University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Archive for the ‘The View from the OEP’ Category

Meet the Candidates: Governor Candidates on Education Policy

In The View from the OEP on April 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

With the Arkansas gubernatorial primaries set for May 20th, you might feel inundated with political advertisements of all shapes and sizes. Often, because of limited space and time, the coverage of political candidates gets boiled down to a few sound bites. While that sort of coverage is necessary in some instances, we were hoping to offer substantive interviews on one of the subjects that we know best: education policy. Arkansas_WikiProject

To provide the best content in the most fair way, members of our staff from both sides of the political aisle collaborated to build a list of questions that ran the gamut of education policy issues: college remediation, teacher quality, Pre-K, and more.

As chief executive of the state, the next Governor of Arkansas will not only have to make key appointments to lead the Arkansas Department of Education, but also will serve as the vocal leader in education reform. The governor can serve as a voice to champion ideas that have proven to be effective and that can boost Arkansas’ schools and the future of our economy.

We hope that similar resources can be produced on other salient topics for the upcoming elections, but we think that this is a good start for those who are concerned with Arkansas’ education performance.

You can read our policy brief here, and you can watch the full videos below.

Meet the Candidates: Curtis Coleman

Meet the Candidates: Asa Hutchinson

Meet the Candidates: Mike Ross

College & Career Ready: OEP Conference, Here We Come!

In The View from the OEP on April 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

clitnon centerJudging by the amount of recent news stories in relation to “college and career readiness,” it looks like we have hit upon an important topic for our 2014 OEP Conference: Diplomas, Degrees and Certificates: Helping Arkansas Students Find Their Ideal Careers. Register to attend the May 15 conference at the Clinton Center in Little Rock  here.

Now, for a look at what’s happening in the news.

Obama announces federal grants to help prepare students for careers

caesar mickens IIOn Monday, President Obama announced more than $100 million in Youth CareerConnect grants for a total of 24 schools that are working to revamp learning so students will graduate with knowledge and skills that are necessary for a successful career. The only national program to receive one of these grants is Boston-based Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group involved in workforce development and education issues, who received $4.9 million. Nancy Hoffman, vice president of Jobs for the Future, said the financial crisis “caused everybody to do rethinking about what you learn in school and the careers to become a productive adult.” We at the OEP are proud to announce that Caesar Mickens, Director of Early College Design Services at Jobs for the Future, will be speaking at our OEP conference. We believe the work that Jobs for the Future is doing is exciting and very relevant, as evidenced by being awarded this grant.

‘Career Technical’ Education: More Middle in the Middle Class?

detroit schoolThis article from The Atlantic explores the changes in approach that some American schools are taking in terms of preparing students for careers, including the academy model which allow students a choice in career “academies” that emphasize specific occupational skills  (locally, this is in use at Springdale High School). It also mentions scholarships that are available for students who want to pursue technical training, including those from The Stockdale Foundation, whose motto is: A Bachelor’s Degree may not be for everyone-Success is. An accompanying article from The Atlantic includes a description of  a public high school in Detroit that offers a four-year aviation program that is a fully integrated part of the curriculum. Students can graduate with a pilot’s license, paid for by the Detroit Public Schools. These types of innovation in career technical education are newsworthy because they are pushing the envelope of what we expect from a high school education.

There are many other stories about college and career readiness and we may be adding to our coverage of this topic. To learn more about this important issue, don’t forget to register to attend our free OEP conference on Thursday, May 15, 2014 at the Clinton Center in Little Rock!


The Grades Are In: News Mixed in State Report Card

In The View from the OEP on April 8, 2014 at 9:52 am

The following editorial was published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Friday, April 4, 2014 on page 17 in the Little Rock edition and page 5B in the Northwest Arkansas edition.



At the end of each grading period, students across the state take their report cards home to their parents. All of the hard work, late nights, and science-fair projects are boiled down into just a few letters: A’s, B’s, C’s, and hopefully not too many D’s and F’s.

Likewise, at the Office for Education Policy, we think it is important for our home state, Arkansas, to have a report card of its own. Since 2006, we have released a concise report card that is a one-stop shop for all of the publicly available data about how our state has performed over the past year.

