CFHS received the "Beating the Odds" award for High ELA Growth, Top 4 in Southwest Region.

Camden Fairview High School principal Cara Bowie said, "Basically we had high growth in ELA (English, Language Arts."

"Most recently we've adopted a new curriculum called 'My Perspectives' that we started at the middle of last school year. I believe that the amount of teachers with a little bit of experience we have, it helps them to actually have a curriculum to help guide them. This is one that's approved by the State of Arkansas with really high ratings and I think that helped a whole lot," she continued.

"Our motto is 'Every Cardinal, Every Day' -- whatever it takes. And so, that's exactly what we do everyday is whatever it takes to make sure our kids have what they need in order to be successful both inside and outside of school," she said.

Embry echoed Bowie, pointing to new education methods at CFHS as reason for the school's success.

"I think it's our efforts in school improvement, not only in curriculum -- in math and literacy, the changes we made there -- but it's those structures of school improvement we've been putting in place for a while. The more you do it the better you get at it," he said. "Using our early out Wednesday to work with teachers to provide high quality lessons, using that high quality content we have, that ongoing cyclical process -- we're starting to see the benefits of it."

Former Arkansas Secretary of Education Johnny Key said in a statement in November that the letter grade reports were to be expected.

"The results do suggest a rebound from the previous year. Since the height of the pandemic, districts and the state have used federal ESSER funds to implement programs designed to accelerate learning. The impact of these programs is promising; however, it is essential that the state and local school communities stay focused and continue best practices that will accelerate learning," Key's statement read.

The 2022 state and federal accountability reports for Arkansas public schools include information about student achievement and growth, graduation rates and other indicators that measure student learning. They are publicly available at myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov.

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