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OEP ‘Beating the Odds’ Awards

In The View from the OEP on September 30, 2015 at 11:52 am

Achievement Award_BTO in Science JPEGIn last week’s blog post, the OEP launched this year’s Outstanding Educational Performance Awards (also known as the OEP Awards), highlighting for the first time High Achieving schools in Science. This week we are awarding schools that are “Beating the Odds”, putting the spotlight on schools that serve low-income communities and are high-achieving in science.  Only schools where at least 66% of students participate in the free/reduced lunch program are considered for this award, and the achievement of these schools are again based in the 2014-15 Benchmark Science examination at the 5th and 7th grade level, and the EOC Biology exam.

Thirty-four schools were awarded for “Beating the Odds”, and twenty-two of them stem from the Northwest region of the state.
Springdale School District deserves a special mention as four of its schools have been deemed high-achieving schools in this category, ranking in the top 10 statewide in both the 7th grade Benchmark Science exam and the EOC Biology exam. Southwest Junior High has performed exceptionally well this year. Not only has it been ranked among the top ranking junior high schools in this category, but at 96% of students performing proficient/advanced in Biology it has been ranked the second high-achieving junior high school in EOC Biology even though 67% of students are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program. Congratulations go out to you!

Norfork High School has also performed well this year as it has been ranked one of the top ten in the 7th grade Benchmark Science exam and the EOC Biology exam in this category. Norfork high has also been among the top 25 high-achieving high schools, despite the fact that 81% of its students participate in free/reduced lunch.

“Beating the Odds” schools

The highest achieving school in 5th grade benchmark science serving low-income communities is Alpena Elementary School in Alpena School District. A whopping 94% percent (vs 60% statewide) of students scored Proficient or Advanced (vs 60% statewide) with a school science GPA of 3.43.

The highest achieving school in the 7th grade benchmark science serving low-income communities is Atkins Middle School in Atkins School District. Fifty-nine percent of students scored Proficient/ Advanced (vs 34% statewide) with a school science GPA of 2.65.

The highest achieving high school in EOC Biology serving low-income communities is Des Arc High School in Des Arc School District. Fifty-nine percent of its students fall in the Proficient/ Advanced category with a school science GPA of 2.75.

The highest achieving junior high school in EOC Biology serving low-income communities is Southwest Jr. High School. Ninety-six percent (96%) of Southwest’s students scored Proficient/ Advanced, with an overall school science GPA of 3.40.

Congratulations go out to all of you for “Beating the Odds” and doing a job well done.  This is particularly impressive given that Science scores are not used in accountability determinations, and yet these schools continue to support high achievement for their students.

We at the OEP recognize that schools serving communities where students face academic challenges often receive lower proficiency rates performance on statewide examinations. This edition of the OEP awards is of great value to us as it gives us the opportunity to recognize schools that overcome those obstacles and succeed. It is our honor to esteem them and again offer our congratulations!

OEP Awards for High-Achieving Schools in Science

In The View from the OEP on September 23, 2015 at 11:03 am

OEP loves to celebrate schools across Arkansas with our Outstanding Educational Performance Awards (also known as the OEP Awards)! While we anticipate the results of the Math and English Language Arts PARCC exams, we are excited to announce the release the first of this year’s OEP awards: High-Achieving Schools in Science

Achievement Award_Science JPEG


We are awarding high-achieving schools for performance on the fifth and seventh grade science Benchmark exams and the Biology End-Of-Course exam. As we have discussed before, science proficiency varies by grade level, with fifth grade students much more likely to be proficient than the other groups. In light of this trend, we decided to divide the report into three sections: Fifth grade high achievers, Seventh grade high achievers, and Biology EOC high achievers. The top 25 performing schools in the state are recognized for each assessment, as well as the 5 highest achieving schools from each region.