Just yesterday, we released the 2013 Arkansas Report Card on our website. This report card aggregates the achievement of 470,000-plus students and 33,000-plus teachers across the state, as well as the policies put forward by state lawmakers and implemented by principals and superintendents.

grades are inHow did we do? Not surprisingly, our report card has some good news and some not-so-good news. We present graphs and tables on key outcomes of interest such as the Benchmark exams (focused on Arkansas’ state standards), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (focused on general academic skills), and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP (which allows for cross-state comparisons).

It is certainly good news that, since we released our first Arkansas report card in 2006, we have witnessed numerous improvements for Arkansas students. For example, in 2005, only one-third of our state’s eighth-graders earned a proficient score on the state math exam; today, two-thirds of eighth-graders are proficient in math. On the rigorous national NAEP exam, only 14 percent of Arkansas fourth-graders scored at proficient in math in 2000; today, nearly 40 percent score at this level and Arkansas scores roughly at the national average.

How about our high school students? In 2005, fewer than half (46 percent) of the state’s 11th-graders earned scores of proficient or better; today, seven of 10 Arkansas high school juniors are proficient in literacy. These are all solid improvements.

Of course, we realize that test scores are not the only important metric for our education system. Indeed, policymakers and researchers have long understood the importance of ensuring our students earn at least a high school degree. In that light, we present data on high school graduation rates in the state.

Nationwide, there has been a growing interest in calculating the graduation rate correctly. With these new and more accurate measures in hand, we can confidently say that Arkansas graduation rates have improved over the last year. Moreover, while our test scores continue to fall just below national averages, the high school graduation rate in Arkansas is above the national average; about 84percent of the students who entered ninth grade in Arkansas schools in the fall of 2009 graduated on time in the spring of 2013.

Alongside the many positive signs in the most recent report card are a few areas of concern. First, over the past few years, the aforementioned improvements on standardized assessments have slowed a bit. Moreover, Arkansas student scores on the nationally norm-referenced Iowa Test of Basic Skills have experienced decreases in 2012-13. These examples of stagnation or even decreases may be due to “ceiling effects” on the state exams, or to the current misalignment between the Benchmark exams and the new (and hopefully improved) Common Core State Standards. In any event, these less-inspiring results should serve as a reminder to Arkansas educators that this is no time to become complacent!

Perhaps most importantly, there is clear evidence across the nation and in our home state that our schools still do not, across the board, foster the success of traditionally disadvantaged subgroups of students.

For example, as the OEP report card shows, while all students in Arkansas boast a graduation rate of 84 percent, the rate for economically disadvantaged students in Central Arkansas stood at only 72 percent. We also see that only 28 percent of Arkansas eighth-graders scored at proficient or better on the NAEP math exam in 2013. While this result is disappointing, the fact that fewer than 10 percent of our black eighth-graders reached this level is far more troubling. In fact, the persistent racial and economic achievement gaps in Arkansas are the focus of an ongoing OEP report that will be released this June.

Overall, we at the OEP believe that the 2013 report card is more optimistic than gloomy, but there is obviously still much work to be done. We need new strategies to serve our traditionally underserved students and more innovation to encourage greater improvements for all students across the state. For this reason, we added a “Spotlight” section to this year’s report card so that we can highlight new educational programs that have the potential to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for Arkansas students.

We hope that you have the time to visit www.officeforeducationpolicy. org to view the report card and learn more about how our state’s schools are doing.


Michael Crouch is a school performance evaluator at the UA Office for Education Policy; Gary Ritter, professor of education and public policy, is the office’s founder and director.


2013 State Report Card: Does Arkansas Make the Grade?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

coverWhen a student brings home a report card, the parent has prior expectations that shape how they view the report card.  If a parents expects A’s and the child brings home B’s, expect disappointment.  If a parent expects D’s and F’s and the child brings home C’s, expect the parent will be pleased.  So, when we were putting together our “2013 Arkansas Report Card” – recapping the year in education for the Natural State for the 8th year running – we know that our readers will have expectations as well.

So, what should we expect from our schools?  We might be shooting for the stars if we say that every child should be advanced in every subject (or perhaps this means the test is too easy).  But we should have positive expectations from our schools.  For this reason, our Report Card tries to set forward some reasonable comparisons.

First, as with any report card, you have to know what is being tested.  For students in our state, there are several tests that they could potentially take, such as the Benchmark, ITBS, EOC, and/or NAEP exam.  For each of these tests, we then consider different comparisons.  The Benchmark and EOC exams allow us to compare within the state, while the ITBS and NAEP allows for comparisons outside of our state.

