Correction to the original article that was published in the Aug,9th issue of The Newport Independent
After the Thursday, August 2nd meeting of the Newport School Board, Superintendent Dr. Larry Bennett and Asst. Superintendent Pam Clark took time to sit down and give insight into the concerns presented by the group MOST, presented by Jon Chadwell of the Newport Economic Commission. This new organized group of community citizens, referred to as MOST, Making Our Schools Thrive, presented perceived reasons for decreased school enrollment, as well as issues involving relationships with and performance of the School Board, Administration, and Teachers. In the previous article of the meeting, I stated that the school district is losing roughly 30 percent of student enrollment each year, which was a typographic error. The district loses roughly 3 percent each year.
Two of the actual reasons, not the perceived reasons, given by the group included areas safety/discipline and quality of education. These are the two concern topics I felt inclined to follow up with the superintendent about. Chadwell stated that he did not want to display the data on safety and discipline from the state department, or the standardized test scores, for fear of media coverage making the outlook worse.
First, safety and discipline are huge concerns within the school district. As most understand, statistical data can be manipulated and construed in all areas of life. It is done within the polls taken during elections, as well as school information. When information has to be “entered or reported,” instances for human manipulation or error may occur, whether intentional or not. The Arkansas State Department of Education asks that infractions be “reported.” When reported, a district is given a list of codes to classify the infraction. Within those set of codes lies the potential for mistakes and construing of information. Questions should be asked about the reliability of the information. These may include; Which campus do most discipline infractions take place? Are they verbal or physical? Do all schools report every instance or do other districts consider some insignificant? Are the students disciplined for the actions? Which schools are more lenient? What role does the Arkansas Department of Education mandates have in the severity of the discipline actions? Which group is responsible for the majority of the infractions? These questions have to be examined in order to compare the school districts. This school year, the Newport School District has incorporated a no tolerance for fighting. If a student is involved in a fight, the student is transported by the School Resource Officer to the Newport Police Department for the parent to pick up. If the student is involved in a second altercation, the student is placed into the court system (FIN). This is a great step forward for the district.
Second, test scores are a major concern for the community. Again, state mandated testing is unreliable. An example might include a student with severe allergies which cause reoccurring migraines in the Spring. When does the required testing take place? Spring. Therefore, the potential for error as to the progress of that student is within human error. Another question concerns the reporting of each individual school district. Is each district required to test and report the scores of each student? Do all districts test all students? Are all scores reported? I believe if a thorough comparison was completed of all the Northeast Arkansas school districts, findings would show that reporting is construed and inconsistent.
These are only two of the areas of concern.