University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Science and ITBS Results: Not great news…

In The View from the OEP on August 26, 2015 at 12:01 pm


While the majority of test scores for Arkansas students won’t be released until later this fall because of PARCC standard setting, scores are currently available for:

  • Science Benchmark (grades 5 and 7)
  • Biology End-of-Course and
  • ITBS scores (grades 1 and 2)

Here at OEP we took a look at student performance on these assessments and shared the results in today’s Policy Brief.

In a nutshell – it doesn’t look very good.

science graph

While there was a slight increase in 5th grade science proficiency over the scores from 2013-14, the 7th grade proficiency rates continue to decline.  Only 34% of Arkansas students scored met proficiency expectations in science this year.

Biology EOC scores remained consistent with 2013-14 performance, but only 46% of Arkansas high school students demonstrated proficiency in 2014-15.  This is consistent with the ACT results released today showing only 32% of Arkansas’ graduating class met college ready benchmarks in Science, and it is interesting to note that this percentage also remained consisted with the ACT science scores for 2014 graduates.

Scores also declined for first and second grade students in reading, language and math on the norm-referenced Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).  In some cases the declines are substantial (first grade language scores falling over a dozen percentile ranks), while in other subject areas the decline of one or two national percentile ranks may seem slight. The 2014-15 results, however, continue a downward slide in all subjects since the ITBS was reinstated in Arkansas in 2010-11.

ITBS reading

What are we to make of these disheartening results?

Some folks may be wondering, are Common Core Standards (CCSS) to be blamed?

Science performance should not be impacted by CCSS. CCSS are English Language Arts and math standards. Arkansas science standards and science assessments have not changed due to CCSS.  It is possible, however, that schools are spending less time on science instruction as they implement CCSS.  Another possibility is that schools are focusing more on literacy and mathematics because those subjects “count” in accountability calculations.

ITBS declines, however, may be due to the implementation of CCSS.  Arkansas students are being taught CCSS in ELA and math, but the ITBS was not developed to measure those standards.  This disconnect, between what teachers are teaching and what the ITBS is measuring, could be a factor in the declining scores for our first and second grade students.

What’s Next?

Such a disconnect between standards and the assessment being used to measure student performance may occur next year in science. Although new science standards have been adopted, teachers will continue to teach the Arkansas standards during the next year, but Arkansas will be using the ACT Aspire to assess student performance in science instead of the Benchmark Science Exams that we have been using. ACT Aspire does not measure the Arkansas science standards, so there will be a lack of alignment between the standards and the assessment which may lead to deflated scores.

ITBS will continue to be the assessment for students in first and second grades until a new test is selected. Although a new, more aligned assessment is needed, it is important that Arkansas continue assessing students in these early grades so interventions can help them get back on track before they fall too far behind their peers.  While some teachers and education leaders may dismiss the declining results due to a lack of alignment between the standards they are teaching and the ones being measured by ITBS, these results are all we have to tell us how our young students are progressing, and it’s not great news.

Here at the OEP we hope kids don’t get lost in the shuffle of assessments.  We suggest districts use a high quality interim assessment to consistently track student progress as the new assessments and new standards are implemented.  Unless you have multiple valid and reliable data points, there’s no way to determine if students are on track for success.

Find detailed school and district benchmark assessment results here, EOC Biology results here, and ITBS results here.

Recap: House and Senate Ed. Committee August Meeting

In The View from the OEP on August 17, 2015 at 9:20 pm

The education committees of the Arkansas House and Senate met jointly last week and heard updates on TESS implementation, Arkansas Teacher Corps, and the new “panic button” emergency alert system.

TESS Implementation Feedback

 tess logo

Teachers, staff, and administrators shared their opinions about TESS design and implementation in 29 focus groups last spring. ADE Assistant Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer and Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Vice President Andy Baxter reported participants’ overall view that TESS is a good system with room for improvement. Among the key findings were the advantages of TESS in clarifying teaching standards and providing a paperless platform, while the time involved and the need for structural and cultural changes in schools were cited as opportunities for growth. Focus groups were conducted in eight locations with 197 participants from 91 school districts. Read the full report.

