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What’s the Deal with NAEP Results?

In The View from the OEP on November 18, 2015 at 11:49 am


Today we dig more deeply into the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress results- examining how Arkansas students scored compared to neighbor states and other states that adopted, and did not adopt, Common Core State Standards.  For more detailed information read the full policy brief.

Two weeks ago we discussed that Arkansas’ scores had declined somewhat across the board,  and that 4th grade Math scores had declined significantly since the last NAEP assessment in 2013.

That got us to wondering- why? So we asked a series of questions:

Was it just us? No, but in our neighborhood- yes.


A significant decline in scores feels bad, but we feel better is we aren’t declining alone.  Nationally, there was a decline in 4th grade Math scores as well, but not for our neighbor states.  We examined the 4th grade Math performance of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma,  Tennessee and Texas, and found that while our scores decreased, on average their scores increased!  For the first time since 2000, Arkansas’ border states surpassed our performance in 4th grade Math.

Was it because of Common Core? It’s hard to tell, but probably not. 


Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been a much debated topic over the past year, and are currently being revised to ensure they meet Arkansas’ needs.

Pursuing the question of whether or not the full implementation of CCSS in 2014-15 could have impacted Arkansas’ performance on the NAEP, we compared Arkansas with other states that have implemented the standards as well as those that have not (a full list is in the policy brief).

As seen in Figure 1, non-CCSS states did not experience a decline in 4th grade Math scores in 2015.  Other states that implemented CCSS experienced a slight decline, but it was not as significant as Arkansas’.

Figure 1: NAEP Mean Scaled Score for 4th Grade Math: Arkansas, CCSS States and Non-CCSS States, 2003-2015CCSSvNon2

The fidelity and quality of CCSS implementation varied across states, and perhaps elementary math standards were particularly difficult for Arkansas teachers to implement effectively. We must conclude, however, that Common Core State Standards are not the sole contributor to this decline in Arkansas’ performance.

Were these 4th grade students lower math performers on other tests too? Not really. 


Here at the OEP we always use multiple pieces of data.  Perhaps the students who took the 4th Grade NAEP in 2015 were just academically lower achieving than students who had completed the NAEP in previous years.  To examine this question, we considered the 3rd grade Math Benchmark performance for the years prior to the 4th grade NAEP administrations.  Although not exactly the same students, because only a representative sample complete the NAEP, we can assume that the students are essentially the same in regard to characteristics that would impact academic performance.

Figure 2: Arkansas 3rd Grade Benchmark Math Percent Proficient and Subsequent 4th Grade NAEP Math Percent Proficient,2005-06 through 2013-14


The percentage of 3rd grade students scoring Proficient/ Advanced on the Math Benchmark steadily increased between 2005-06 through 2011-12, but shows a 3% decline between 2011-12 and 2013-14. The subsequent 4th grade Math NAEP exams reflected slight increases in proficiency over time, but  a steeper decline of eight percentage points from 2013 to 2015. The trend in the Benchmark patterns of the years are similar to that of the NAEP exams but does not present us with a cause for Arkansas’ significant decline in 4th grade Math performance on the 2015 NAEP.  The scores of 3rd grade students on the Arkansas Benchmark exam in 2013-14 did not indicate there would be such a significant decline on the 4th grade NAEP.

So What Should We Do?  Get More and Better Information! 


Digging into assessment results often leads us to more questions.  Unfortunately, it isn’t clear why the NAEP 4th grade Math scores declined so significantly between 2013 and 2015.  Recently released PARCC results, however,  indicate that fewer than one in four 4th graders scored proficient in math– that’s even lower than the NAEP results (see Table 1).

Table 1: PARCC and NAEP Percent Proficient, by Grade and Subject, 2014-15


This spring, Arkansas students will take a new assessment, the ACT Aspire, making comparisons between states and from one year to the next difficult.  NAEP for 4th and 8th grade will not be administered again until 2017, which is a long time to wait to see if this year’s results were a minor blip or the beginning of a larger decline.  Our students can’t wait.

Many districts throughout the state are not waiting.  They are using high quality interim assessments that compare students to peers nationally.  Not waiting until 3rd grade to see how students are performing, many use short interactive assessments as early as kindergarten to ensure that students have a strong foundation. Not waiting for state assessment data to identify students in need of support, because these assessments can help schools understand where students are- not just those students that are behind, but also students that are ahead of their peers and can benefit from enrichment.  If we all don’t wait another day, and use data to make the most of every learning moment, and make sure that students are getting the instruction they need to grow, hopefully Arkansas NAEP scores will rebound in 2017, and our students will be more prepared for success.




