University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

2013-14 Benchmark, EOC, and ITBS Score Database Release

In The View from the OEP on August 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Monday marked the beginning of a new school year with many changes in store for educators and students. Perhaps most notable will be the changes to testing. After one to three years of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) at different grade levels, Arkansas schools will finally take the full version of the  Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments for the first time this year. Under PARCC, students will take English Language Arts (ELA)/Literacy exams in grades 3-11, Math exams in grades 3-8, and end-of-course exams in Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. Some tests will stay the same; Arkansas will continue to administer the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in grades 1 and 2, Benchmark Science exams in grades 5 and 7, and the ACTAAP Biology end-of-course exam.

In our first policy brief of the 2014-15 school year, we take a look back on the final year of ACTAAP exams to see how Arkansas students fared in the 2013-14 school year and over time.

Benchmark Exams: Two Years of Declining Scores

Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, Arkansas has seen declines in Benchmark test scores, with a one percentage point drop in literacy and a three percentage point decline in math from the 2012-13 administration. As can be seen in Figure 1, Arkansas enjoyed years of steady improvement on the Benchmark through the 2011-12 school year.

 Figure 1: Percent Proficient And Advanced on the Benchmark Exam, 2005-2014


It’s hard to say what caused the decline over the last two years, but we have a few theories. The first is that there is a potential ceiling effect with the Benchmarks; as scores approach the score ceiling (100%), it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain gains. Another potential reason for the decline is that students were being taught based on Common Core State Standards but were tested on the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks. Finally, for the 2013-14 school year alone, the inclement weather that led to 10-plus snow days in over 70 districts may have had a “chilling” effect on scores.

You can view your school or district’s Benchmark test scores here:

End-of-Course Exams: Growth in All Tests But Algebra I

On the End-of-Course exams, we see a much more positive story. On the Geometry and Biology EOC and 11th Grade Literacy exams, Arkansas students made improvements in the 2013-14 school year, with the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced growing 2 to 3 points. Only in Algebra I did the percentage of proficient or advanced students decline, from 77% in 2012-13 to 75% in 2013-14.

 Figure 2: EOC Exams, Percent Scoring Proficient or Advanced, 2007-2014


For the OEP’s school- and district-level End-of-Course exam databases, click here:

Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS): Recent Declines, Arkansas Performs at the Middle

Figure 3: National Percentile Rank on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills on Grades 3-8, 2010-14


On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills exam, we have also seen declines over the last year, with Arkansas’ percentile ranking dropping 1 point in Reading, Language and Math. For all three subjects, Arkansas’ national percentile ranking hovers around 50, meaning that on average Arkansas students are performing right in the middle of the pack–better on the ITBS than approximately 50% of the other students taking the test. Whether or not you think that Arkansas performing in the middle is good news depends on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.

To access the ITBS test score databases, click here:

With the exception of the few tests that will remain the same, the 2013-14 school year marks the last year that we will be able to look at growth on tests until the 2015-16 test scores are released. We encourage you to dig into our policy brief to learn more about statewide trends at the region and grade levels and to our databases to compare and contrast individual schools and districts.

Recap of Last Week’s Joint House and Senate Education Committee Meeting

In The View from the OEP on August 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

On Monday, August 11th and Tuesday, August 12th, the Joint House and Senate Education Committees met to discuss a range of topics, including school safety, science standards, and broadband access to schools. Here’s a quick recap of what was discussed.

Distributed Leadership

crossleyJonathan Crossley, an English Language Arts teacher at Palestine-Wheatley High School and the 2014 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, spoke passionately to the joint committees about encouraging Arkansas teachers to stay in the profession. He discussed “distributed leadership” as one approach to preventing the feelings of lack of respect and influence that lead to the classroom exit within the first five years. Distributed leadership involves teachers in such key initiatives as leading professional development, coaching other teachers and mentoring staff, and participating in data analysis. According to Crossley, the approach is linked to teacher satisfaction and retention and student achievement.

