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Arkansas Report Card: 2014

In The View from the OEP on February 25, 2015 at 11:28 am

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Each year, the OEP releases an annual “Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools” highlighting student performance on statewide and national standardized tests, examining the achievement gaps in Arkansas, the states that border Arkansas, and the nation.

Arkansas is entering a new phase for K-12 education. All students in Arkansas public schools are now being taught new standards, and this spring students in grade 3-11 are planning to take new assessments. Changing the standards taught and how student performance is measured is difficult, but Arkansas is committed to preparing students to leave the K-12 school system ready for college and careers.

In addition to administering new assessments, this spring schools are going to be ‘graded’ on their performance. Intended to help parents better understand how their local schools are performing, the A-F grades include a wider set of criteria than the prior school rating system and provide meaningful measures for parents and stakeholders.

As we reflect on Arkansas K-12 performance, there are several areas of success to highlight:

  • Pre-Kindergarten: In national reports, Arkansas gets high marks for access to, spending on and quality of pre-kindergarten programs.
  • High School Graduation Rates are above the national average and continuing to increase.
  • Education funding is consistently supported in the state budget, and progressive for regions in need of support.
  • ACT scores in English, reading and science are closing in on national averages, and almost all Arkansas high school graduates are taking the test.

Of course, there are also areas for improvement:

  • Math and literacy proficiency rates on state assessments have been stagnant or declining over the past three years. The declining results could be due to the mis-alignment between the new standards and the old assessment (ACTAAP), but student performance has also declined on the ITBS.
  • The achievement gap between students who participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch program and and their peers who do not, is relatively unchanged over the past several years.
  • Arkansas continues to lag behind the national average for 4th and 8th grade students as measured by the NAEP, and for high school students taking the ACT.

Pre-kindergarten and high school completion targets are examples of policies that have made a real difference to Arkansas students. The continuing financial support of the K-12 education provides Arkansas students the opportunities to learn and grow every day. While students have demonstrated increased performance on standardized assessments overall, for the past several years there has been little growth and the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students persist. Moreover, there are several schools around the state that continue to struggle to serve students year after year.  Simply put, education leaders need to do better for the students who need school the most.

New and innovative models for teaching and learning should be implemented and rigorously evaluated for their impact on student achievement. Effective school leadership and quality classroom teachers are critical to student success, and we need to continue to support the development and retention of quality educators. Changes in state assessments may make it more challenging to measure student progress and track the effectiveness of the K-12 education system, so it is important that stakeholders use a variety of methods to monitor student progress. By working together to discover the path to success for each and every student, educators and policy makers will ensure Arkansas students are ready for college and careers!

Take a look at the 2014 Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools and leave us a comment. Tell us your thoughts or suggestions for how we can continue to improve education for Arkansas students.

We Are Listening…

In The View from the OEP on February 24, 2015 at 8:57 am

listenThe OEP is thrilled that readers are paying attention to our essays and blog posts. Indeed, when one reader recently voiced the opinion that our last post indicated we are “out of touch” and suggested that we are ignoring the detrimental results of testing, we got to thinking … perhaps we should be a bit more clear and thorough in describing our views on testing … please read on and see for yourself if you share our views!

Dear [OEP Blog Follower]:

We appreciate you sharing your thoughts about the PARCC testing OpEd with us, and hear your frustration. There is a lot of discussion right now about Common Core and PARCC, standards and assessment and it can be very emotional. The best thing we can do as adults in the situation is have professional, respectful dialogue about what is best for kids. In that vein, we do not agree with your assertion that we are out of touch- I have been a public school classroom teacher for years, have children in public schools, and just left a position with a large Arkansas school district where I was Assessment Director and District Test Coordinator. As district test coordinator I was deeply involved in getting students, teachers and schools prepared for PARCC, and have gone through in-depth PARCC training and provided it to staff. I recognize that PARCC is a big change for students and teachers, but when I get frustrated with all the craziness, I remind myself that the school accountability movement sprang from a desire to ensure that ALL students were being provided excellent education opportunities. I am not convinced we have reached this goal in Arkansas, and I am sure that, like me, you advocate for those students who depend on their local public school for the opportunity to learn.