Say Goodbye to the 70s- PARCC Scores are here

In The View from the OEP on November 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm

travoltaSeems like just yesterday it was the 70s:

in 2013-14, 78 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on state literacy assessments, and 72% scored proficient or advanced on state math assessments.

Today the State Board of Education approved the PARCC cut off scores for grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Math, allowing us the first opportunity to see how well Arkansas students scored on the new, much discussed, and now abandoned test.

How Did Arkansas Do?

Table 1. Percent of Arkansas Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC Assessment


WHOA! Only about one in three Arkansas students scored proficient or better?

Last year’s test data showed more than twice that amount!  WHAT HAPPENED?

We got a new test!

PARCC is the first assessment aligned to Arkansas’ Common Core State Standards, which set a higher bar for student learning, emphasizing the need for students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, and clear writing.  PARCC results cannot be compared with the earlier Arkansas Benchmark results, both because this is a new test and a different test. This will be the only year of PARCC results, as Arkansas switched to ACT Aspire for assessment this school year.

In fact, these proficiency rates might sound familiar to you.  That is because just two weeks ago the results of the on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were released, and the scores were very similar.

How Did Arkansas Compare to Other PARCC States?

You may remember that  one of the key benefits of PARCC was that we would be able to compare Arkansas student performance to the performance of students in other states.

So far seven states have released their scores for grades 3-8.  Note: Some additional states have released high school scores, but because of differences in testing requirements and implementation, cross-state comparison of high school results isn’t useful.

The six other states that have released (at least preliminary) PARCC results are New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and  Massachusetts.  The states are VERY different in many ways, but a key characteristic related to assessment is poverty. We would expect states with enrolling a greater percentage of students who are eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch (a proxy variable for poverty) will underperform states with fewer students eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch.  The seven PARCC states that have released scores range in FRL percentages, from New Mexico, with the greatest poverty at 68.5% of FRL students, to Massachusetts, with only 35.1% of FRL students. In the figures below, states are arranged from MOST FRL on the left to LEAST FRL on the right.  Not surprisingly, Massachusetts outperformed New Mexico.   Arkansas enrolls 60.9% of students eligible for FRL and is represented in the figures below by the RED bars.

Figure 1. Percent of Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC ELA Assessment

PARC ELANote- Ohio did not report scores for 3rd grade ELA

Figure 2. Percent of Students Scoring “Proficient” (Level 4) and Above on 

2014-15 PARCC Assessment


Notes- New Jersey 8th grade scores are not representative.  Massachusetts allowed districts to choose between PARCC and the prior state assessment, and the split was fairly even.  Reported PARCC results for MA are based on a large representative sample, matched on achievement and demographic variables prior to score availability.

What Does This Mean?

English Language Arts

  • Arkansas is performing similarly to what we might expect, given our student population. Arkansas students outperform students from New Mexico, and are not as likely to be proficient as students from Massachusetts.
  • In many grades, Arkansas students scored similarly to students from states which have less disadvantaged student populations (Illinois and Ohio).
  • Interestingly, Louisiana students outperformed Arkansas students in almost every grade, even though they are more likely to be disadvantaged.


  • Arkansas is performing similarly to what we might expect, given our student population. Arkansas students outperform students from New Mexico, and are not as likely to be proficient as students from Massachusetts.
  • Interestingly, Louisiana students outperformed (or equaled) Arkansas students in every grade, even though they are more likely to be disadvantaged.
  • 8th grade math scores are variable, perhaps in part because some advanced students completed high school level assessments (Algebra or Math I) instead of 8th grade math.

How Does PARCC Compare to NAEP?

The scores are very similar, but there are some trends in relationships between the scores.

In Reading, PARCC proficiency rates are typically a little bit higher than NAEP. Arkansas 4th graders were 2 percentage points more likely to be proficient on PARCC, and Arkansas 8th graders were 5 percentage points more likely.

In Math, PARCC proficiency rates  are typically a little bit lower than NAEP at 4th grade, and quite varied at 8th grade. Arkansas 4th and 8th  graders were 8 percentage points less likely to be proficient on PARCC than on NAEP.

So What Now?

