(August 2008) Eighteen K-12 public school districts in Arkansas earned the top grade (A or A-minus) in the Policy Foundation’s third annual School District Rankings study. Fourteen districts received a failing grade of F in the report, which relies on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) to issue a letter grade to every Arkansas district.

Students in failing districts should be able to benefit from education reforms including administrative restructuring, charter schools and school choice. Best practices in top districts should be identified to assist students, parents, teachers, and administrators in Arkansas.


Economist Mark Witkowski, a 1973 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy used ninth grade ITBS scores administered in 2007to rank 244 districts. Ninth grade was the highest level at which the ITBS was administered in the 2006-2007 school year. The ITBS tests math and language skills.

Grades of B-plus, B or B-minus were awarded to 62 districts, and 123 districts earned grades of C-plus, C or C-minus. D-plus grades were assigned to 7 districts, and 20 districts earned grades of D or D-plus in the study.

Arkansas districts earning A and A-minus grades are performing at a level significantly higher than average. Districts receiving B-plus, B or B-minus grades are performing somewhat above average. Districts assigned C-plus, C or C-minus grades are performing at an average level. Districts with grades of D-plus, D or D-minus have significant room for improvement and are not adequately preparing their students. Districts receiving F grades are considered failing.

The standard and modified deviation methods and factors used for determining the break scores separating A, B, C, D and F grades for each district are explained in detail in appendices to the report.

Top Districts (A Grade)

Districts receiving top grades (A or A-minus) in the study are McCrory, Valley View, Greenwood, Searcy, Viola, Conway, Lake Hamilton, Bentonville, Ouachita, Lakeside (Garland County, Melbourne, Caddo Hills, Mena, Norfork, Lamar, Bergman, Fayetteville and Mountain Home.

Some of these districts including Valley View, Bentonville, Lakeside (Garland County), Fayetteville and Greenwood also earned top grades in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 Policy Foundation studies.

Failing Districts (F Grade)

Districts receiving failing (F) grades are Forrest City, Strong, Osceola, Blytheville, Dermott, England, Dollarway, Helena-West Helena, Brinkley, Lakeside (Chicot County), Augusta, Lafayette, Earle and Turrell.

Forrest City, Earle and Dermott received similar grades in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 studies.

Education Reform Proposals

The Policy Foundation recommended letter grades for K-12 districts in 1998, and is issuing another annual report because Arkansas officials have failed to act on the recommendation.

PA 35 of 2003 (Second Extraordinary Session) did create numerical rankings, but not letter grades for districts. The Act’s accountability provisions will not become fully operational until the 2009-2010 school year “unless an annual performance category level is requested by the school.”

The Policy Foundation is recommending administrative restructuring and expanded charter school and choice options in districts that received D or F grades. Choice options should include tax credits for students in failing districts.

Students and parents in failing districts deserve additional options including charters, choice and tax credits. One way to address this need is to encourage institutions of higher learning (college and universities) to operate charter and receive per-pupil funding currently distributed to failing districts. Another solution is to give tax credits to individuals, corporations or other voluntary enterprises sponsoring students in failing districts.