School Violence Report

Mandy Gillip of the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) presented a preliminary report of Arkansas public schools’ readiness and capacity to prevent and respond to school violence. Among the report’s key features are resources available to schools for developing anti-bullying policies and emergency preparedness plans, data comparing Arkansas to national rates of violence and bullying, and trends in school disciplinary infractions.  Several legislators complained about the study’s heavy focus on bullying, having expected the study to focus more on preventing violence and outside attacks. The reports’ authors said that the final version of the report, which will be released in late October or early November, will include more information on school violence preparedness, such as emergency plans and positive discipline models.

Next Generation Science Standardsngss

For Arkansas students to graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers in STEM fields, we must approach science education in a new way, according to Dr. Debbie Jones of the Arkansas Department of Education. Arkansas is a lead state in developing and implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that integrate science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts at all grade levels. The standards focus on students’ abilities to apply knowledge in practical contexts, rather than on memorizing facts. The State Board of Education has not yet officially adopted the standards, but has endorsed the NGSS implementation plan. Keep an eye out for the OEP’s policy brief on the Next Generation Science Standards, which we will be releasing later this Fall.

E-Rate and Broadband                          

Arkansas is one of two states selected by the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway to pilot an in-depth project to increase schools’ access to broadband and Wi-Fi networks, achieving cost savings in the process. The organization’s founder and CEO, Evan Marwell, told legislators he selected Arkansas because of leaders’ commitment to the issue and his impression that the state’s schools are in the worst shape for Internet connectivity. Marwell was surprised to learn that 51% of Arkansas school districts meet current standards for broadband capacity compared to 37% nationally. EducationSuperHighway is assessing the current state of schools’ Internet access and plans to share findings ahead of the next cycle of Internet service procurement.

One of the most newsworthy findings that Marwell shared is that the state is currently spending $15 million (including E-Rate reimbursement) providing internet to schools through outdated copper wires, funds that can be reallocated to supporting the building of or use of a much more effective fiber-optic network. Marwell believes a strategy to improve efficiency in current expenditures spending and to take advantage of new funding recently announced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will have every Arkansas classroom connected to Wi-Fi in less than five years. For more information on Arkansas’ broadband landscape, see this story from Education Week.

education super highway

Time on the Bus

On school days in Arkansas, 5,360 route buses each carry an average of 48 students to and from school, about a 49-minute ride each way. These data were among the findings of the “Time on the Bus” study required by Act 1228 of 2013 and reported by Richard Wilson of BLR. School districts reported that limiting student time on the bus would impose a financial burden, including the need to purchase more buses and hire additional personnel.

Wilson also reported on the bureau’s work to develop an evidence-based funding model that aligns more closely with actual expenditures than the current model based on Average Daily Membership (ADM). Testing a variety of factors, BLS found that a weighted formula of ADM, actual riders, and daily route miles explained 98% of transportation costs, compared to ADM alone which explained 79% of costs.

Isolated Funding

Nell Smith (BLS) presented a review of isolated funding, which is provided to school districts that have higher costs because of such geographic challenges as rugged bus routes or low student density. Originally, isolated funding was limited to those districts that met specific criteria and had fewer than 350 students. With school consolidation, “special needs isolated funding” was created to address higher costs for those schools districts that consolidated or were annexed but for which operating from one campus was not feasible. Along with the review of how the two types of isolated funding are distributed and spent, BLS reported that students from the 44 isolated schools scored slightly lower in literacy and math proficiency, but the 15 isolated high schools had a higher graduation rate compared to an all school average.

Math Instruction Time: More is Not Necessarily Better

In The View from the OEP on July 30, 2014 at 10:37 am

mathIf a middle schooler spends more time in math class, will that student become better at math? Not in the long term, according to Eric Taylor’s recent research at Stanford University’s Center for Educational Policy Analysis.

Taylor’s study, Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School, examined the effectiveness of additional time spent in math class by using data from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the U.S. For 6th graders who scored below the 50th percentile the previous year in a 5th grade math test, administrators doubled the number of math classes (students took one regular math class and one remedial class). However, the test scores between those selected for additional classes was sometimes only different by a few points compared to students who were not selected. As Taylor stated, “Think about a kid who scores 249 versus a kid who scores 250 — those kids are not different. But a small difference in scores determined who took two math classes and who took one.” Students in the control group took one regular math class and one elective.