Arkansas has gotten a lot of feedback about it’s education system recently- and while it isn’t great news, we need to be sure we have the right takeaways as we continue to move Arkansas education forward.

  1. Face the Music: PARCC and NAEP scores give us a clear picture of how Arkansas students perform compared to other states.  Both assessments are sending the same message- about one in three Arkansas students are ‘on grade level’.
  2. Learn the Steps: Arkansas teachers, students and parents need frequent, high quality data to provide a clear picture of where students are academically.
  3. Practice the Moves: Teachers need training on how to EFFECTIVELY use assessment data for their students to transform the instruction in the classroom.
  4. Find a Partner: Arkansas should consider why Louisiana is consistently outperforming us.
  5. Strut Your Stuff!  We look forward to seeing Arkansas students demonstrate improved performance!  For comparable data, we will likely need to wait until NAEP 2017.

Arkansas School Spending – 2015 Update

In The View from the OEP on November 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

apple money

How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?  Is it enough? Is it equitable for students? Are we getting results?

These are the questions that OEP examines in the Arkansas Education Report released today.  Trends in the funding and spending of Arkansas public schools is examined as an update to our earlier report conducted in 2008.

Our new findings are similar to what we found previously: the school funding system in Arkansas continues to allocate above-average levels of overall funding to districts serving traditionally under-served students. We find that districts serving greater proportions of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, serving greater proportions of students of color, and demonstrating lower achievement on state assessments spend more per pupil than do other districts across the state. In addition, the smallest districts are spending more per pupil than larger districts.  One change from prior findings is that districts with the highest property values are spending more per pupil than districts with the lowest property values.  If this trend continues inequity between districts could result.

How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?

  • Arkansas’ investment in education has increased consistently since 2000-01.
  • Per Pupil Net Current expenditures (essentially the day-to-day costs of education) have increased 70% since 2001 – from $5,531 to $9,429 in 2013-14.

Is it enough?

This is complicated.  Enough for what?  Essentially for this question, we can only ask “Enough as compared to…?”

  • Our Neighbors? Arkansas provides more funding per pupil than neighboring states.
  • The Nation? Arkansas provides nearly the same funding per pupil as the national average when cost-of-living is considered.

Is it equitable for students?

Since all students have different needs, equity doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing.  Equity means ensuring that every student has an equal shot at success.  We evaluated funding equity by examining Net Current Per Pupil expenditures (NCPP) across a variety of district characteristics.  Statewide, the average NCPP for 2013-14 was $9,429.

  • Size: The smallest districts spend about $1,000 more per pupil than the largest districts
  • Race: Districts with the most students of color spend about $2,000 more per pupil than districts with the fewest students of color
  • Poverty: Districts with the most FRLP students spend about $2,500 more per pupil than the lowest FRLP districts
  • Achievement: The Lowest-achieving districts spend $2,500 to $3,000 more per pupil than the highest-achieving districts
  • Local Wealth: Districts with the highest local property values spent about $1,000 more per pupil than the poorest districts in 2013-14.

Are we getting results?

Since 2005, student proficiency rates on state Benchmark assessments in literacy and math have increased.  The performance of FRLP students has increased as well, but there are persistent achievement gaps in spite of the gains.  Arkansas students scored below the national average on the recently released 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math assessments.

Performance below the national average, however, is not unexpected as Arkansas enrolls 60.5% of students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a proxy for poverty) than the national average of 48.1%. Since poverty and academic success are related, it is meaningful to compare Arkansas’ NAEP performance to states with similar students. Among neighbor states, Arkansas students score similarly to Oklahoma, which has the same percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Although Arkansas has drastically improved the amount of resources available to districts in the state, students are still not doing as well as would be hoped on standardized measures of academic achievement. Increasing student achievement on should remain a major concern and point of focus for the state until all students in Arkansas are leaving school with the skills they need to succeed.

thumbs up

Keep it up Arkansas!

Arkansas has made great strides in ensuring that every student has access to adequate education funding and equitable resources, but the work is not yet done. Not enough students are demonstrating proficiency on state assessments, and there are gaps between students of different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds. The resources are in place, but districts need to continue seeking methods that effectively use the resources to ensure every student in Arkansas graduates from the K-12 education system with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the future. The commitment the Legislature has demonstrated to enhancing the quality of education received by all students over the past decade and a half, if maintained, will continue to benefit the students of the state.