As you know, the PARCC assessments have been in development for several years, and Arkansas teachers have been very involved in the process. Arkansas decided at the outset to be a PARCC governing state, ensuring that our teachers would be at the table at every stage of the assessment development. We know several teachers who have written items, evaluated the alignment to the state adopted Common Core standards, and participated in the final approval or denial of items as well. Our state has done an admirable job of letting teacher voices be heard throughout PARCC development.

Arkansas and its teachers have invested a lot of money and time into the development of PARCC, but none of us know yet what the results will show. Comparison of ACTAAP proficiency in relation to other national assessments indicated that students scoring at around the 30th percentile nationally were proficient on ACTAAP! Given that the relative national performance for proficiency was so low, we expect proficiency rates will drop considerably on the PARCC. We see this change as beneficial for Arkansas students! Arkansas needed to raise the expectations so we can be sure students are prepared to be successful in college and careers.

While we pointed out that there are several assessments that could be used for our students, PARCC is the only one that Arkansas teachers have helped develop that measures the standards that Arkansas students have been being taught. It is also the one that the state has entered into a contract with. Other assessments, like ACT, SAT, ITBS and NWEA, can provide valuable information, but do not directly measure the grade-level standards Arkansas teachers are teaching because they are norm-referenced against a national population. Since education is a state responsibility, Arkansas chooses to administer a criterion-referenced test that measures Arkansas grade-level standards, and PARCC is the assessment that has been developed, with Arkansas teacher input, to do just that.

As we indicated in the article, we do not like to have students missing instructional time for assessment, but do feel like high quality assessment is a valuable part of the learning process because it provides feedback to students, teachers and administrators about how students are progressing. We appreciate that the PARCC means less testing time each day for students and less testing time overall than the benchmark and EOC exams. It has the potential to be a more efficient assessment than ACTAAP, and one that provides students opportunities to demonstrate their learning over time as opposed to a snapshot of one day or one week.

Like you and many others around the state, we were concerned that issues with technology equipment or experience would interfere with the measurement of actual student understanding. The field test from PARCC last spring included the administration of items in both electronic and paper-pencil format. There were not significant differences in student performance on the items based on the format, indicating that the technology interface was not having a significant impact on students’ ability to communicate what they know. We can’t be sure that the assessments will or will not measure student understanding- we will have to wait until the results come out and compare them with other information we know about the students.

We know there are significant challenges with implementing PARCC, but we support it for Arkansas students, at least for this year. We need to honor the work that Arkansas teachers have put into developing the assessment and preparing students. While still standards-based, we believe the increased difficulty of the PARCC questions are a step up for Arkansas students. We hope you have a smooth testing season and appreciate the work you do for [your] students.

Ensuring Fairness in Charter Lotteries

In The View from the OEP on February 18, 2015 at 11:35 am

cjpgSpring time is beginning to mean charter school lottery season in Arkansas.  With 40 active charter schools in the state and more slated to open next year, an increasing number of students and their parents are considering their chances of attending one of these schools.  We here at OEP are pleased to have conducted several charter lotteries this spring, and are excited about the transparency, fairness and diversity we witnessed. In hopes of ensuring equal access to these public charter schools all students and parents, we wanted to share our thoughts on best practices to ensure a fair lottery process.

As a refresher charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Like traditional public schools, all charter schools are free to attend and are funded with essentially the same federal and local funds as traditional public schools.   Nationally, 6.2% of all schools were identified as charters in 2012-13.  Currently, Arkansas has 4% of public schools operating under charters.  The most prevalent charter areas are Washington DC (44%) and Arizona (23%).  In Arkansas, there are two types of charter schools: District conversion (22 schools) and open-enrollment (18 schools).  District conversion charter schools can draw students only from within their district boundaries, while open enrollment charter schools can draw students from any district.  For more detailed information about how the funding works, refer to our policy brief on the topic.

Students must apply to attend a charter school, and sometimes more students apply than there are spots available.  If more students apply to attend the school than there are slots available, the school must hold a lottery for available spots. There are several rules that ADE applies to charter enrollment practices.  Charter schools are allowed to grant priority enrollment for siblings of students already enrolled in the school and for children of founding members.  Charter

In Arkansas, there seems to be plenty of demand for charter school slots.  At several recent lotteries, there were nearly 4 applicants for each spot, and some charters in the state report wait lists of thousands.  While there is no way to tell if all of these students would actually enroll in the charter school given the opportunity, it seems undeniable that charters are a popular option for Arkansas parents and students.