Second, we can make comparisons against previous administrations of the test: has my school compared against last year?  Is my region improving?  How does Arkansas compare to bordering states?  To the Nation?  Establishing who we want to be compared to is important, but it can be a double-edged sword.  Sometimes we set our expectations too low – it really isn’t that impressive when your favorite basketball team beats the same team every year by forty points!  And sometimes we set ourselves up for failure.  For example, some schools compare themselves to the school in the next county over – when in fact their student composition and resources are drastically different from what is available to your school!

What do we find?  Here are some highlights from these tests:

  • There were small decreases on both the math and literacy Benchmark exams across all grade levels compared to results from last year.
  • Steady declines have been realized on the ITBS exam, in both math and literacy.
  • Arkansas NAEP scores kept up with the pace of the nation, rising at a similar level while still a few points behind, at the 4th and 8th grade testing level.

There will always be room for improvement – and while some scores have decreased over the past year, we should keep in mind that overall, our state is making gains steadily over the years, even with slight regressions in some years.

bythenumbersWith these expectations in mind, we hope that this report card is informative and spurs you on to ask more questions about your local education system – we know that it has for us. We need new strategies to serve our traditionally underserved students and more innovation to encourage greater improvements for all students across the state.  For this reason, we added a “Spotlight” section to this year’s report card so that we can highlight new educational programs that have the potential to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for Arkansas students.  We hope that you have the time to visit to view the report card and learn more about how our state’s schools are doing.

ADE Releases 2014-15 Critical Licensure Shortage Areas

In The View from the OEP on April 2, 2014 at 11:27 am

adeAs the OEP is releasing our 2013 Arkansas State Report Card, the Arkansas Department of Education has also just released a memo outlining the critical academic licensure shortage areas for the 2014-2015 school year. The memo identifies certain subjects and grade levels that are designated as critical shortage areas (generally due to a lack of applications for new licenses in these areas) as recognized by the Arkansas Department of Education and approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The shortage areas include subjects like secondary mathematics, secondary sciences, middle childhood education, music, and special education. The classification as a critical shortage area allows individuals licensed in these shortage areas to apply for grant and loan forgiveness programs offered through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

This serves as a reminder of the fact that some Arkansas students may be underserved in these important subject and licensure areas that are vital to their education. One of the possible remedies to these critical shortage areas is a program close to home here at the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas Teacher Corps. ATC actively seeks individuals with expertise in these critical shortage areas and places them to teach in high-need geographic areas of the state. With the help of ATC teachers and all of the other great teachers across the state, we can continue the progress that we have seen over the past few years, which is illustrated in the  2013 Arkansas Report Card.

2014 OEP Conference Agenda is Announced!

In The View from the OEP on April 2, 2014 at 10:17 am

Diplomas, Certificates and Degrees:

Helping Arkansas Students Find Their Ideal Careers


Date: Thursday, May 15, 2014

Location: Clinton Center, Little Rock

Time: 8:00 am-12:30 pm  


Click here to register for our FREE conference!

Registration Deadline: May 1, 2014

We all want our students to leave Arkansas high schools “college and career ready.” So, what does that look like and how do we get there? Join us at the Clinton Center on Thursday, May 15, 2014, for the 7th annual OEP Conference. The conference will have a three panel focus featuring Arkansas presenters and two national speakers from Jobs for the Future and Year Up! Our conference agenda is described below.


7:30               Registration and Breakfast

8:00-8:15     Welcome and Introduction  Dr. Gary Ritter, Director, Office for Education Policy, University of Arkansas


 8:15-9:15     Presentations

matt dozierEAST:  Matt Dozier, Executive Director

EAST (Environmental & Spatial Technology) Initiative is an educational model that focuses on student-driven service projects accomplished by using teamwork and cutting-edge technology.


matt mcclureNew Tech:  Matt McClure, Superintendent at Cross County School District

New Tech (Technology) schools provide an instructional approach centered on the integration of technology, project-based learning, a culture that empowers students and teachers.


ken jamesAR AIMS: Ken James, President

Arkansas AIMS (Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, Inc.) seeks to strengthen the teaching of AP math, science and English courses and to increase the number of students that take AP exams and earn qualifying scores.