For more information, read our policy briefs about Adequacy and Equity.  You can also read the full report here.

House and Senate Education Committees November Update

In The View from the OEP on November 4, 2015 at 11:05 am


The Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports of adequacy issues related to special education and ACTAAP. Committee members also heard an update on ForwARd Arkansas.

Special Education

About 12% of K-12 students in Arkansas have a disability that requires special education services at least part of the school day, according to a report by the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR). Responding to legislators’ concerns about a marked increase in the number of students with autism, ADE spokespersons said public health emphasis on early diagnosis and greater awareness in schools in identifying the condition may account for the rise. The report examines the cost of special education, as well as how Arkansas special education students fare on academic assessment.

The legislative task force examining best practices in special education convenes today at 1:00 pm at the state capitol, the first meeting of an 18-month study process (agenda).


BLR provided an overview of issues related to the four components of the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment, and Accountability Program. The assessment, school rating, improvement planning, and academic distress programs have changed significantly in the last year or are expected to change soon. Committee members expressed concern about the difficulty of comparing Benchmark to PARCC test results and the comparability of ACT Explore and Aspire reports.  BLR and ADE expect to have more specific information on assessment and academic distress when PARCC results have been analyzed.

ForwARd Arkansas

The ForwARd Arkansas steering committee has completed its assessment of the condition of education in Arkansas and is planning the next phase of “statewide engagement to create a new vision for education.” In reviewing recommendations for each of seven focus areas, Kathy Smith of The Walton Family Foundation and Cory Anderson of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation emphasized the importance of communities developing approaches based on their unique strengths and needs. The ForwARd Arkansas report and recommendations are available on their website.

2015 NAEP Results: The Nation’s Report Card

In The View from the OEP on October 28, 2015 at 11:30 am


How do Arkansas students perform relative to the nation?

Are Arkansas students performing at higher levels over time?

If you are interested in the answers to these questions, you will be interested in today’s release of “The Nation’s Report Card— results of the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

The NAEP is a nationally administered assessment given to students in all 50 states and Washington D.C by the National Center for Educational Statistics. The NAEP is administered to a nationally representative sample of students — as schools are randomly selected to administer the assessment. There are various versions of the NAEP — in fact, you can check out many sets of national data here at The Nation’s Report Card website.

NAEP provides an apples-to-apples comparison of students across the United States. Unlike state exams which differ between states and can change from year to year, the NAEP assessments are administered uniformly, with the same sets of test booklets across the nation since the early 1990s. NAEP results are probably the best measure we have of how Arkansas students are performing relative to the nation. (Read more about why we–and others–believe the NAEP exam to be the best apples-to-apples comparison in our previous blog post).

How are we doing?

Since first administered, Arkansas’ NAEP scores in reading and mathematics have grown at a rate similar to the national trend. The new scores show that Arkansas’ fourth grade students score similarly to the national average in reading, although eighth grade students are still below average performance. In mathematics, Arkansas students still score well below national performance.


Nationally, average mathematics scores for both fourth- and eighth- grade students are lower than in 2013. Although Arkansas’ fourth grade math scores followed the national trend, eighth grade scores were not significantly different from the 2013 results.

Figures 1 and 2 below highlight Arkansas’ Achievement Level Percentages and Average Score results for fourth and eighth grade mathematics.

Figure 1: Grade 4 Mathematics



Figure 2: Grade 8 Mathematicsg8math2


Nationally, average reading scores for fourth grade students were not significantly different compared to 2013, but average reading scores for eighth-grade students were lower than 2013 scores.  Arkansas’ reading scores for both fourth and eighth grade students, however,  were not significantly different from the 2013 results.

Figures 3 and 4 below highlight Arkansas’ Achievement Level Percentages and Average Score results for fourth and eighth grade reading.

Figure 3: Grade 4 Reading

g4 reading

Figure 4: Grade 8 Reading

g8 reading

Want to know more?

The Nation’s Report Card has an excellent interactive website so that you can examine performance nationally and state-by-state. Additionally, you can examine performance of subgroups of students and compare achievement gaps over time. Check out Arkansas’ overall performance here, and Arkansas’ subgroup performance here.

You can check out the Arkansas score reports for yourself by downloading the PDFs below:

In recent years, we have released policy briefs examining NAEP scores over time, and we have presented NAEP data to educators, policymakers, and the public across Arkansas. We at the OEP are excited to continue to examine this data, including taking a closer look at subgroup performance and achievement gaps, and we will continue to provide updates as we learn more.