Charter schools are public schools, and should be accessible to all students.  Some critics of charters, however, have raised questions about whether charters “cream” top students from traditional public schools.  In order to ensure charter schools are truly accessible to all students, there are several best practices OEP recommends regarding lotteries:

1) Get the Word Out:  Charter school enrollment and lotteries can only be as representative as the students who apply.  In order to have the most representative application pool, charters need to widely publicize the application process and lottery.  This means getting the information out into the communities – through word of mouth,  social media, neighborhood organizations, community meetings and even laundromats.  Translate the materials as needed to reach all communities, and be sure to include that the school is free to attend.  Parents and guardians can’t apply if they don’t know about the school, and the responsibility falls on the charters to get the word out.

2) Keep it Simple: Minimize the information required to apply for the lottery.  Offer the applications in different languages, and in paper and electronic formats.  The application for the lottery only needs to include the student’s name, grade they are applying for and parent/guardian contact information (either address, phone or email).  Additional questions regarding priority enrollment are also helpful,  but that’s it!  The less information gathered before the lottery the better – reduces intimidation for parents/guardians and eliminates any possible perception of “cherry picking” students based on information provided.

3) Be Obvious: Include specific information about the process, deadlines and lottery date on the application. Make sure there is no implication that students or parents need to visit the school or meet with school staff prior to applying. Set clear guidelines about when parents/guardians need to accept the spot or have it passed onto another student.

4) Be Transparent: Hold the lottery in a publicly accessible location at a time when the public can attend.  Use a random process to determine if students get placed.  Explain the process clearly to attendees and answer any questions before the lottery begins. OEP uses a random number generator and displays the process on a projector.

5) Be Efficient: Provide an opportunity for parents/guardians of students who are lotteried in to accept the spot immediately after the lottery.  Allowing immediate acceptance will reduce the follow up procedures for the school as well as the uncertainty of parents/guardians.

Through our work assisting charters with the lottery process, we have seen excellent examples of charter schools practicing these best practices.  At OEP, we are glad to see the ADE actively monitoring all charter lotteries and providing information to schools about that process.  Since lotteries only include applications submitted, we recommend ADE also pay careful attention to the application process and how it is communicated to the public.  Expectations regarding advertising of the lottery and availability of applications should be clarified.  Processes for handling and recording student applications is also critical to demonstrate that student applications are handled appropriately.  A centralized application system for all charters could assist schools in maintaining appropriate processes.

To determine the effectiveness of charter schools, it would be beneficial to keep careful records of students who were not selected.  This would allow researchers (like OEP) to compare apples to apples- the academic performance between accepted charter school students and those who applied but were not selected.

We also recommend having an univolved third party manage the lotteries.  This adds to the transparency of the process.  If you are interested in having OEP assist you with your charter lottery- please let us know!

Whatever your feelings about the charter school movement, we should all be advocating for transparent and fair charter lotteries like those OEP has seen around the state- these are all PUBLIC schools serving Arkansas students.

Testing in Progress: Please Do Not Disturb!

In The View from the OEP on February 11, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Imagine you are sitting in a classroom, and have been working hard to learn the material throughout the semester. Suddenly, right before finals week, the teacher announces that there will be NO TEST! Some students in the class are high-fiving and gathering up their books as they prepare to leave, probably not planning on returning to class. The teacher is smiling and looks pretty relieved as well. You feel like you should be excited too, but after the initial feeling of relief passes you wonder about the implications of “No Test” and approach the teacher-

You: Will we still get a grade for the class?

Teacher: Yes, of course, I have to give you a grade.

You: What will it be based on? The test was 90% of our grade.

Teacher: I don’t know. If you really want to take a test, I guess you can take this test from a couple of years ago.  It would cost extra though.

You: Was it the same class?

Teacher: Sort of, but we learned different things.

You: I don’t think that will work. How will I know if I leaned what I need to know for my next class?

Teacher: I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter, at least we aren’t taking a test!

 

But it DOES matter. It matters to Arkansas students, parents, teachers and policymakers. We all deserve to know if Arkansas students are learning.

