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: http://www.officeforeducationpolicy.org/arkansas-schools-data-benchmark-examinations/
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: http://www.officeforeducationpolicy.org/arkansas-schools-data-end-of-course-examinations/
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: http://www.officeforeducationpolicy.org/arkansas-schools-data-norm-referenced/
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.