The awards are based upon OEP’s GPA measure, as they have been for several years. The OEP calculates a GPA for schools in each subject based on the number of students that perform at each level on the Benchmark exam (advanced is assigned a “4”, proficient a “3”, basic a “2”, and below basic a “1). This provides more information than simple % proficient scores, rewarding schools for students scoring at all performance levels.

Schools represented in the high-achieving lists hail from every region of the state, although the Northwest region stood out with 36 schools represented for high achievement in science. Fifty-seven different districts are represented in the top rankings, and five school districts boast schools ranked in the top 25 on every science assessment:




Springdale and

Valley View.

Congratulations to these five school districts for reaching such high achievement levels in science throughout their systems!

Highest Achieving Schools

The highest achieving school in fifth grade science is Salem Elementary, in Salem School District! At Salem Elementary, 98% of students scored proficient or advanced on the science exam, with a GPA of 3.8. Statewide, only 60% of fifth graders scored proficient or advanced. Congratulations to the students and teachers of Salem Elementary!

The top achievement in seventh grade science goes to Lead Hill High School, which serves students from seventh to twelfth grades. At Lead Hill High, 73% of students scored proficient or advanced on the seventh grade science exam, earning a school GPA of 3.06. Statewide, only 34% of seventh graders scored proficient or advanced. Congratulations to the students and teachers of Lead Hill High!

The top achievement in Biology EOC is awarded to one High School and one Junior High. Biology EOC awards present a unique challenge because the assessment is taken by students at different grade levels, so we present two! The highest performing High School was Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, where 95% of students scored proficient or advanced on the Biology EOC exams, earning a school GPA of 3.62. The highest performing Junior High was Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville Public Schools, where 96% of students scored proficient or advanced and earned a school GPA of 3.42.   Statewide, only 47% of students scored proficient or advanced on the Biology EOC exam. Congratulations to the students and teachers of Haas Hall and Ramay Junior High!

Sometimes awards for high-achieving schools are criticized for rewarding schools for the demographics of their students (schools serving fewer at-risk students receive the awards).  We are pleased to report, however, that many of our high-achieving science awards are to schools with substantial populations of students on Free/Reduced Lunch.  For example, Lead Hill has 72%,  Salem Elementary reports 65%, and Ramay Junior High has 55% of students participating in FRLP.   In our next release, we will award Arkansas schools that are “beating the odds”in science–that is, schools that are high achieving in science while serving high percentages of low-income students. Following that, we will highlight schools that are Most Improved in science.

As data from the PARCC assessments in English Language Arts and math become available, we will award schools for performance in those subjects as well. Until then, congratulations to all the high-achieving schools highlighted in the science awards!

Asking the Right Questions!

In The View from the OEP on September 16, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Yesterday’s meeting of the joint education committees addressed several issues that OEP loves to think about: the achievement gap, equitable funding for schools, and how to tell if schools are spending money effectively.

Last year we released a report describing achievement gaps in Arkansas entitled Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas: Moving Beyond Achievement Gaps.  This report examined achievement gaps within Arkansas, compared to the nation, and compared to similar states. You can read the summary blog, but we agree that while most groups have experienced growth over time, achievement gaps still remain and in many cases have widened.

As Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock stated, “The state has not addressed remediating the poverty gap … after all these years and all this money.”

The money in question is money that schools receive for every student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, which is often used as a proxy measure of poverty. The money is not awarded per-student, however, but rather based on tiers of poverty students with a school.  Here at the OEP we have addressed this funding process before, and recommended in our policy brief that the funding model be smoothed and the expenditures be more focused.

Like all of you reading this, one of our key concerns here at OEP is determining if students are benefiting.  We conduct a lot of program evaluations and know that collecting good data is essential to determining if there is a benefit to students.  The first step is always to agree on an outcome and find a valid and reliable way to measure it.  High quality assessments are key, and as Arkansas adjusts the required assessments from Benchmark to PARCC to ACT Aspire- the determination of if students are ‘improving’ gets more complicated. Although some critics complain about complexity, high-quality growth models of student learning are imperative at this point. Another key to determining if a programs works is fidelity of implementation.  Consistent accounting procedures are integral to being able to identify where the money is going and link it to outcomes.