 9:30-10:15   Caesar Mickens, Director of Early College Designs, Jobs for the Future

 caesar mickensCaesar Mickens works to assist public school districts nationwide to prepare all students for college success, especially those populations underrepresented in higher education. He works closely with Early College High Schools, which are small schools designed so that students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree-tuition free. Research shows that Early College High School students are more likely to enroll in college and more likely to earn a degree. Early College High Schools do not exist in AR yet, but have a presence in our neighboring states of MO, TN, LA and TX.


10:15- 11:00  Presentations

josh raneyRazor C.O.A.C.H.: Josh Raney, Director and Taylor Scott

The Razor C.O.A.C.H. program places career coaches in Northwest Arkansas high schools, with the goal of motivating and supporting students in order to increase their knowledge of and access to postsecondary opportunities.


gabriel-fotsing IIThe College Initiative: Gabriel Fotsing, Founder and CEO

The College Initiative is based in the Delta region and provides college-capable, low-income students with the tools and mentorship they need to successfully apply to and succeed in college.


shane broadwayArkansas Works: Shane Broadway, Director of Department of Higher Education

AR Works provides tools and resources about going to college, enrolling in career and technical training programs, finding a job in Arkansas, and starting your own business.




11:15-11:45  Panel Discussion, with moderator Reed Greenwood           

randy zookAR Chamber of Commerce: Randy Zook, President/CEO

Zook has knowledge of the job prospects in Arkansas, including the increasing demand for industrial mechanics and workers in the manufacturing segment.



Pulaski Technical College: Mary Ann Shope, Vice President for Learning

PTC has initiated several new projects that address the fact there are multiple pathways for Arkansas students to succeed, involving both continuing ones’ education and career advancement.


AboutWarwickAR Regional Innovation Hub: Warwick Sabin, Executive Director

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is creating a collaborative ecosystem of innovation that will drive economic development-along with unique opportunities for hands-on training and experience at their new Innovation Center in Little Rock.


11:45-12:30                        Raphael Rosenblatt, Director of Evaluation, Year Up raphael rosenblatt

PrintRaphael Rosenblatt leads the national research and evaluation efforts for Year Up.  Recently featured on 60 Minutes, Year Up’s innovative program model combines six months of intensive training and education with a six-month corporate internship.  It connects highly motivated disadvantaged young adults in need of opportunity with businesses in need of talent, working with more than 250 corporate partners, such as American Express, Citi, Facebook, and Google.  Producing impressive results, Year Up alumni are hired into full-time jobs at a rate that outpaces the national average for college graduates.  Year Up currently operates in 12 cities across the country, serving nearly 2,000 young adults a year with aggressive plans for scale. Rosenblatt will discuss the details of the Year Up model and how the lessons Year Up has learned can be applied to the K-12 space.








Test Driving the PARCC Assessments

In The View from the OEP on March 19, 2014 at 11:55 am


An important part of the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is that it will change the way that students are assessed. Prior to the Common Core, each state had its own assessment system. Now, many states are participating in one of two state consortia that address testing. States may be a member of either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Some states have chosen to drop out of their consortium and these states will contract with testing providers to create their state assessments.

The map below shows which states are participating in PARCC and SBAC-please note that it was created in July 2013 and may not reflect some of the most recent states (such as Florida) that have dropped out of a consortium.


A state may belong to a consortium as either a “governing” state or a “participating” state, which determines the strength of decision making that a state has in the consortium. A “participating” state does not have a say in major decision making, while a “governing” state has voting power and a voice in assessment design, cost, field testing, etc. Arkansas is a governing state for PARCC, so it has been closely involved in the development of computerized exams which will assess students on CCSS, replacing the Benchmarks and End-of-Course Exams. Some Arkansas schools will participate in PARCC pilot testing in spring 2014, and all AR schools will use the tests next year. Now, for more specific details about the tests.

PARCC Testing Model

parcc testing model

As this model shows, required assessments include the Performance-Based Assessment (taken after 75% of the school year is complete and consists of extended tasks and applications of concepts and skills), the End-of-Year Assessment (taken after 90% of the school year is complete and consists of short-answer, “innovative” items), and the Speaking and Listening Assessment. All assessments in blue are optional, but highly recommended by PARCC. Schools will have a maximum of 20 school days to administer the Performance Based Assessment and the same amount to administer the End of Year Assessment component. The models below show a breakdown of how the Performance-Based Component and End-of-Year Components will be administered. At each grade level, the Performance-Based Component will require five sessions – three sessions for ELA/Literacy and two sessions for mathematics. TheEnd-of-Year component at each grade level will require four sessions – two sessions for ELA/Literacy and two sessions for mathematics. In the example provided below for 4-5th grade, the total of testing is 9 hours 20 minutes. This is similar to the amount of time that Benchmark Exams require.

