University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

What’s the Deal with NAEP Results?

In The View from the OEP on November 18, 2015 at 11:49 am


Today we dig more deeply into the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress results- examining how Arkansas students scored compared to neighbor states and other states that adopted, and did not adopt, Common Core State Standards.  For more detailed information read the full policy brief.

Two weeks ago we discussed that Arkansas’ scores had declined somewhat across the board,  and that 4th grade Math scores had declined significantly since the last NAEP assessment in 2013.

That got us to wondering- why? So we asked a series of questions:

Was it just us? No, but in our neighborhood- yes.


A significant decline in scores feels bad, but we feel better is we aren’t declining alone.  Nationally, there was a decline in 4th grade Math scores as well, but not for our neighbor states.  We examined the 4th grade Math performance of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma,  Tennessee and Texas, and found that while our scores decreased, on average their scores increased!  For the first time since 2000, Arkansas’ border states surpassed our performance in 4th grade Math.

Was it because of Common Core? It’s hard to tell, but probably not. 


Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been a much debated topic over the past year, and are currently being revised to ensure they meet Arkansas’ needs.

Pursuing the question of whether or not the full implementation of CCSS in 2014-15 could have impacted Arkansas’ performance on the NAEP, we compared Arkansas with other states that have implemented the standards as well as those that have not (a full list is in the policy brief).

As seen in Figure 1, non-CCSS states did not experience a decline in 4th grade Math scores in 2015.  Other states that implemented CCSS experienced a slight decline, but it was not as significant as Arkansas’.

Figure 1: NAEP Mean Scaled Score for 4th Grade Math: Arkansas, CCSS States and Non-CCSS States, 2003-2015CCSSvNon2

The fidelity and quality of CCSS implementation varied across states, and perhaps elementary math standards were particularly difficult for Arkansas teachers to implement effectively. We must conclude, however, that Common Core State Standards are not the sole contributor to this decline in Arkansas’ performance.

Were these 4th grade students lower math performers on other tests too? Not really. 


Here at the OEP we always use multiple pieces of data.  Perhaps the students who took the 4th Grade NAEP in 2015 were just academically lower achieving than students who had completed the NAEP in previous years.  To examine this question, we considered the 3rd grade Math Benchmark performance for the years prior to the 4th grade NAEP administrations.  Although not exactly the same students, because only a representative sample complete the NAEP, we can assume that the students are essentially the same in regard to characteristics that would impact academic performance.

Figure 2: Arkansas 3rd Grade Benchmark Math Percent Proficient and Subsequent 4th Grade NAEP Math Percent Proficient,2005-06 through 2013-14


The percentage of 3rd grade students scoring Proficient/ Advanced on the Math Benchmark steadily increased between 2005-06 through 2011-12, but shows a 3% decline between 2011-12 and 2013-14. The subsequent 4th grade Math NAEP exams reflected slight increases in proficiency over time, but  a steeper decline of eight percentage points from 2013 to 2015. The trend in the Benchmark patterns of the years are similar to that of the NAEP exams but does not present us with a cause for Arkansas’ significant decline in 4th grade Math performance on the 2015 NAEP.  The scores of 3rd grade students on the Arkansas Benchmark exam in 2013-14 did not indicate there would be such a significant decline on the 4th grade NAEP.

So What Should We Do?  Get More and Better Information! 


Digging into assessment results often leads us to more questions.  Unfortunately, it isn’t clear why the NAEP 4th grade Math scores declined so significantly between 2013 and 2015.  Recently released PARCC results, however,  indicate that fewer than one in four 4th graders scored proficient in math– that’s even lower than the NAEP results (see Table 1).

Table 1: PARCC and NAEP Percent Proficient, by Grade and Subject, 2014-15


This spring, Arkansas students will take a new assessment, the ACT Aspire, making comparisons between states and from one year to the next difficult.  NAEP for 4th and 8th grade will not be administered again until 2017, which is a long time to wait to see if this year’s results were a minor blip or the beginning of a larger decline.  Our students can’t wait.

Many districts throughout the state are not waiting.  They are using high quality interim assessments that compare students to peers nationally.  Not waiting until 3rd grade to see how students are performing, many use short interactive assessments as early as kindergarten to ensure that students have a strong foundation. Not waiting for state assessment data to identify students in need of support, because these assessments can help schools understand where students are- not just those students that are behind, but also students that are ahead of their peers and can benefit from enrichment.  If we all don’t wait another day, and use data to make the most of every learning moment, and make sure that students are getting the instruction they need to grow, hopefully Arkansas NAEP scores will rebound in 2017, and our students will be more prepared for success.