Here at  OEP we are glad that these issues are being discussed, and will continue to focus on how to be more effective in educating all Arkansas’ students.

Do YOU Have A Choice?

In The View from the OEP on September 9, 2015 at 11:03 am


Last week, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Blytheville School District’s decision to opt out of the state’s Public School Choice Act.  For a summary on the ruling, click here. The ruling means that students in Blytheville Public School were ineligible to request a transfer to another school district.

But wait, for over 25 years, students in Arkansas HAVE been able to request to transfer out of their residential district and into another district. Why are the ten parents involved in the Blytheville case, as well as all the parents recently appealing to the State Board of Education, having to face the reality that School Choice is not an option for their students? Why would students in some public school districts be allowed to transfer, but not students in others?  It all comes down to race, but maybe not in the way that you think.

In order to avoid negative consequences (think white flight) there are, and have always been, restrictions regarding which students can exercise choice. Under the original Public School Choice Act of 1989, students could request to transfer to a nonresident district as long as the student would be part of the minority racial group in their new district. Although the restriction was surely well-intentioned, in 2012 a federal court ruling stated race couldn’t be the only factor considered in deciding whether students could transfer between districts. In response, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (Act 1227) eliminated the racial restriction of the previous law, instead stating that school districts under desegregation orders could claim themselves exempt from allowing students to transfer in or out of their district. Twenty-three districts declared exemptions for 2013-14, and twenty-one declared exemptions for 2014-15.

On the surface, allowing districts with desegregation orders to not participate in School Choice may seem harmless. According to OEP’s report on School Choice, however, districts claiming exemption from allowing student transfers due to desegregation orders are higher poverty, higher minority, and lower performing than non-exempt districts. The exemptions, therefore, have the practical effect of denying students in exempt districts the choice to attend a higher performing school.

In response to concerns about the validity of the claimed exemptions, the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2015 (Act 560) amended the Public School Choice Act of 2013, and requires districts provide proof to the Arkansas Department of Education that they are under active desegregation orders or active court-approved desegregation plans. Eighteen school districts have submitted proof and claimed exemption.

We hoped requiring proof would deter districts from limiting student choice, but a new problem has arisen:

What if a school district submits “proof” that seems insufficient? Can the State Board call them out and allow students to exercise school choice?

Senator Alan Clark posed the question to the Attorney General, who responded essentially, “The ADE is neither authorized nor obligated” …  “to verify a school district’s claim of exemption or make a determination as to the sufficiency or truth of the proof submitted.” See the entire opinion here.

And so, at the August meeting, the State Board of Education did not evaluate the proof, but sustained the denial of transfer requests on appeal after appeal from parents and guardians trying to move their students out of districts claiming exemption.   Districts can submit whatever ‘proof’ they decide, and the students in that district will be denied the opportunity to transfer to a different district. You can read the full transcript here.  Apparently, the road ahead is through the courts.

As Chairperson Newton stated, “It’s outside of reasonable.”

If you are like us, you are wondering why a school district not ‘really’ under a desegregation order would claim an exemption?  Why would a school district want to be exempt from participating in school choice?

Perhaps the district is concerned about segregation. Some critics have voiced concerns that allowing School Choice will lead to resegregation. This is a serious issue that should be carefully considered using data. OEP’s research on the impact of School Choice finds no evidence of resegregative effects to districts due to school choice.

Maybe it’s about money. School district funding is allocated, in part, on the number of students enrolled in the district.  If a student transfers to a different school district, therefore, the money does too. Districts claiming exemption may be concerned about a significant decrease in funding if students start leaving the district. A provision in the law, however, limits the annual transfers due to school choice to 3% of the student enrollment. In addition, OEP’s research on the impact of School Choice finds districts losing students due to school choice are not consistently experiencing declines in enrollment.