Arkansas Teacher Corps

Arkansas Teacher CorpsTeacher Corps logo (ATC) is an accelerated teacher-training program for highly qualified individuals who want to apply their education and career experience to classrooms in economically disadvantaged communities. ATC Faculty Advisor Gary Ritter and Executive Director Benton Brown told legislators that the program’s 48 teachers working in 26 schools and 19 districts have backgrounds in engineering, biology, business, music, languages, and other fields. In its three-year history, ATC has received more than 500 requests for teachers, and the presenters asked legislators to help spread the word about ATC to prospective applicants in their districts.

Panic Button Alert System

 A spokesperson for Rave Mobile Safety gave education committee members a progress report on implementation of the company’s “panic button” alert system in public schools as provided in the 2015 School Safety Act. Because the panic button feature allows a caller to notify 911 and school officials simultaneously, the system initiates security measures more quickly and reduces emergency response time. More than 600 school personnel participated in a July training webinar, and more training opportunities will be available. The planned launch date is September 1.

[Documents presented at education committee meetings are available through the Past Meetings link on the House and Senate education committees’ web pages.]

Summer Summary

In The View from the OEP on August 12, 2015 at 9:37 am


As teachers and students throughout the state return to classrooms, here at the OEP we wanted to be sure everyone was up to speed on the significant events in Arkansas education that occurred over the summer.

  • Common Core is here to stay (at least for now):  The Governor’s Council on Common Core released its Findings and Recommendations.  The Council recommended that Arkansas keep the Common Core State Standards in place but conduct “a comprehensive review of the standards with the goal of revising, improving and replacing, as warranted, both the Mathematics and ELA [English Language Arts] standards.”  As Commissioner Key noted, ADE was already scheduled to review the ELA and mathematics standards as part of the annual standards review process.
  • ACT Aspire is the new test:  Students in grades 3-10 will complete the ACT Aspire in ELA [English Language Arts], Mathematics, and science beginning in April.  After some controversy, the State Board approved the new assessment system in early July.  ACT Aspire replaces the PARCC tests that were administered for the first time last spring, as well as the 5th and 7th grade Benchmark science exams, and the Biology End Of Course exam. For more information about ACT Aspire, see our policy brief and the ADE’s resources. New assessments are expected to be implemented next year for students in grades K-2, but 1st and 2nd graders will still be taking the ITBS this spring.
  • ACT free but not required: Although the reputation and national comparability of ACT were key points in the move to a new assessment system, the ACT is not a required assessment.  The test will be FREE for any 11th grader who chooses to take it, however, and can be used for all scholarship/ admission purposes. OEP suggests that all districts take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate their students’ readiness for College and Careers and promote the ACT for all students. We also hope that parents and students would take full advantage of this opportunity and sign up for the FREE ACT in March.
  • Science Standards approved: New science standards for Kindergarten through 8th grade were approved by the State Board in June.  Current Arkansas science standards remain in place for the 2015-16 school year, with the new standards being implemented next year for Kindergarten-4th grades and in 2017 for 5th-8th grades.
  • Arkansas granted one-year renewal of ESEA waiver: One immediate implication for Arkansas schools is that ADE will identify Needs Improvement Priority, Needs Improvement Focus, and Exemplary schools.  The Needs Improvement Priority schools include schools with the lowest performance over 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.  The Needs Improvement Focus schools include schools with the largest TAGG/Non-TAGG achievement gaps. PARCC results will not be used for these determinations this year.
  • Computer Science development:  Under Act 187, schools must offer at least one computer science course at the high school level beginning this school year.   ADE is reimbursing the $120 fee for the first 200 Arkansas educators who pass the Praxis™ Computer Science assessment and add the area to their Arkansas Educator’s License. While more teachers may be preparing to take advantage of this great opportunity for themselves and their students, 25 teachers attempted the test in July, and only 5 passed it. Many schools will still have to rely on virtual instruction options since they don’t have a teacher certified to teach Computer Science.  For more information about this issue, check out the ADE’s FAQ.
  • Broadband improvements: Improvements to the APSCN system are underway, with Ft. Smith School District the first to be connected into the new high speed broadband fiber optic cable.  All schools are expected to be connected by July, 2017.

OEP is looking forward to a great year for Arkansas students and educators!


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