performance based

end of year

Next is a table of each grade level’s estimated total hours spent testing, which includes the Performance-Based and End-of-Year assessments, but not the required Speaking and Listening assessment, which will be administered by individual teachers.

table time on testingWhile it is believed that most students will complete the tests within these estimated times, all students will have a set amount of additional time for each session to that will give them extra time to complete the session. More guidance will be provided later in the year as to how these amounts of time will be determined, but students who have this accommodation written into their IEP’s will certainly be granted extra time to complete their assessments.

So, what will the test look like?

Sample test questions in Language Arts and Math are available for viewing and the OEP took advantage of this opportunity. Here are some additional sample PARCC questions that can be viewed as well. After viewing the sample test questions from PARCC, here are our notes on the new features:

1)      Some Computer Literacy Required: First, students will need to be able to type from 3rd grade on. This requires teaching of computer skills younger than 3rd grade and this has raised some concerns about technology availability in many districts, as well as concerns about when it is developmentally appropriate to begin keyboarding instruction. Beyond keyboarding, students need to be able to manipulate a mouse, navigate between test questions with arrows, scroll down on a page, click, drag and type answers on a keyboard. By high school, they need to be able to select an answer choice from drop-down boxes.

2)      “Drag and drop”: Many questions ask students to “drag and drop” phrases/sentences to a box. For example, in the 3rd-5th grade sample test, students are asked to select and then “drag and drop” three sentences that would create an effective summary of the text. Here’s a math example featuring “drag and drop” that could appear on the PARCC exam:

parcc example question

3)      Prose Constructed Response: Students as young as 3rd grade will write an essay inside a text box with functions similar to Microsoft Word. In fact, 3rd graders will be asked to write three short pieces, according to Laura Slover, who heads one of the consortia that are building the tests. They will read a nonfiction selection and a literary passage and write about each, and they will be asked to write a story based on a real or imaginary experience.

4)      Includes Videos: In 6th-8th grades, students are asked to watch a video and answer questions.

5)      Multi-part Questions: In high school, students are asked to solve several multi-part questions. For example, they solve a word problem and enter their answer, then graph a corresponding linear function (the student selects two points on the coordinate plane and then a line containing the two points will be automatically drawn.) Additionally, high school students are asked to combine math and literacy, by justifying their answers through writing in a text box.

6)      Multiple Choice is Not Dead: There are still quite a few questions that require students to read a passage and then answer multiple choice questions, although some questions offer as many as five or six choices to choose from (A-F).

7)      PARCC is not computer-adaptive: A new feature of Smarter Balanced (but not PARCC) is that tests are computer-adaptive, meaning the test adapts its questions based on the students’ ability to answer questions (question will either increase or decrease in difficulty). An example of a computer-adaptive test is the GRE (Graduate Record Exam).  PARCC, on the other hand, will be computer-based but will not be “computer-adaptive” — all students taking the same exams will see the same items.

8)      New Listening and Speaking Assessment: This is a new test that will be developed by PARCC for grades 3-11. PARCC has indicated that this test will be teacher-scored using a common rubric and results will not be included in a student’s summative score. Results will also not be included in states’ accountability systems.

How big of a challenge is the technological infrastructure piece?

The short answer to this question is: It’s a pretty big deal. However, paper-and-pencil tests will be an option in worst-case scenario situations.

States must have a technological infrastructure in place by 2014-15 to participate in these exams. One benefit to this approach is that it will encourage schools to improve their technology, which is likely to have potential benefits for students all year long, not just during the testing period. Indeed, the inability to administer tests online was cited by Oklahoma as one of its reasons to withdraw from the PARCC consortium.

arkansas-schools-bandwidth-preparednessThe bad news for Arkansas is that TechNet’s 2012 Broadband Index listed Arkansas last in the country (even behind Alaska) for broadband access. In August 2013, the ADE surveyed districts across Arkansas in terms of their broadband capabilities, setting a broadband capacity threshold of 100 kilobits per second per student, an amount that may be required for the high-bandwidth option for PARCC assessments, though a lower amount of 30 kilobits per second per student may be acceptable as well. Current data from ADE suggests that up to 90% of Arkansas Public Schools do not have enough broadband to meet the recommendations.