Neither of these points resonate when it comes to students in classrooms.

Here at OEP, we are focused on the kids.

Our research shows that students attending districts claiming exemption are higher poverty, higher minority, and lower performing than students in non-exempt districts. By claiming exemption, these districts limit the opportunity for their students to transfer to a higher performing district. Surely the last thing we want is for our most at-risk students to be less likely to have an educational choice than their more advantaged peers.

We agree with Commissioner Key, who stated during consideration of an appeal earlier this month, “It kind of flies in the face of commonsense to think that a desegregation order is limiting to a minority family looking to move.”

Guest Blog Post: Time for Innovation!

In The View from the OEP on September 9, 2015 at 11:03 am
Guest Blog Post by Denise Airola,
Director of the Office of Innovation for Education

OEP note: The Office of Innovation for Education is hosting an Innovation Summit on September 29th.  If you are wondering what or if to innovate, or looking for support designing innovation for your school- this is an opportunity you can’t miss!

OEI Logo

If not now, when? It’s time to make a change. It’s time to take a chance on innovation. Join the Office of Innovation for Education (OIE) on September 29th to Focus, Connect, and Act: Innovate education for your students! Click here for more information.

Now is the time for Arkansas educators to take a risk on personalized learning! It is time to consider it, and if you are already considering it, it is time to go for it. Why? It is simple. Arkansas’s assessment and accountability systems are in transition. Now is the best time to transition to a greater focus on student learning and empowerment. You have a fresh start, a new baseline. Time to make the most of it!

Recently, I was asked what I would change about education in Arkansas. My answer—Focus everyone on student learning! But isn’t that already the case? I would say no, it is not.

For over a decade, educators in Arkansas have seemed preoccupied with accountability, and its constant companion, testing. We’ve focused on student outcomes as if the outcomes themselves hold the key to improving student learning. It has also been true, particularly in recent years, that what we measure (i.e., what we test) is what gets done. There is an important disconnect that has gone unchecked. More importantly, what we measure on state tests is not the total sum of the learning our students need to be successful, engaged learners for their lifetime!

Yet, only recently, have we begun to return to assessing for learning as the primary reason for assessing our students. And I would say that in many cases educators are assessing for learning because we are primarily worried about what our scores will look like when our students take the state assessment of learning.

In my travels to innovative schools and to conferences on personalized learning I’ve discovered that this pre-occupation with accountability isn’t the norm, especially among innovation schools. I wonder why? Is it that their states don’t have accountability measures? No, all states have some form of federal accountability and many have additional state measures. Is it that their states have fewer regulations? Not really. So what is it? I’m not sure. Perhaps once they took a risk and focused on personalizing learning for all students the work provided intrinsic rewards. Perhaps meeting students’ needs for agency and empowerment led to more learning, and that in turn, led to better accountability scores? I don’t know for sure.

I’m not alone is this call to focus on student learning and engagement. Check out the results of the Gallup Poll—student engagement and hope outrank other measures of school success!

We are called to act. Now is the best time to transition to a greater focus on student learning and empowerment. You have a fresh start, a new baseline. Time to make the most of it!

“New” Priority and Focus Schools Announced

In The View from the OEP on September 2, 2015 at 11:26 am

On Monday, the Arkansas Department of Education released the updated list of Priority and Focus Schools.  Priority schools are the lowest performers.  Focus schools are those with the biggest achievement gap between at risk and not at risk students.

No, PARCC data aren’t out yet- schools were identified for the list based on assessment data from 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14.  Given that we are entering the 2015-16 school year, this seems like old news, rather than new news. On the plus side, the data used for identification were all from the same assessments, which is more than we will be able to say again until at least 2018.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) requires states to update the list to ensure that interventions are being implemented in the lowest-performing schools. Updating the list was a condition of Arkansas’ ESEA Flexibility request being renewed for one year.

