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Fort Smith Public Schools Establishes Consistent Learning and Assessment Systems in Advance of ESSA Index Report

Fort Smith Public Schools Establishes Consistent Learning and Assessment Systems in Advance of ESSA Index Report 

Fort Smith, AR (November 14, 2022).  Each year, the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) releases the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) School Index Report* for the 2021-2022 school year.  The annual ESSA Index* reports on student performance for every school within a school district. 

The 2022-2023 school year marks the first time in three years that schools have received letter grades from the state. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, statewide assessments were not administered in 2020, and accountability reports were not released. Assessments occurred in 2021, and accountability reports, including ESSA School Index Scores, were released.  However, in 2021, the Arkansas Legislature granted a pause on issuing letter grades for the 2020-21 school year because of pandemic disruptions on student learning.  While the pandemic impacted student scoring nationwide, the ESSA report on Fort Smith public schools noted that:

  • For the 2021-2022 school year, eight Fort Smith Public Schools maintained or exceeded pre-pandemic ESSA Index Grades; 

  • While the number of schools receiving A and B letter grades decreased in 2022 compared to 2019, 46% of FSPS’ ESSA School Index Scores increased when compared to 2021 scores; 

  • “Average Weighted Achievement” scores increased or maintained in six out of seven FSPS secondary schools and ten of its nineteen elementary schools;

  • “Average Value-Added Growth” scores were relatively stable in 2022 compared to 2021 and 2019;

  • Gains in “Weighted Achievement” were offset by lower “School Quality and Student Success” scores, reflecting the pandemic’s lagging impact and disruptions on student learning; and

  • Across Arkansas and the FSPS District, schools receiving A and B letter grades decreased, while the number receiving C, D, and F grades increased.

FSPS Superintendent Terry Morawski responded to these reports by saying, “We anticipated the negative impact of the pandemic on our student and teacher population. To counter that impact, we proactively engaged a curriculum auditor last Fall, to get ahead of the curve we knew would be coming. Since receiving the curriculum audit report in April, we have been working on comprehensively identifying, developing, and establishing consistent systems for learning within our organization.  Each member of our school and district team is focused on addressing the learning loss many students experienced because of restrictions during the pandemic.” 

Key recommendations from the audit include the following:

  1. Developing the district and campus planning processes to bring greater continuity to the school system;

  2. Developing board policy that provides direction for curriculum management; 

  3. Revising organizational chart and developing job descriptions, responsibilities and expectations;

  4. Developing a curriculum management plan and an aligned curriculum that supports more rigorous and engaging instruction; 

  5. Developing the use of assessment to impact decision-making at all levels;

  6. Creating a professional development plan that promotes high-quality instructional design and delivery; 

  7. Developing budgeting procedures that regularly utilize cost-benefit analysis to better support funding of the district’s priorities.  

Morawski added, “We are currently piloting Common Summative Assessments (CSAs) in several schools and implementing our targeted support plan to ensure our students have a consistent curriculum experience at every school.  Federal funds earmarked for learning loss have been used to purchase robust literacy and math resources, as well as support for our teachers in their work to ensure success for each of our students.”  The targeted support plan includes four primary areas of support: 

  1. Student-centered instructional coaching;

  2. Consultants who can assist teachers with implementation of the “Benchmark Reading Program.”

  3. Online tutoring available to students 24/7 via the “TutorMe” program; and

  4. Curriculum for English language development via the “El Achieve” program.

A summary of the FSPS Plan of Support is available online by clicking this link. Individual (2021-22) school year reports are available at or by clicking this link. 



*About the ESSA School Index

The ESSA School Index is made up of multiple, robust indicators which are outlined in detail below. These indicators are weighted according to the grade span of the school and are available for seven reporting subgroups of students. Arkansas tested 98.84% of students in ELA and 99.03% of students in Mathematics in 2022 which indicates a participation rate similar to that of pre-pandemic years. 59.9% of schools improved their ESSA School Index score in 2022. 

ESSA School Index Indicators

  • Achievement is a measure of what the students at a school know and are able to do in ELA and Mathematics.

    • Weighted Achievement counts for 35% of the ESSA School Index regardless of the grade span of the school.

  • Value-Added Growth is made up of Content Growth and English Language Proficiency Growth which is proportional to the number of English Learners enrolled in the school.

    • Content Growth is a measure of a student's progress in ELA and Mathematics over time.

    • English Language Proficiency Growth is a measure of an English Learner’s progress towards proficiency in the use of the English Language over time.

    • If there are zero (0) English Learners in the school, the Value-Added Growth score comes strictly from the Content Growth Score.

    • If all the students in the school are English Learners, then the Content Growth is averaged equally with the English Language Proficiency Growth score.

    • Value-Added Growth counts for 50% of the ESSA School Index for Elementary and Middle School grade spans and for 35% of the ESSA School Index for High School grade spans.

  • School Quality and Student Success indicators focus on student access, readiness, and success in college, career, and life. The eleven components within this indicator vary by grade span but may include: Student Engagement, Reading at Grade Level, Science Achievement, Growth in Science Achievement, On-Time Credits, GPA ≥ 2.8, ACT Composite ≥ 19, ACT Readiness Benchmark, AP/IB/Concurrent Credits, Computer Science Credits, and Community Service Learning.

    • The School Quality and Student Success indicator counts for 15% of the ESSA School Index regardless of the grade span of the school.

  • Graduation Rates are calculated for 4-Year and 5-Year Cohorts.

    • 4-Year graduation rates count for 10% of the ESSA School Index for High School grade span ONLY.

    • 5-Year graduation rates count for 5% of the ESSA School Index for High School grade span ONLY.