This map shows which K-12 Schools are operating at bandwidth speeds of 100 megabits per second for every 1,000 students and staff members. Each dot represents a public school acting as a bandwidth distribution point for nearby educational facilities.

However, the ADE believes that the majority of schools will have sufficient bandwidth to administer the PARCC assessments for 2014-15. This is due to evidence that students will be able to take the test even if their schools do not have optimum bandwidth. Adrienne Gardner, vice president of STEM education at the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority and a member of the Gov. Beebe’s Quality Digital Learning Study committee, said the ADE has been investigating low-bandwidth options for administering PARCC and believes most schools would have sufficient broadband access to take advantage of the alternative options. A paper and pencil version of the assessment will also be available.

Possible Benefits of PARCC

  • Quicker results

PARCC has been a bit vague on this topic, but this may be understandable due to field testing that is yet to be completed. According to PARCC’s website, “PARCC tests will yield results in a timely manner rather than requiring students and teachers to wait months or well into the next school year for results.” PARCC’s goal is to have data from the performance-based assessment returned before the end of the school year. It is important to note that they are machine-scorable portions of the assessments, but there will also be hand scored responses.

  • More engaging for students

PARCC’s website states that “it’s time to retire the old pencil-and-paper bubble tests” in favor of online tools to which students can better relate. PARCC asserts that the computer-based assessments will be much more interactive and engaging.

  • Cross-state comparisons

For the first time, states participating in PARCC assessments will be able to compare their results to each other. The Smarter Balanced test will be a bit different, but will also be aligned to CCSS. Other states are not participating in either consortia, but will have testing aligned to CCSS. Thus, it is conceivable that, in the future, comparisons could be made with non-PARCC states, although it’s not immediately clear how valuable these comparisons will be. In sum, CCSS and the test consortia will not facilitate national comparisons, but they will make state-to-state comparisons easier than they were before.

Field Testing in Arkansas  

Just as this post is being published, field testing for PARCC is set to go live next week on March 24th. Fourteen states, including Arkansas, and the District of Columbia will be participating — more than one million students will participate. PARCC expects that there will likely be some glitches, as there usually is with any new system. However, the hope is that this “practice run” will allow for next year’s implementation of the tests to go smoothly. (Smarter Balanced states begin their field testing this month as well.)

The 2013-2014 field test administration will give Arkansas students and educators a preview of the PARCC testing experience and it appears that many Arkansas districts are interested in taking part. Districts, grade levels and classrooms have been selected randomly to administer parts of the tests. Districts can choose to opt out of field testing, but few in Arkansas have chosen to do so. The tests can be given on the computer or with paper-and-pencil. Selected students will take either a Performance-Based or End-of-Year assessment and will only be tested in one content area. Schools have a 20-day window to administer the tests. Here is some information about Arkansas field testing:

  • 250 AR districts were selected to participate in Round 1 of the PARCC Field Test and all but 6 districts agreed to field test at least one sample, which is a 97.6% AR district participation rate.
  • 56 AR districts volunteered for additional PARCC field testing.
  • 20 AR districts were selected to participate in Round 2. All but 1 district agreed to field test at least one sample, which is 95% AR district participation.
  • In December 2013, districts received a letter from Pearson listing their Field Test samples.
  • Computer-based practice tests are available to all schools (whether field testing or not) at no cost.


PARCC will bring many changes to the way that Arkansas assesses students, which will require that adjustments be made by school administration, technology staff, teachers and students. This graphic illustrates some of the questions that we at the OEP have about PARCC, which may be partially answered through the field testing process.

PARCC questions


We hope that this update on PARCC has been useful and hope the Arkansas field testing goes well!


An Interview with the ADE’s New Assistant Commissioner and Chief Information Officer

In The View from the OEP on February 25, 2014 at 1:35 pm

C_DeckerAt the end of January, Commissioner Tom Kimbrell named Cody Decker as the new Assistant Commissioner of Research and Technology and the Chief Information Officer for the ADE. Decker replaces Jim Boardman, who retired after a 43-year career at the Arkansas Department of Education. Most recently, Decker worked in the ADE as the Director of Information Systems and Coordinator of Special Projects. Prior to working at the ADE, he held positions at the Dawson Education Service Cooperative in Arkadelphia and at the EAST Initiative. In a recent interview with Decker, we learned more about his position, the Research and Technology Division, and his vision for the future. In this blog post, we are excited to share with you what we learned – and in future blog posts, we will provide updates on educational data systems and research in Arkansas.