We understand that this list was required, but we are frustrated that schools that may still be struggling but have made progress cannot be recognized for the improvements they have made.  We are still missing the opportunity to discuss student-level growth over time. THIS is what schools should be measured on- not just if they have met a proficiency target. For more on this topic- see today’s blog on school snapshots.

For more information about Priority and Focus Schools – read on.


What are Priority Schools?

  • Priority Schools are 5% of the state’s lowest performing Title I schools (schools where at least 40% of the students are from low-income families).
  • Non- Title I schools that are similarly low performing are also identified as Priority Schools.
  • Previously identified Priority Schools that had not met exit criteria (meeting all performance targets for two consecutive years) continue to be identified as Priority Schools.

‘Low performing’ was calculated by using a three year ranking calculated as follows:

  1. Schools were sorted from highest to lowest for the percentage of students proficient in math in 2014.
  2. Schools were then assigned a rank based on this order, with 1 being the school with the  highest percentage of students proficient.
  3. The process was repeated for literacy.
  4. The math and literacy ranks were summed to get a 2014 overall rank.
  5. This was repeated for 2012-13 and 2011-12.
  6. Overall ranks for 2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15 overall ranks were summed to get a three year total rank.
  7. The next step gives a bonus to schools that had made progress in student achievement.  The 2014 total rank was added weighted by .80 and added to the total rank- essentially “double counting’ the 2014 rank again.

Schools that had a value greater than 7533 were identified as Priority.  On average, these schools would have been ranked 1000th or lower out of approximately 1050 schools.

Five Facts About Priority Schools:

  • Most Priority Schools (36) were previously identified as Priority Schools.
  • Nearly all of the Priority Schools (33) received 2014 letter grades of D’s and F’s.  This isn’t surprising because this is generally representing the same thing as letter grades- percent proficient and whether or not the school met annual targets.
  • The Priority Schools that received Bs (2) or Cs (9) typically met performance and graduation targets in 2013-14.
  • Nearly half of the Priority Schools  (21) serve high school students.
  • In order to be removed from Priority status, schools must meet all academic targets for two consecutive years.


What are Focus Schools?

  • Focus Schools are 10% of the state’s Title I schools (schools where at least 40% of the students are from low-income families) with the largest achievement gap between at risk (TAGG) and not at risk students.
  • Non- Title I schools that have similarly large achievement gaps are also identified as Focus Schools.
  • Previously identified Focus Schools that had not met exit criteria (meeting all performance targets for two consecutive years) continue to be identified as Focus Schools.

Achievement gaps were calculated as follows:

  1. Students who are economically disadvantaged, English Learners or Students with Disabilities are identified as TAGG.
  2. Other student are identified as Non-TAGG.
  3. A three year percent proficient is calculated for TAGG and Non-TAGG students using 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 literacy and math assessments.
  4. The three year percent proficient for TAGG was subtracted from the three year percent proficient for Non-TAGG.

Newly identified Focus Schools had gaps greater than or equal to 31.15.

Five Facts About Focus Schools:

  • Most Focus Schools (73) were previously identified as Focus Schools.
  • Focus Schools received 2014 letter grades of A(4) through F (6).  This isn’t surprising because although the letter grades include an adjustment for achievement gaps it is minor so doesn’t impact the overall grade very much.
  • The Focus Schools that received As (4) met annual targets and graduation targets in 2014.
  • Only a third of the Focus Schools  (36) serve high school students.
  • In order to be removed from Focus status, schools must meet all academic targets for two consecutive years.

Back to School Snapshots: Getting the Picture

In The View from the OEP on September 2, 2015 at 11:16 am

Back to School Snapshots

This time of year is full of snapshots of kids on their way to the first day of school.  These images give us a picture of a specific moment in time, much like the once-a-year state assessments in literacy and math.