Making a Difference: An Evaluation of Razor C.O.A.C.H.

In The View from the OEP on October 27, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Razor COACH logo1This week we are going to shift gears a bit and talk about a program that was initiated here in Northwest Arkansas called Razor C.O.A.C.H. This program, founded in the 2012-13 academic year, aims to Create Opportunities for Arkansas’ Career Hopes, motivating students in grades 10-12 to seek career or educational opportunities beyond high school. The program was implemented in 15 schools in Northwest Arkansas where the coaches work alongside each student to determine the best educational or career route for that student, mapping out each step necessary to meet that student’s goals.

What do the coaching sessions look like? Well, it depends on what that particular student needs. One student may need to be coached on how to enroll in college or prepare to take the SAT or ACT exams. Another student may need to be exposed to financial aid opportunities that can help fund their post-secondary education. Or one may need to be exposed to job shadowing opportunities to help bring guidance to his/her career path.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, the Office for Education Policy (OEP) performed a random assignment lottery which determined if the student would be assigned a Razor coach (treatment group) or would not be assigned a coach (control group). This random assignment is critical to determining the impact of the Razor COACH program on students.  Random assignment is the Gold Standard of research design and allows us to find out if having a coach makes a difference for students.

This blog highlights the results gathered at the end of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years  to determine if the program affected student performance in any way.  There were two groups of students included: Cohort 1 was students from 2012-13 school year and Cohort 2 was students from 2013-14 school year. Both cohorts include students who were assigned a coach as well as students who were not.

Three research questions that were asked to determine how well the program worked:

  1. What is the impact of being assigned a Razor Coach on non-cognitive outcomes as measured during high school? Non-cognitive outcomes include: attendance, discipline, and self-perception constructs (self-efficacy, future minded, academic responsibility and engagement, grit, and external accountability).
  2. What is the impact of being assigned a Razor Coach on high school academic outcomes? Academic outcomes include: overall GPA and core-subject GPA, and credits earned.
  3. What is the impact of being assigned a Razor Coach on post-secondary outcomes? Post-secondary outcomes include: ACT performance, FAFSA completion, and graduation rates. In the future, outcomes will also include application to post-secondary institutions and employment or post-secondary education after graduation.


1. Short-term non-cognitive outcomes

Results have shown some statistically significant differences in the short-term non-cognitive outcomes in favor of students assigned a Razor coach. Cohort 2 students have measured positively in the following constructs:

  • Academic Self-Efficacy, meaning they feel good about who they are as students.
  • Academic responsibility, meaning they are aware of their academic standing, GPA etc.
  • Future-mindedness, meaning they are implementing steps now to meet a future goal.

In comparison to the results of cohort 1 students there were statistically significant differences in favor of the treatment group in relation to external support and accountability. These students were more likely to report that they felt the support of another and felt accountable to another in relation to their academic performance.

2. High school academic outcomes

Additionally, results have shown that 74% of Razor C.O.A.C.H students have taken the ACT exam in comparison to 68% taken by control students. At the school level, treatment students take the ACT exams more frequently in comparison to the control students. However there were no significant impacts at the program level.

3. Post-secondary outcomes

 53% of treatment students in comparison to 43% of control students have applied for the AR Academic Challenge, which is a program that provides scholarships to Arkansas residents who are pursuing higher education. There was also a larger number of treatment students who are planning to apply for financial aid in comparison to control students. Therefore one should expect more positive results in future analyses.

In examining the first two years of the program, 44% of treatment students have enrolled in some form of post-secondary institution in comparison to 42.5% enrollment for control students. There was more of a significant result for cohort 2 students as 43.9% treatment students have enrolled in post-secondary institutions in comparison to 35.6% control students.


So has the Razor C.O.A.C.H program been effective? Students selected for the Razor C.O.A.C.H program are more likely to enroll in college or other post-secondary educational settings in comparison to the control group. In that vein, the program has been successful as students are moving past what may have seemed to be obstacles in the past and are being encouraged to reach a little higher.

The OEP will continue to track post-secondary outcomes to further solidify the impact of the program and expect to see more significantly positive results in the future. For a more detailed analysis of the Razor C.O.A.C.H program, please click on this link to the Arkansas Education Report that showcases these findings.

