Faulkner County School Districts Excel in Statewide Benchmark Exams

The results are in and they are undeniable — the best public schools in central Arkansas are in Faulkner County.

Benchmark Exam scores released in September show that during the 2010-2011 school year, the Vilonia and Conway School Districts finished first and second, respectively, among the 21 school districts in the Little Rock–North Little Rock–Conway metropolitan statistical area (MSA).

The Benchmark Exam measures the percentage of students districtwide who have achieved proficiency or above in literacy and math. The MSA includes Faulkner, Pulaski, Perry, Lonoke, Grant and Saline counties. The scores released reflect results from students in second through eighth grades.

Of the 40 largest school districts in the state, Conway finished second only to Bentonville for students above proficiency in the two subjects. Conway ranked 14th out of all 247 Arkansas school districts. Vilonia ranked eighth of 247. Conway’s and Vilonia’s percentages at proficiency or above for math were 89 percent and 84 percent, respectively. For literacy, 84 percent of Conway students were at proficiency compared to 87 percent for Vilonia. Both sets of scores stand in stark contrast to the Arkansas average of 77 percent math proficiency and 63 percent literacy proficiency.

In Conway, the testing took place on 13 campuses – nine elementary schools, two middle schools and two intermediate campuses. Conway Superintendent Greg Murry said the lofty scores are the result of time and effort by the district’s faculty.

“It shows the hard work that our teachers put in each and every week,” he said. “Campuses across our school district are showing positive trends with their exam scores.”

When looking at the MSA’s 21 school districts, Faulkner County’s six districts took five of the top eight spots. Greenbrier rounded out the top five, coming in less than a point behind Benton and Bryant in Saline County.

Brad Lacy, president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said that he is thrilled with the results.

“For years we have branded ourselves as an education town. This proves we’re more than that – we’re an education county,” Lacy said. “These results are proof positive that we are the preferred location for parents wanting quality education for their children or employers looking for the workforce of tomorrow.”

On the heels of good news about districtwide Benchmark Exam scores came another exciting piece of information for Conway Public Schools. Of the more than 500 public elementary schools in Arkansas, Conway has three campuses in the top 15. Ellen Smith, Jim Stone and Woodrow Cummins all placed among the highest performing elementary schools on the 2011 Benchmark Exams.

The rankings were based on the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on literacy and math. No school district in Arkansas placed more elementary schools in the top 15. Ellen Smith and Jim Stone ranked fourth in the state with 96 percent at or above proficiency and Woodrow Cummins finished 15th at 94 percent.

Conway also had two elementary schools, Ida Burns and Sallie Cone, place in the top 10 of the state’s 288 “economically disadvantaged” campuses based on math and literacy scores, respectively. The list defines “economically disadvantaged” as a school where more than two-thirds of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Campuses showed improvement districtwide, and all nine Conway elementary schools scored well above the state average. Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s not just parents and kids who benefit from a thriving school district.

“Aside from educating our next generation of neighbors and leaders, it has been proven time and time again that high-performing elementary schools have a direct impact on property values,” Gates said. “In the short term, all Conway homeowners share equally in that benefit.”