Say Goodbye to the 70s- PARCC Scores are here

In The View from the OEP on November 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm

travoltaSeems like just yesterday it was the 70s:

in 2013-14, 78 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on state literacy assessments, and 72% scored proficient or advanced on state math assessments.

Today the State Board of Education approved the PARCC cut off scores for grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Math, allowing us the first opportunity to see how well Arkansas students scored on the new, much discussed, and now abandoned test.

How Did Arkansas Do?

Table 1. Percent of Arkansas Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC Assessment


WHOA! Only about one in three Arkansas students scored proficient or better?

Last year’s test data showed more than twice that amount!  WHAT HAPPENED?

We got a new test!

PARCC is the first assessment aligned to Arkansas’ Common Core State Standards, which set a higher bar for student learning, emphasizing the need for students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, and clear writing.  PARCC results cannot be compared with the earlier Arkansas Benchmark results, both because this is a new test and a different test. This will be the only year of PARCC results, as Arkansas switched to ACT Aspire for assessment this school year.

In fact, these proficiency rates might sound familiar to you.  That is because just two weeks ago the results of the on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were released, and the scores were very similar.

How Did Arkansas Compare to Other PARCC States?

You may remember that  one of the key benefits of PARCC was that we would be able to compare Arkansas student performance to the performance of students in other states.

So far seven states have released their scores for grades 3-8.  Note: Some additional states have released high school scores, but because of differences in testing requirements and implementation, cross-state comparison of high school results isn’t useful.

The six other states that have released (at least preliminary) PARCC results are New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and  Massachusetts.  The states are VERY different in many ways, but a key characteristic related to assessment is poverty. We would expect states with enrolling a greater percentage of students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch (a proxy variable for poverty) will underperform states with fewer students eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch.  The seven PARCC states that have released scores range in FRL percentages, from New Mexico, with the greatest poverty at 68.5% of FRL students, to Massachusetts, with only 35.1% of FRL students. In the figures below, states are arranged from MOST FRL on the left to LEAST FRL on the right.  Not surprisingly, Massachusetts outperformed New Mexico.   Arkansas enrolls 60.9% of students eligible for FRL and is represented in the figures below by the RED bars.

Figure 1. Percent of Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC ELA Assessment

PARC ELANote- Ohio did not report scores for 3rd grade ELA

Figure 2. Percent of Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC Assessment


Notes- New Jersey 8th grade scores are not representative.  Massachusetts allowed districts to choose between PARCC and the prior state assessment, and the split was fairly even.  Reported PARCC results for MA are based on a large representative sample, matched on achievement and demographic variables prior to score availability.

What Does This Mean?

English Language Arts

  • Arkansas is performing similarly to what we might expect, given our student population. Arkansas students outperform students from New Mexico, and are not as likely to be proficient as students from Massachusetts.
  • In many grades, Arkansas students scored similarly to students from states which have less disadvantaged student populations (Illinois and Ohio).
  • Interestingly, Louisiana students outperformed Arkansas students in almost every grade, even though they are more likely to be disadvantaged.


  • Arkansas is performing similarly to what we might expect, given our student population. Arkansas students outperform students from New Mexico, and are not as likely to be proficient as students from Massachusetts.
  • Interestingly, Louisiana students outperformed (or equaled) Arkansas students in every grade, even though they are more likely to be disadvantaged.
  • 8th grade math scores are variable, perhaps in part because some advanced students completed high school level assessments (Algebra or Math I) instead of 8th grade math.

How Does PARCC Compare to NAEP?

The scores are very similar, but there are some trends in relationships between the scores.

In Reading, PARCC proficiency rates are typically a little bit higher than NAEP. Arkansas 4th graders were 2 percentage points more likely to be proficient on PARCC, and Arkansas 8th graders were 5 percentage points more likely.

In Math, PARCC proficiency rates  are typically a little bit lower than NAEP at 4th grade, and quite varied at 8th grade. Arkansas 4th and 8th  graders were 8 percentage points less likely to be proficient on PARCC than on NAEP.

So What Now?

Arkansas has gotten a lot of feedback about it’s education system recently- and while it isn’t great news, we need to be sure we have the right takeaways as we continue to move Arkansas education forward.