If passed, House Bill 1241, filed last week bCaution-Testing-In-Progress-Sign-S-8894y Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would essentially mean there will be “No Test” this year for the majority of Arkansas students. While this last-minute change might placate some of the Common Core opposition in the short-term, retreating from annual testing would be very problematic in the long-term and leave Arkansans as confused as the fictitious student in the conversation above.

In less than a month, Arkansas students will begin taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in English and math. Under development since 2010, the tests are replacing the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) exams that have been administered annually to Arkansas students since 1999.

We don’t love students missing learning time to take tests, but we see assessment as an integral part of the learning process. We have been giving Arkansas students annual exams for 15 years, and the results provide valuable information to students, parents, teachers and policymakers.  Examining the results of the annual ACTAAP exams showed us that more students have been meeting criteria to be “proficient” or “advanced” in Literacy and math. Students got feedback about their strengths, and those that were not proficient were required to be provided additional help at school. Parents were able to learn if their student was meeting academic expectations. Teachers could learn something about the students coming into their class, without wasting several weeks of instructional time at the beginning of the year trying to determine who knew what. Policymakers looked for schools that were High Achieving or Beating the Odds, and worked to identify what practices were working for students and why.

We cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. We have been making progress with our students and without annual assessments there is no way to measure progress for all Arkansas students.

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Here at the OEP, we believe Arkansas should definitely administer a statewide assessment this year, and we recommend PARCC for several reasons:

1- Because students, parents and teachers were told that we would. Knowing the target is important. Teachers and school leaders have worked for years to ensure  that their students will be prepared to succeed on these assessments. Districts across the state have invested time and money to purchase computers, prepare facilities and staff to administer the assessment.

2- Because it measures the standards Arkansas students have been taught. Arkansas students have been being taught the standards measured by PARCC. Starting with K-2 students in 2011-12, then 3-8th grade students in 2012-13, and finally with 9-12th grade students in 2013-14, Arkansas students have been learning the content that will be measured by PARCC.

3- Because Arkansas educators have been a part of test development.   Arkansas teachers have been involved in developing the PARCC items. From writing the questions, to reviewing the final items, Arkansas teachers were at the table, having their voice heard.

4- Because Arkansas educators will participate in setting the standards. Arkansas educators are already signed up to participate in the important process to determine what “proficient” looks like on the PARCC assessment.

5- Because we care about Arkansas students.  PARCC will help us all learn if we are preparing students to be ready for college and careers; and allows us to compare our performance to 10 other states!  Will Arkansas students do better than students in Massachusetts? If not, at least we will have information about where we need to improve.

An eleventh-hour change eliminating the PARCC testing this Spring would mean that students will get no unbiased feedback about their learning. Letter grades are subjective and can vary widely from teacher to teacher, and students deserve to know how their performance stacks up against a common measure. Parents and teachers across the state will lack a consistent source for information about student learning.  School leaders and policy makers will have to use whatever scraps of data they can find to inform their decisions.  The option suggested by HB 1241 is to revert to the old ACTAAP testing system from 2012-13. Not only would this re-introduce all the limitations of the ACTAAP assessments, but they no longer measure what students have been being taught. They also takes MORE TIME for students to complete and will COST MORE to administer. Both options are bad for Arkansas students and the PARCC exams should be given as scheduled this Spring.

The controversy surrounding PARCC (however unwarranted) may push state leaders to re-consider the choice of exam for future Arkansas students and search for a new exam to replace it. If this happens, there are a few testing virtues that should guide this search. A good statewide exam should certainly allow for comparisons across states throughout the nation, should allow for measures of student growth over time, and should be connected to important learning outcomes that matter to students.

There are several exams being used across the country that boast one or more of these characteristics. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and SAT-10 are examples of norm-referenced exams that allow us to compare Arkansas students’ performance to that of other students across the country. Either ITBS or the SAT-10 (previously the SAT-9) has been administered to Arkansas students’ for over ten years. An example of a test that allows for accurate measurement of student growth is NWEA MAP, an online, computer adaptive assessment that provides students, parents and teachers with information about student performance compared to a national peer group. Many Arkansas districts are already voluntarily using NWEA MAP to get actionable information about their success with students. Finally, an example of an exam that is connected to meaningful outcomes for students is the ACT Aspire. This exam is also an online assessment that provides students, parents and teachers with information about student performance compared to a national peer group. Importantly, ACT Aspire is linked to the ACT College readiness benchmarks and the ACT College Entrance exam.