The study found short term benefits: the students who took two math courses scored higher on the state math test that year. However, these gains did not last after students returned to a regular math schedule. One year after treatment ended, only 1/3-1/2 of the initial gain remained. Two years out, effects were at 1/3 of the original size. When the students reached high school, the gains were almost completely gone.

These large gains that diminish over time have often been termed as following a “fade-out pattern.” This phenomenon is common with educational interventions, such as smaller class sizes, summer schools, and assigning students to a more effective teacher. This pattern does not necessarily mean that the interventions did not help students, but that the effects did not last. On the bright side, some studies show that interventions that had fading test score benefits have other long-term benefits, such as Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff’s study that found the achievement gains from having an effective teacher fade out over time but eventually effect college-going rates and earnings.

foreign languageOne interesting point Taylor makes is that there may be hidden costs associated with assigning a student to an extra math class. Since these students had an elective removed from their schedule, they were less likely to take art, foreign language, or physical education. He also finds that some evidence, though less strong, that students who had a double dose of math were 10 percentage points less likely to have completed two years of foreign languages by the end of high school, often a requirement for admission to selective colleges and universities. In addition, Taylor cites research that found that 5th grade boys who do not take P.E. are at an increased risk of obesity. All of this raises the question: is it worth it to provide students with a double dose of math if the effects eventually fade out and causes them to miss out on other classes that may be helpful to them?

A Contradictory Study?

The research literature on the topic of double-dosing confirms part of the story from Taylor’s study: at least two similar studies of the effect doubling the number of classes in a subject (Nomi and Raudenbush (2013) and Daugherty (2012), found positive short-term results.

Another 2012 study (coauthored by by Kalena Cortes of Texas A&M University, Joshua Goodman of the Harvard Kennedy School, and Takako Nomi of St. Louis University) found just the opposite of Taylor’s findings: that students who received a “double-dose” of 9th grade Algebra in Chicago experienced “positive and substantial” benefits in the long run, but not the short term.

Similar to Taylor’s study, the Cortes et al. study compared students who were just below the cutoff point for being assigned an additional Algebra class with those just above the cutoff. In the short term, the researchers reported that these students did not perform better on the 9th grade Algebra exam as hoped. However, when researchers measured the effect of the additional Algebra intervention over time, they found several long-term benefits to students, such as better performance on college-entrance exams like the ACT, increased high school graduation rates, and increased college-enrollment rates. These researchers conclude, “A successful early intervention may be the best way to boost students’ long-term academic success.”

How prevalent is double-dosing? Does this happen in Arkansas?

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results label 2/3 of American students ages 14-15 as “not proficient” in math. In light of these statistics, we know that the U.S. has a high proportion of students who lack foundational math skills. According to the Cortes, Goodman, and Nomi, nearly half of large urban districts report “double-dose” math instruction as the common way to support struggling math students.

reading_recovery_logoSo, what about Arkansas? We at the OEP are not aware of a formal policy across the state or in specific districts that leads to “double-dosing.” Arguably, Reading Recovery is a program connected to “double dosing” 1st graders with 30 minutes of extra, one-on-one reading instruction with a trained teacher. According to  What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), most research has  found Reading Recovery to be effective, having positive effects on general reading achievement and potentially positive effects on alphabetics, reading fluency, and comprehension for beginning readers. In February 2014, Little Rock School District announced that they were scrapping their Reading Recovery program, which had been in operation since 1995. Many Little Rock parents were upset about this program being cut and started a petition to keep it, which generated over 1,500 signatures. In March 2014, Superintendent Dr. Dexter Suggs announced at a Little Rock School Board meeting that elementary schools may keep the Reading Recovery program, but the decision is left up to principals and the funds must come from Title 1, NSLA (National School Lunch Act), or grant funding.

While in this case the research literature does not give us a definitive answer on the value of “double-dosing,” it does bring up some questions that district and school administrators should ask before adopting a new program:

  • What is the evidence on the effectiveness of this program?
  • Is this program likely to have a long-term effect as well as a short-term effect?
  • What positive classes or activities may students miss out on by participating in this program?

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