OEP ‘Most-Improved Schools’ Awards

In The View from the OEP on October 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm

MOST IMP science JPG


In this week’s blog, we shine the spotlight on the “Most-Improved Schools” in Science.  These are the schools that have shown the greatest growth in OEP’s GPA on the 5th and 7th Grade Benchmark Science and the End-of-Course (EOC) Biology exams. Award-winning improvement in science performance is occurring in every region of the state, and sixty-five schools are recognized for showing the largest gains.

What do we mean by growth?

The OEP calculates a GPA for schools in each subject based on the number of students that perform at each level on the specified exam.  A score of Advanced is assigned a “4”, Proficient a “3”, Basic a “2”, and Below Basic a “1”. This measure provides more information than “% Proficient” scores, and rewards schools for students scoring at all performance levels.

To construct a growth score that is less susceptible to the potential instability of year-to-year changes due to an abnormally high or low score, OEP used multi-year averages for both the beginning score and ending score over the five-year period.

The starting score is the average GPA from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years; and the ending score is the average GPA of the two most recent school years (2013-14 and 2014-15). Schools that did not exist in the 2009-10 or 2010-11 school years have not been included in this category of awards.

Statewide, 5th Grade Science GPA has grown +0.12 over the five year period, from 2.45 to 2.57.  There has been a decline in 7th Grade Science GPA, however, from 2.26 to 2.17 (-0.09).  Biology EOC performance has grown statewide by +0.17, with the average GPA increasing from 2.26 to 2.43 over the five-year period.

Special Recognitions

Special recognition goes out to Foreman High School of the Foreman District as the only school to receive more than one award in this category. Foreman High School is among the top 20 most-improved schools in both 7th Grade Science and EOC Biology. In the five-year period, student performance on 7th Grade Science increased from an average of 26% Proficient/ Advanced to an average of 50% Proficient/ Advanced, resulting in a GPA growth score of +0.42 (2.02→2.44).  In addition, student performance on EOC Biology increased from an average of 29% Proficient/ Advanced to an average of 64% Proficient/ Advanced, reflected by an impressive GPA growth score of +0.61 (2.13→2.73). Foreman High School was recognized in OEP’s High Achieving Schools report as a Top 20 High School in EOC Biology, and a Top 5 in the Southwest Region in 7th Grade Science.  Congratulations students and members of the Foreman staff for a job well done.

Springdale School District continues to shine as three Springdale schools are recognized among the most-improved Junior High schools in the state based on the EOC Biology exam. Over the five-year period, George Junior High moved from 67% to 89% of students scoring Proficient/ Advanced, and received a GPA growth score of +0.67, from 2.79 to 3.46.  This GPA increase is over twice the increase seen statewide (+ 0.29). Southwest Junior High moved from 72% to 89% of students scoring Proficient/ Advanced, and received a GPA growth score of +0.39, from 2.87 to 3.27. Central Junior High is very high performing on the EOC Biology, starting with 90% and moving to 91% of students scoring Proficient/ Advanced.  Although this is a slight change in the % Proficient, improved student performance is evidenced by the increase in the average GPA from 3.15 to 3.38 (+0.23).  These Springdale schools were previously recognized for Top 5 Junior High Schools for EOC Biology performance (Southwest and Central) and for Top 5 High Poverty Schools for EOC Biology (Southwest and George). Congratulations Springdale School District for a job well done!

Most-Improved Schools

Des Arc Elementary showed the greatest improvement on the 5th Grade Benchmark Science exam. The percent of students scoring Proficient/ Advanced increased from 34% to 90%!  Average GPA increased +1.12, from 2.21 to 3.33, in comparison to a +0.12 growth statewide.

Berryville Middle demonstrated the greatest improvement on the 7th Grade Benchmark Science exam. The total number of Proficient/ Advanced students at Berryville Middle School has doubled in the five-year period: from an average of 40% students in this category to 76%. GPA grew from 2.31 to 3.06, for an increase of +0.75, compared to the statewide GPA decline from 2.26 to 2.17.

Greenbrier High is the most improved high school based on the EOC Biology exam. There was a significant increase in the number of students scoring Proficient/ Advanced, from 50% to 80% of students.  Average GPA increased from 2.46 to 3.16 for an overall change of +0.69, compared to +0.17 statewide.

George Junior High showed the most improvement among the junior high schools that took the EOC Biology exam. As highlighted under Springdale’s achievement in an earlier section of this post, GJH increased proficiency rates by 22 points and increased GPA by more than double the statewide trend.