What you can’t tell from these snapshots, either of the pictures of the kids or of the yearly test scores, is if kids are learning and growing.

From looking at a single snapshot, we can’t tell if the kids have changed from the year before.

Certain parents can use the once a year snapshots to document change over time.  By keeping all other elements of the photo consistent (the same pose, by the same tree, on the same morning) you can see the change that has taken place.


This is impressive! If you have moved during the 13 years, however, there is no “Same spot on the driveway”.  This is essentially the situation we are in with Arkansas assessment.  We are taking snapshots at three different houses: Benchmark in 2013-14, PARCC in 2014-15 and ACT Aspire in 2015-16.  Plus- we haven’t even gotten the snapshots (PARCC data) back from last year.

With so much change, we recommend schools use other assessments so they can consistently measure student learning.

One thing to consider when looking at the 13 years of pictures above: Can you tell HOW MUCH the student has actually grown?  Can you tell if he is growing faster or slower than his peers? Can you tell if he is taller or shorter than other boys his age?

Here at the OEP, we think kids, parents and policymakers want more than snapshots lined up side by side.  We want to know how much kids are learning in school.  We want to know if they are learning enough, and if they have the skills necessary to be successful after high school.

We recommend districts take the following steps to make sure students are learning, learning enough, and on track to be ready for college or careers after high school:

  • Start early:  You can’t miss those early years when they are changing so much. Just like you wouldn’t want to miss the first day pictures for kids as they enter Kindergarten, first and second grade, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to measure student learning in those early grades.  Currently Arkansas doesn’t have a summative assessment in Kindergarten.  This is the last year for ITBS, current 1st and 2nd grade summative assessment.  During these critical early learning years, districts need to take the initiate and ensure they are gathering quality information on early student learning and growth.
  • Measure growth: Some kids start the year tall and some kids walk in short. At the end of the school year, the tall kids will still be tall and the short kids may still be shorter than their peers.  The key question is- did they grow?  This is just like learning: some kids will start the year “ahead” of their classmates and some students will be “behind”.  At the end of the year, the “ahead” kid will likely be proficient, but the student who started the year ‘behind’ may not be.  Our question is “How much did they grow during the year?”
  • First day and last day: Kids can change a lot over the summer.  Assessments that measure growth from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year really show you how much kids are learning at school. Just like taking  pictures on the first day and last day of school, kids take the same assessment at least at the beginning and end of the year.
  • Make it unique:  Kids are all different, so they shouldn’t all be asked the same questions!  Assessments that adapt questions to individual student responses (computer adaptive assessments) help give detailed information about all kids.
  • Put it in context: My kid may seem tall to me, but how do they compare with other kids?  Assessments should allow for comparisons to other students around the country.  Is my student better at math than other kids his age?  Is he behind in reading? Is he growing his knowledge more or less in a year than his peers?
  • Eye on the prize: Every year is a critical step as students progress toward their future.  Districts need to use assessments that show if students are on track for success in college and careers.
  • Keep it simple: Like the first day pictures, assessment information needs to be understandable to everyone- even grandma.

Nearly half of the schools districts in Arkansas have this kind of information for their students because they use NWEA MAP as interim assessments for their students.  NWEA MAP is a K-12 computer-adaptive assessment that measures student growth throughout the school year. MAP’s long history allows it to make reliable predictions of readiness for college and careers and to compare student performance and growth with other students across the country.

As Arkansas moves to a new assessment for the once a year snapshot, however, some districts may be considering moving to new interim assessments as well. We urge you to consider the change carefully. Is it going to give you the information your teachers, parents and students need?  Or is it going to be just another snapshot?

If your district is using an assessment that provides high quality information on student learning and growth- we recommend you keep using it!  Parents and students are depending on you to teach them, and it is important that you continue to vigilantly track every student’s growth and performance.  If you feel like you could be getting more out of your data- OEP can help!  Just drop us a line- we are happy to help!

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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