According to Decker, the new motto of the Division of Research and Technology is: “to inform policy, equip educators, and protect and preserve student privacy.” In the interview, Decker laid out his plans to continue to build upon the prior work of the Division and praised the Division’s “culture of data-driven decision-making.” Decker discussed a phrase he uses often in his new position: “using data as a flashlight, not as a hammer.” Decker believes data should be primarily used as a diagnostic tool that assists the more complex work of educators and administrators.


Data Systems in Arkansas

During our discussion, Decker discussed the state’s rich data systems that allow for sound decision-making at the classroom, school, district, and state levels. Decker referred to Arkansas’ recent accolades from the Data Quality Campaign. In the 2013 edition of DQC’s annual report, Data for Action, Arkansas, along with Delaware, received the highest marks on the quality of statewide data systems. The report noted that Arkansas has “built robust statewide longitudinal data systems that collect quality data beyond test scores, and they are doing more and more to support effective data use.”

Recently, the Research and Technology Division held stakeholder engagement sessions around the state to receive feedback on the ADE’s data systems. Decker and his staff are using this information to continue to improve to the work of the Division.

The ADE Data Center hosts the collection and reporting of a number of data systems, including the newest school-level system, StudentGPS. The ADE’s goals for StudentGPS (developed by the Ed-Fi Alliance) are to “empower educators with relevant, timely student-centric information that enables better data collection and reporting to enhance decision making, facilitate targeted action plans and drive improved student outcomes.”

Data Privacy

Decker articulated the continued need for well-understood data collection, storage, and usage policy and controls to protect students and educators. Opponents of data collection often argue that identifiable student data are open and shared; however, Decker clarified that Arkansas’ statewide student data longitudinal systems are designed to protect student privacy. The Statewide Information System Data Dictionary/Handbook is one example of a way that the department seeks to provide data transparency. The dictionary/handbook provides a comprehensive list of all data collected on Arkansas’ students, educators, schools, and districts.

The Future

Looking toward the future, Decker articulated his desire to use data to further advance the strong work of educators in the state. Decker and his Division have a vision to better use data to provide targeted professional development for educators and to make sound decisions in targeting resources for students, educators, and parents. Additionally, Decker discussed the need to continue to leverage higher-education partnerships for the purpose of improving education in our state.

At the OEP, a part of our mission is to “support lawmakers and educators in thoughtful decision-making in PK-12 education in the State of Arkansas,” and we believe that analyzing data is one way to do so. We enjoyed our interview with Cody, and we look forward to seeing the working with his Division in the future. We also look forward to upcoming blog posts on Arkansas’ educational data systems and how they are being used to further student achievement in our state.

Schools of Innovation are coming Arkansas’ way soon!

In The View from the OEP on February 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm

What’s new for Arkansas’ schools?10706425-innovation-and-creativity-concept-related-words-in-tag-cloud

Last Spring, Arkansas’ General Assembly passed legislation paving the way for Schools of Innovation, and yesterday, the State Board of Education approved Emergency Rules Governing Schools of Innovation. (Read the Democrat-Gazette’s article on yesterday’s meeting here.)

Schools of Innovation will create and implement innovative plans that increase academic performance by “transforming and improving teaching and learning.” To become a School of Innovation, a school must establish a council (comprised of selected faculty and staff, parents, community members, students, and other stakeholders) to create a “Plan of Innovation.” School leaders will submit their plans to the ADE, and if approved (by the Commissioner), schools will receive necessary waivers from certain laws, rules, and policies to implement the plans (read a list from the ADE here detailing the most commonly granted waivers that open-enrollment and district-conversion charter schools receive).

Schools of Innovation are not district-conversion charter schools, as there is a different process to become a district-conversion charter  school (read our previous blog post and policy brief about Arkansas’ process to become a charter school). As Schools of Innovation begin to submit plans, we are interested to see the differences between Schools of Innovation and district-conversion charters. Schools can submit applications by May 1 to apply to become a School of Innovation in the 2014-15 school year. Schools of Innovation will be approved for a four-year period (and can apply to be renewed after that point). 