Congratulations to students and staff for a job well done!

This is the final report of this year’s OEP Science awards and we are pleased to highlight these schools supporting student success!  OEP will highlight school performance in ELA and math after PARCC scores are released later this fall.

Check our site for more information about how schools in Arkansas are performing and other issues related to education.

Cheering for Key Clarification

In The View from the OEP on October 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

cheeringThis blog was going to complain about how Arkansas missed an opportunity to clearly communicate with parents and stakeholders about students’ readiness for career and college, but Commissioner Johnny Key has made us cheer instead!

Why are we cheering?

Last night, Commissioner Key released a statement clarifying that Arkansas will use the high expectations of the PARCC to identify if students that are meeting or exceeding grade level expectations. You will remember that last Spring PARCC assessments in English Language Arts/Literacy and Math were given to Arkansas students for the first (and last) time. Unlike the assessment we were used to, where students scored Below Basic, Basic, Proficient or Advanced and we commonly talked about the “Percent Proficient”, the PARCC assessments are scored Levels 1 through 5, and Commissioner Key stated that only students who scored a level 4 or 5 on the PARCC assessments will be identified as meeting grade level expectations.

This was a brave decision.  Only 28% of Arkansas students scored Level 4 or 5 on the PARCC Algebra 1 assessment, compared to a 75% proficiency rate on Arkansas’ 2014 Algebra 1 assessment.  Last week it seemed that Arkansas was ‘relaxing’ the criteria, releasing news that 60% of Arkansas students were ‘on track’ in Algebra.  The Washington Post noted that we were following Ohio’s lead and allowing students who scored at Level 3 to be called ‘proficient’.  This lower criteria would have raised fewer questions about the effectiveness of Arkansas’ education system, but it was the wrong choice for our kids.

Telling students they are ready for college and career when they are not would continue our history of sending the wrong message to Arkansas students and parents. Arkansas has been administering the Arkansas Benchmark and End-Of-Course tests to its students for the past decade, and while over 70% of students scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” on these assessments, national assessments like the NAEP and ACT data show Arkansas students lagging behind. The idea behind the PARCC assessment was that the same assessment would be given to students in multiple states, allowing comparison of student performance outside state lines.

And it happened!  Students in eleven states and the District of Columbia completed PARCC assessments last spring. This summer, educators from throughout the PARCC Consortium met and set initial standards for performance levels, the PARCC Governing Board then made a few adjustments and adopted the scores.  Although all PARCC states will use the same performance levels, each state within the consortium approves them individually, and last week the State Board of Education approved the performance levels for use in Arkansas.

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What do the PARCC results say?

To date, only the scores for Arkansas’ high school tests have been released:  9th -11th grade English Language Arts, Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2.  Note that 11th grade ELA and Algebra 2 were ‘optional’ assessments for students and only 1/3 of eligible students were assessed, so the data are not representative of statewide performance.

Algebra 1: 28% at Level 4 and Above

Geometry: 21% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 9: 36% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 10: 37% at Level 4 and Above

Algebra 2: 15% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 11: 43% Level 4 and Above

How does Arkansas compare?

PARCC states release assessment results on their own timeline. So far, four states have released at least some of their scores: Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Arkansas. So how do Arkansas students compare?

Well, so far we can’t compare because other states also had inconsistent administration of the high school assessments:

  • Illinois aggregated their results in ELA and Math across courses, saying that due to small testing volumes in particular courses the results can not be interpreted as representative of overall performance.
  • In Ohio, only students in grade 9 and below were required to take the assessments.
  • In Massachusetts, few districts administered the high school PARCC tests because districts could select between the PARCC tests and the Massachusetts test, which is still a graduation requirement.

What’s Next?

Statewide PARCC Scores for Arkansas students in grades 3-8 are scheduled to be released next month, and will allow for a more complete comparison of performance to other states.  District and School level results will also be released within the next month or so.

Other PARCC states will be releasing their scores, allowing for more meaningful comparisons.

ADE is providing professional development to districts regarding how to communicate about the PARCC scores, and have provided a resource for parents as well.

Students and teachers will continue to learn in schools across the state, and students in grades 3-10 will complete the ACT Aspire assessment for the first time this spring, if the contract is approved by the legislature.

Here at the OEP we will continue to cheer loudly for those making brave decisions to support high standards for Arkansas students!

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!


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