Indeed, we are not the only ones that feel that many of these qualities in a test are important. Today during a press conference at which Governor Hutchinson announced the creation of a council to study the Common Core standards and assessments, the governor expressed that standards and tests should hold students to high expectations and tests should allow for national comparisons.

The success of Arkansas students is important to all of us.  It is critical that we continue to administer annual assessments of student learning, and we need to honor the hard work for Arkansas students, parents, teachers and policymakers. Retaining the PARCC test today – with the possibility of moving to a different high-quality assessment in the future– is the right answer for Arkansas students.test

News From The Capitol: February 4, 2015

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on February 4, 2015 at 5:32 pm

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This morning the Senate Committee on Education voted in favor of bills related to vacation and inclement weather policies for K-12 public schools.

Vacation Days

Senate Bill 160 would amend the law for 12-month schools to allow a maximum vacation period of seven weeks rather than six weeks. Sen. Jim Hendren presented the bill, sponsored by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, and explained that the option to offer a seven-week break gives “year round schools” the flexibility to align activity schedules with schools on other calendars. SB 160 now moves to the House education committee for consideration.

Inclement Weather

Senate Bill 180 is designed to give school districts some leeway in determining whether to declare an inclement weather day. Sen. Eddie Joe Williams described the difficulty of deciding in the very early morning whether to call off school before road conditions for buses can be assessed. SB 180 would give superintendents up to five school days per year to delay start time or to dismiss school early without losing a credited school day. The Senate education committee approved the bill, which moves on to the House education committee’s agenda.

School Choice

Senate Bill 179 would update the current law on school choice that will expire June 30, 2015. Now in the fiscal impact review process at the Bureau of Legislative Research, SB 179 will be discussed in committee in the near future. Find out what the data say about the issues related to school choice in OEP’s newest policy brief, “Impacts of the School Choice Act of 2013.”

Public School Choice Act of 2013

In The View from the OEP on February 4, 2015 at 10:30 am

During legislative sessions, we publish OEP Policy Briefs on issues that might be considered during the session.  Our brief on the preliminary analysis on impacts of The Public School Choice Act of 2013  (Act 1227 of 2013) was released today.  Act 1227 expires July 1, 2015, so it falls upon this legislature to decide the future of public school choice laws in Arkansas.

The Public School Choice Act of 2013 (Act 1227 of 2013) was passed during the 89th General Assembly of 2013. Unlike the School Choice Act of 1989, Act 1227 allows students to transfer into a different public school districts regardless of race, but does include several restrictions. First, transfers cannot result in a net change in the district’s average daily membership of more than 3%. Furthermore, districts can limit transfers in if capacity is limited. The last restriction is that districts that are under desegregation orders can declare themselves exempt from allowing students to transfer into or out of the district. If you want to read more background on this issue, please check out our Arkansas Education Report on the Public School Choice Act of 2013.

We were pleased to see that we have chosen to publish this morning’s Policy Brief on the Public School Choice Act on the same day that a new bill, Senate Bill 179 – TO AMEND THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE ACT OF 2013, is on the agenda of this morning’s Senate Education Committee meeting! The bill was filed last week (January 29, 2015) and will likely receive some attention over the coming weeks.

In that light, as legislators consider what to do with this law, the OEP (which focuses on evidence and data) believes that background data can be helpful to our policymakers and thus offers this Policy Brief which examines what changes have occurred in school districts across the state as a result of the Public School Choice Act of 2013. It is our hope that the information presented in this brief will be useful to those tasked with deciding how to amend the Public School Choice Law in the state of Arkansas.  So, what did we ask and what did we find?

The OEP Brief asked two key questions about the Public School Choice Act:

  1. Who is accessing School Choice?
  2. How is school choice affecting districts?
  3. Are there negative consequences of school choice?

If you don’t have time to surf over to our Policy Brief, here is a “Cliff’s Notes” version of our findings in bullet point format:

Who chooses?

  • Over 4,500 students in more than 200 districts are participating in school choice.  This represents approximately 1% of the public school students in the state.
  • While students from all racial and ethnic groups participate, white students were more likely to participate than other students. For example, in 2014-15, 83% of students requesting transfers through school choice were white. This is disproportionate to statewide enrollment of 63% white students.

