Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy’s high school ranked fifth in the state of Arkansas based on its 2016 ACT Aspire Exam academic results. Its elementary school ranked ninth in the state. The academic rankings were compiled by the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy for its’ 2016 Outstanding Educational Performance Awards (OEP). Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy is currently in its fourth year, serves students in grades K-11 and will have its first graduating class in 2018.
Headmaster Susan Provenza, who has been part of the ResponsiveEd charter school since it first opened, believes the high academic results speak to the school’s strong curriculum and high expectations.
“Through our partnership with Hillsdale College and the Barney Charter School Initiative, we have built a program in which students thrive. Our teachers and Core Knowledge curriculum are outstanding.
The literacy aspect of our curriculum with the Riggs phonics, Latin program and content-rich literature really pushes our students to read and write at a higher level because they know how words and grammar work and have been exposed to great works of literature. The Singapore math program also really helps our students learn how math works and not just math facts,” said Mrs. Provenza.
ResponsiveEd’s Arkansas Board member, Rich Cromwell is the father of a current third grade student. He first became interested in the school when his daughter was in Kindergarten. He believed a classical education would best prepare her for her future.
“This school has been fantastic. Kids really like to achieve and have high standards. They are encouraged when they realize they have the ability to do well,” said Mr. Cromwell.
Steve Gast, ResponsiveEd’s Arkansas Superintendent, believes the school offers local parents a real choice.
“This school is a gold standard of what is possible. At ResponsiveEd we think families should have a range of choices. For families who are looking for a rigorous, content-rich, character based program this is one of the best in the state,” said Mr. Gast.
The elementary school, which includes Kindergarten through eighth grade, ranked ninth overall for its combined English and Language Arts (ELA), math, and science scores. Individually the elementary placed sixth in the top ten for ELA, ninth in the top ten for math, and tenth in the top ten for science.
In addition to ranking fifth overall in the state, Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy’s high school, which currently includes grades ninth through eleventh, ranked third in ELA and tenth for math.
|Top 20 Overall||Top 10 for ELA||Top 10 for Math||Top 10 for Science|
|Elementary Schools (K-8) in the State of Arkansas||#9||#6||#9||#10|
|High School in the State of Arkansas||#5||#3||#10||–|
The school also ranked in the top five schools for the northwest region. The elementary school ranked fourth overall, fourth in math, fifth in ELA and fifth in science. The high school ranked fourth overall and third for ELA.
|Top 5 Elementary (K-8) Schools in Northwest Region||#4||#4||#5||#5|
|Top 5 High School in Northwest Region||#4||–||#3||–|
Jennifer Martin, who teaches ninth and tenth grade literature, has been at the school since it opened. She also credits the high academic results to the level of curriculum taught at the school.
“We are reading whole works that can be considered fairly difficult and often part of a college curriculum. By teaching classic books like Paradise Lost in tenth grade, our students are exposed to a higher level of sentence structure and vocabulary as well as complex themes and discussions,” said Ms. Martin.
She attributes the student’s strong grammar, composition, and reading skills to three components: a Latin program that strengthens grammar and vocabulary, separate reading and composition classes in ninth grade, and a chronological literature program that works in conjunction with history classes.
“Having a separate writing class from the reading class in ninth grade really helps students develop the art of writing. It covers everything from common grammatical errors such as subject verb agreement to how to eliminate redundancy in writing and how to develop a strong thesis statement. It really helps students break down the writing process and essay structure so they think critically about it rather than just follow a formula,” she said.
When students are struggling in their writing, the history, Latin and literature teachers discuss how to approach it in a comprehensive manner. If the student is struggling in grammar, the Latin and literature teachers will work together with the student. If the student is struggling with developing an argument and essay structure, the history and literature teachers also collaborate.
Beyond developing students with strong communication skills, the structure and content-rich nature of the curriculum grounds students in historical context.
“Having students study Greco-Roman literature at the same time they are studying that period in history also really helps. I also love that we teach literature chronologically. In tenth grade when we read Chaucer or Shakespeare, they are always referencing Greek or Romans authors. Without the background knowledge of who the authors are referencing, the students would be ill-equipped to tackle the text. American literature such as Poe or Hawthorne references British Literature. Literature of the past is a ladder, which authors build on,” said Ms. Martin
Equipping students with the knowledge base to engage with college level texts in high school requires building good academic habits and a solid knowledge base at the elementary levels.
The Core Knowledge program in the elementary and middle school grades provides students with the cultural literacy and context they need to engage with higher level curriculum. Regular recapitulation of ideas and time periods grounds students in a familiarity with different historical periods, ideas and works of literature.
It was this classical curriculum, rather than anticipated high test scores, that first compelled Mr. Cromwell to enroll his daughter in Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy.
“The Latin was the selling point for me. I wanted a classical liberal arts education for my daughter because I wanted her to know how to think rather than just regurgitate facts. I knew the test scores would come, but I wanted a school that had high expectations beyond a standardized test. Having this opportunity within a public school system has been great,” said Mr. Cromwell.
Since Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy first opened, Ms. Martin who has taught sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth grades at the school, has seen students grow as they progress through the grades.
“I have seen first hand their growth in confidence, love of writing and writing ability. I had a student tell me she is editing her mom’s college papers. She also said that two years ago that would not have been possible. They are confident young men and women who know that they are capable,” said Ms. Martin.
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