In a blog post last Spring, we highlighted other states, such as Colorado, that have similar systems (read our blog post here). One goal behind Schools of Innovation is that they will share their innovative practices with the rest of the state; and so, the ADE has shared that Schools of Innovations’ plans will be on the Department’s website for all to see. Of course, we will keep you updated on this year’s applications, as we are looking forward to seeing the innovative plans and schools!

Additional information regarding schools of innovation and district-conversion charter schools:

Application Process

  • Schools of Innovation must establish a council (comprised of selected faculty and staff, parents, community members, students, and other stakeholders) to create a “Plan of Innovation.” At least 60% of eligible employees must vote to approve the plan before the plan can be submitted to the district’s school board. The school board must then approve the plan before it is submitted to the Commissioner.
  • Districts must complete a letter of intent and an application to create a district-conversion charter school. The application must be broadcast in a public hearing and approved by the district’s school board prior to being submitted to the ADE Charter Authorizing Panel.

Approval Process

  • Schools of Innovation are approved by the Commissioner and established for a four-year period (at which point, a school can apply to be renewed as a school of innovation).
  • District-conversion charter schools are granted an initial charter from the Charter Authorizing Panel for five years (at which point, a school can apply to have the charter renewed).


  • Both district-conversion charter schools and schools of innovation are funded through the funding matrix, as both types of schools remain in traditional school districts.
  • District-conversion charter schools receive additional funding grants for planning and implementation from the state.
  • There is no additional or special funding from the state for Schools of Innovation.


  • District-conversion charter schools (and open-enrollment charter schools) can apply for a Teacher Fair Dismissal waiver. However, schools of innovation cannot apply for a Teacher Fair Dismissal waiver (as outlined by legislation and the Emergency Rules).

Happy 7th Anniversary to El Dorado Promise Scholarship Program!

In The View from the OEP on February 6, 2014 at 2:17 pm

obama summit 2

In mid-January, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville Chancellor David Gearhart attended a White House Summit focused on helping low-income students attend college. UA-Fayetteville became the only school in Arkansas to sign on to President Obama’s plan to (1) connect low-income students to the right colleges and helping them graduate, (2) increase early intervention to increase college readiness, and (3) ensure that low-income students are prepared for the SAT/ACT.

According to Gearhart, the UA has made and is in the process of developing several programs to help low-income students be successful, including:

  • Expanded Summer Bridge Program: a six-week summer program that will allow freshmen to take two credit-bearing classes while adjusting to college life/learning
  • Academic Enrichment Program: provides academic support through tutoring, workshops, early intervention advising, peer and faculty mentoring and experiential learning opportunities
  • ACT Academy: A five-day residential summer program designed to prepare students for the ACT and applying for college
  • Targeted University Perspectives Course: a freshman course  focusing on the special concerns of first-generation and low-income students
  • iBridge: a two-week academic program for freshmen which offers an intensive orientation to college-level literacy and STEM courses
  • Engineering Career Awareness Program: a  transitional program that provides gap funding support and uses rigorous academic retention strategies for each year’s group of incoming freshmen
  • Commitment to College Completion Program: a pilot program that will provide first generation and low-income Arkansas students with mentoring and financial resources to help pay for college as well as give them opportunities for study abroad.

MEANWHILE …. in Southern Arkansas …

el_dorado_promiseDuring that same week in January, the OEP’s Jennifer Ash and Gary Ritter had the pleasure of meeting many excellent educators from El Dorado to learn more about the very exciting El Dorado Promise Scholarship Program.  The Promise, as it is known in El Dorado, was born in January 2007 and thus celebrated its 7th “birthday” last month! This program may be one of the most innovative and exciting programs that is opening up college access for Arkansas youth.

In case you are not familiar with the El Dorado Promise Program, it is a unique scholarship program established and funded by the Murphy Oil Corporation and modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, developed several years ago in Western Michigan.  The El Dorado Promise provides every high school graduate of the El Dorado High School with a college scholarship to any accredited two-year or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S. The maximum amount payable is up to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university. El Dorado Promise recently released its 2014 report, which marks its 7th anniversary.

Lately, El Dorado Promise has attracted national attention for its unique efforts to ensure low income students’ postsecondary opportunities. Read more in the following article in American Airlines magazine, The Promised Land.  Following El Dorado’s lead, other programs are popping up around the state as well, such as Arkadelphia Promise.

We at the OEP are very excited about El Dorado Promise and think it is a much smarter direction to take than Scott’s Tots. The Office fans, anyone?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 131 other followers