How are districts affected?

  • Over 50% of districts are essentially unaffected by school choice, with changes in enrollment due to school choice +/- 1%.
  • There are clear patterns in which types of districts are more likely to see increases or decreases in student enrollment due to school choice:
    • decreasing enrollment districts, reporting a net loss greater than 1%,  are more economically disadvantaged and have lower student performance.
    • increasing enrollment districts, reporting a net gain greater than 1%, are more economically advantaged with higher levels of student performance.

Are there negative consequences?

  • Districts affected by school choice are not consistently getting more or less ethnically or racially diverse. There is very little change in the percent white enrollment due to school choice, regardless of the district enrollment demographics before school choice.
  • Districts losing students to school choice are not consistently demonstrating declines in enrollment.

We conclude our policy brief by discussing ways that Act 1227 might be changed.  Most importantly, the understanding of school choice impact can be improved through better data collection in the future. This initial analysis was based only on “net transfers” in and out of schools related to the school choice act and we can learn more by using more detailed data on individual student transfers. Moreover, we found that more than 20 non-exempt districts did not submit required school choice information for 2014-15 and that some of the data submitted did not reconcile the number of transfers in with the number of transfers out.

Stay tuned for further information about the school choice issue, including analysis of about denied transfer applications and details of 2014-15 student transfer patterns.

ForwARd Arkansas Report Released

In The View from the OEP on January 28, 2015 at 12:58 pm

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Yesterday, ForwARd Arkansas  released The State of Education in Arkansas, which provides a well-organized overview of key education indicators in our state.

The report highlights several key findings:

  • Arkansas has improved access to education and increased participation in higher-level educational activities
    • Pre-K access for 3-and 4-year-olds ranks 18th nationally
    • Above average high school graduation rate of 84%
    • Large increases in AP Exam and ACT participation
    • College-going rate of 65% in the top 20 nationally
  • Arkansas has established policies and procedures that should support improved student outcomes
    • Arkansas has implemented the Common Core over the past 4 years
    • Arkansas is recognized as a leader in Principal and Teacher Licensure and Training
    • Per-pupil expenditure has increased and is near national average
  • Student outcomes are currently below aspirations across the state
    • Arkansas ranks in the bottom 20 states on the NAEP math and literacy exams
    • Only 20% of students taking the ACT met college-ready benchmarks in all four subjects
    • Almost 50% of college freshmen require remedial coursework
    • Although college-going rates are high, on time college graduation rates are 48th nationally
  • Arkansas’ achievement gap persists despite recent gains
    • Achievement gaps in reading and math, as measured by NAEP, have narrowed since 2005
    • School performance is closely related to location in the state, although there are high performing schools in every region

This report is one of several data sources ForwARd will use to develop a comprehensive plan to improve education Arkansas.  If you would like to contribute to the conversation you can complete ForwARd Arkansas’ online survey.

We at the OEP applaud ForwARd Arkansas for releasing this report on the state of education in Arkansas! Understanding the lay of the land is an essential first step in formulating meaningful solutions, and we look forward to seeing the innovative ideas ForwARd Arkansas proposes in the near future.

About ForwARd Arkansas:

ForwARd Arkansas is a partnership of education, business, government and civil society professionals committed to improving public education in Arkansas.  ForwARd is organized by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and Arkansas Board of Education, and advised by The Boston Consulting Group (research and strategic planning), Eric Rob &Isaac (web and report development), and The Peacock Group (communications).

 

Office for Education Policy announces two new resources for stakeholders

In The View from the OEP on January 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Overall Education Points and News From The Capitol

As the legislative session gets underway, OEP is providing two new resources to ensure that stakeholders have quick and easy access to the reliable infomation they need.

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Overall Education Points are one-page summaries of current issues in Arkansas education.  Created to provide stakeholders with a quick source for key points and resources, Overall Education Points provide a handy refresher for those familiar with the topic, or a speedy introduction for those new to the conversation.  This week’s OEPoints topic is charter school facilities funding.

