LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ new practice of assigning A to F letter grades to public schools is affecting schools’ reputations and could hinder academic growth, according to some education experts.

The state’s 2-year-old school accountability system involving letter grades has been used as bragging rights for schools with all A grades. It’s also led to the potential waiver of employee protection laws for faculty and staff in Little Rock’s schools that receive poor grades.

The letter grades are based on multifaceted numerical scores that take into account ACT Aspire test results and improvement from the previous year. Other factors include high school graduation rates and indicators of school quality and student success, such as attendance and reading levels.

The state recognizes the top 10 percent of schools in achievement and in growth with financial awards, totaling nearly $7 million.

Sarah McKenzie, executive director of the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas, said that achievement on the most recent tests often overpower the year-to-year achievement growth measure.

McKenzie said the accountability system has improved but could be modified to better reflect achievement gains, or growth, made by students at a school over the course of a year.

“I’m … concerned that schools that are demonstrating high growth but are continuing to get C’s feel disenchanted and disappointed, and could stop making progress because they get disheartened,” she said.

Deborah Coffman, the Arkansas Education Department’s assistant commissioner for public school accountability, said department officials are aware of the Office of Education Policy’s concern.

“At this point we are not making a change, but we are studying it to see if we need to do that,” Coffman said.

The 14 schools in the Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel and Dollarway school districts received nine F grades and five D grades for 2017-18. In 2016-17, they received eight F grades and six D grades. Statewide, 145 schools received D’s and 44 received F’s.

The five White Hall schools received three C’s and two B’s for 2017-2018. In 2016-2017 the schools received two C’s, two B’s and an A.