Area students among best

NORFORK A grouping of school districts in north-central Arkansas continues to outperform other parts of the state on testing.

Among the 10 Arkansas school districts with the best scores on benchmark tests and end-of-course exams in algebra, geometry and literacy are Norfork, Viola and Mountain View school districts.

All three districts are to receive the "Golden Apple" award from the Little Rock-based TV channel KTHV. The award is based on testing completed in the winter.

"It's really been a credit to a competition we've developed in our co-op," Norfork Superintendent Mike Seay said.

The Northcentral Arkansas Education Service Cooperative includes 17 school districts in seven counties, including Baxter County and points south and west. Two of the districts Salem and Melbourne were among the top 10 in testing last year.

"We felt really good about our chances, because we were at the top of our group," Seay said.

Norfork just missed the cut last year, achieving the 11th-best scores statewide.

"We've been close for many years, thanks to the dedication of teachers and students," High School Principal Bobby Hulse said.

Students heard from their teachers about the grades during intercom announcements Tuesday.

"We announced it to all the kids," Viola Elementary Principal Andy Burden said. "That's the first thing we did this morning. The kids are really pumped up about it."

Viola Superintendent John May said that district's students and educators also consistently rank near the top of the pack on testing, but never before won the award.

"We always felt like we were close," May said. "We just thought we would keep chugging away at it."

The local schools may have a competition going, but Norfork's sixth-grade math class was unbeatable in the latest round of testing. The class of about 40 students achieved 100 percent proficiency.

"When we get these students in seventh grade, it's kind of a challenge," Hulse said. On the other hand, he said it helps to receive a class of well-prepared elementary school graduates.

Hulse said academics is not unlike athletics. Getting to the top is difficult, but staying there is hardest, he said.

"We have worked so hard the last few years to get our test scores where we would like to be, and we've accomplished that mission," Hulse said. "Now we've got to keep doing better."

He said the ratings show that smaller schools can compete with larger schools in academic achievement.

The order of the top 10 performing schools is to be announced during a ceremony from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 11, broadcast live from the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, KTHV Special Projects Executive Producer Carol Phillips said. The station uses State Department of Education data to determine the best scores, taking into account Benchmark Tests administered to students beginning in the third grade as well as end-of-course exams.