 

 

capital picNews From The Capitol is a great source for news from the House and Senate Education Comittee meetings. OEP is attending the meetings and will share key information in News From The Capitol.  To have the information you need delivered to your email, sign up for the the OEP blog (it’s easy- just scroll to the bottom on the page, enter your email address and click “Sign Me Up”).

 

 

What’s Ahead for Education During the 2015 Legislative Session

In The View from the OEP on January 14, 2015 at 1:31 pm

2-24-14 Candidate FilingThis week marks the start of the 90th General Assembly and the inauguration of Arkansas’ new governor Asa Hutchinson. The 2015 legislative session could mean some big changes for education; here’s a round up on what to expect in education legislation for 2015.

Consolidation/Act 60

It looks like changes may finally be coming to the controversial school consolidation law, Act 60, which requires districts with an enrollment of less than 350 students for two years in a row to merge with a neighboring district. Both during and after his campaign, Governor Hutchinson has stated that he would support amending the law to allow districts at risk of consolidation that are “academically performing and financially sound” to receive a waiver from the consolidation requirement. A recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article confirmed that this issue will likely come up during the legislative session.

Computer Science

A major part of Governor Hutchinson’s education platform during his campaign was to ensure that computer science classes were offered in every Arkansas high school within four years. Hutchinson has stated that he will ask the legislature to change state law to allow computer science classes to count as a core graduation credit in math or science.

Common Core/PARCC

Gov. Hutchinson has stated he will request a “thorough review” of the Common Core standards by the Education Commissioner and a task force of educators. In the Legislature, three potential bills related to the Common Core are being discussed: a bill to repeal or significantly alter the Common Core standards, a bill to limit the amount of data that can be collected by the US Department of Education, and a bill to place a moratorium on PARCC testing. In other words, it looks Common Core will continue to be a hot button issue in 2015 and the legislative session could lead to changes in the standards and tests being used in Arkansas schools. To learn more about the common arguments for and against the Common Core, check out our report The Common Core Debate. You can also check out our blog for details about PARCC testing, including what PARCC questions will look like and what tests will be administered.

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Funding

Potential changes to K-12 funding include a raise in stating pay for teachers and proposals to address the school facilities funding shortfall, an estimated $65 million gap between available funding and needs.

We expect that other education issues will come up over the course of the session, and we at the OEP will keep you posted!

Quality Counts – 2015 Edition!

In The View from the OEP on January 14, 2015 at 1:30 pm

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Last week, Education Week released their 19th annual report Quality Counts.  This year’s report takes a broad look at the issues and forces shaping the discussion around early-childhood education, and includes summative grades and rankings for states on education indicators.

You may remember that last year, Education Week took a hiatus from assigning summative grades to states “in order to step back and reassess the education policy landscape”, providing instead only grades for specific categories.  Unfortunately, overall grades have returned this year and to make things even more confusing Education Week has changed the grading system.  We have mentioned in a previous blog post that we feel the system is problematic and the new changes do little to address our concerns.

Arkansas received a C- from Quality Counts this year and was ranked 36th overall.  This may seem like a surprising decline from only 2 years ago when Arkansas was ranked 5th in the country, but the grading criteria has changed and we CANNOT COMPARE these overall scores or rankings.  According to Education Week, the new “leaner form that focuses on outcomes” includes only three of the previous six categories.  This change turns the very tempting prospect of comparing Arkansas’ 2015 overall grade to prior years into comparing apples to applesauce.

What we CAN COMPARE over time is performance in the categories retained for the 2015 report: Chance for Success, School Finance and K-12 Student Achievement.  We examined these results and addressed Arkansas’ strengths and weakness in the OEP Policy Brief Quality Counts 2015.

Here are the most recent three years of  Arkansas grades in each of the categories graded for 2015.    When are compared over time we can see that regardless of the change in our overall grade,  Arkansas students are performing better than they were in 2013!

2015 Quality Counts Categories AR Grade 2013 AR Grade 2014 AR Grade 2015
Chance for Success C- C- C-
School Finance C C C
K-12 Achievement D- D+ D+

Although celebrating a D+ in student achievement is not where we would like it to be, the key takeaway from Quality Counts 2015 is that Arkansas students are making gains. If policymakers and education leaders can focus on meaningful data, like growth and efficiency in the face of disadvantage, rather than an overall grade, then students in Arkansas can continue to beat the odds.

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