  1. Face the Music: PARCC and NAEP scores give us a clear picture of how Arkansas students perform compared to other states.  Both assessments are sending the same message- about one in three Arkansas students are ‘on grade level’.
  2. Learn the Steps: Arkansas teachers, students and parents need frequent, high quality data to provide a clear picture of where students are academically.
  3. Practice the Moves: Teachers need training on how to EFFECTIVELY use assessment data for their students to transform the instruction in the classroom.
  4. Find a Partner: Arkansas should consider why Louisiana is consistently outperforming us.
  5. Strut Your Stuff!  We look forward to seeing Arkansas students demonstrate improved performance!  For comparable data, we will likely need to wait until NAEP 2017.

Arkansas School Spending – 2015 Update

In The View from the OEP on November 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

apple money

How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?  Is it enough? Is it equitable for students? Are we getting results?

These are the questions that OEP examines in the Arkansas Education Report released today.  Trends in the funding and spending of Arkansas public schools is examined as an update to our earlier report conducted in 2008.

Our new findings are similar to what we found previously: the school funding system in Arkansas continues to allocate above-average levels of overall funding to districts serving traditionally under-served students. We find that districts serving greater proportions of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, serving greater proportions of students of color, and demonstrating lower achievement on state assessments spend more per pupil than do other districts across the state. In addition, the smallest districts are spending more per pupil than larger districts.  One change from prior findings is that districts with the highest property values are spending more per pupil than districts with the lowest property values.  If this trend continues inequity between districts could result.

How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?

  • Arkansas’ investment in education has increased consistently since 2000-01.
  • Per Pupil Net Current expenditures (essentially the day-to-day costs of education) have increased 70% since 2001 – from $5,531 to $9,429 in 2013-14.

Is it enough?

This is complicated.  Enough for what?  Essentially for this question, we can only ask “Enough as compared to…?”

  • Our Neighbors? Arkansas provides more funding per pupil than neighboring states.
  • The Nation? Arkansas provides nearly the same funding per pupil as the national average when cost-of-living is considered.

Is it equitable for students?

Since all students have different needs, equity doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing.  Equity means ensuring that every student has an equal shot at success.  We evaluated funding equity by examining Net Current Per Pupil expenditures (NCPP) across a variety of district characteristics.  Statewide, the average NCPP for 2013-14 was $9,429.

  • Size: The smallest districts spend about $1,000 more per pupil than the largest districts
  • Race: Districts with the most students of color spend about $2,000 more per pupil than districts with the fewest students of color
  • Poverty: Districts with the most FRLP students spend about $2,500 more per pupil than the lowest FRLP districts
  • Achievement: The Lowest-achieving districts spend $2,500 to $3,000 more per pupil than the highest-achieving districts
  • Local Wealth: Districts with the highest local property values spent about $1,000 more per pupil than the poorest districts in 2013-14.

Are we getting results?

Since 2005, student proficiency rates on state Benchmark assessments in literacy and math have increased.  The performance of FRLP students has increased as well, but there are persistent achievement gaps in spite of the gains.  Arkansas students scored below the national average on the recently released 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math assessments.

Performance below the national average, however, is not unexpected as Arkansas enrolls 60.5% of students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a proxy for poverty) than the national average of 48.1%. Since poverty and academic success are related, it is meaningful to compare Arkansas’ NAEP performance to states with similar students. Among neighbor states, Arkansas students score similarly to Oklahoma, which has the same percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Although Arkansas has drastically improved the amount of resources available to districts in the state, students are still not doing as well as would be hoped on standardized measures of academic achievement. Increasing student achievement on should remain a major concern and point of focus for the state until all students in Arkansas are leaving school with the skills they need to succeed.

thumbs up

Keep it up Arkansas!

Arkansas has made great strides in ensuring that every student has access to adequate education funding and equitable resources, but the work is not yet done. Not enough students are demonstrating proficiency on state assessments, and there are gaps between students of different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds. The resources are in place, but districts need to continue seeking methods that effectively use the resources to ensure every student in Arkansas graduates from the K-12 education system with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the future. The commitment the Legislature has demonstrated to enhancing the quality of education received by all students over the past decade and a half, if maintained, will continue to benefit the students of the state.

For more information, read our policy briefs about Adequacy and Equity.  You can also read the full report here.


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