University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Your Feedback is SOOO Important!

In The View from the OEP on May 24, 2017 at 12:51 pm

While most schools in Arkansas are winding down for summer break, here at the OEP we encourage all educators to give their feedback on an important plan that will impact the future of education in the state.

The ESSA Accountability Plan (draft #2) Feedback Due by June 23rd.

Seriously- read it and give your feedback.  This new draft includes details about school accountability models, including:

Long Term Goals of 90% achieving or exceeding grade level proficiency and 94% 4-year high school graduation rate and 97% for 5-year graduation rate.  The timeline for these goals is 12 years – that’s 2020 folks!


School Performance Rating that will consist of the following indicators:

  • Weighted Achievement (100 points possible with up to 25 extra possible points) Using Weighted Achievement for the academic indicator in the School Performance Rating honors stakeholder concerns that students at the upper end of the continuum of achievement (higher performers) are valued in the system so that schools will attend to their learning needs
  •  School Growth (100 possible points) Using Arkansas’ Value-Added Model
  •  English Learner progress to English Language Proficiency (100 possible points) Arkansas will transition this in
  •  Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (100 points possible each)
    • 4‐year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate
    • 5‐year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate
  • School Quality and Student Success (100 possible points)


The ESSA Plan draft also includes a cool mockup of a Performance Report Dashboard (see below)!



Although each of the 5 areas is worth 100 points, some areas are weighted more heavily than others, and we are SO EXCITED to see that growth is weighted more heavily than proficiency/ achievement.  Here’s how the percentages would work, and note the differences based on ELL population size- if you have fewer than 15 ELL students, those points move to another area:

o1 ratings

The Minimum N size is 15 (this is down from the prior minimum N of 25).  Minimum N indicates how many students have to be in a subgroup for that group to ‘count’ in school accountability.  A lot of data was examined to determine the ‘best’ N size. In the past, larger schools were held accountable for more student groups, while smaller schools often didn’t have 25 students in many groups and so were not. With a minimum N of 15, more schools will be reporting performance for various student groups, and as you can see in the table below, at least 90% of students from all groups will be included in the school performance calculations.

Min N Students

Interim Progress Measures:  The ADE used prior year trends from 2005 to 2013 for evidence of realistic rates of improvement based on Arkansas’s population of students and previous school improvement efforts. Instead of making up interim targets that ‘sound good’, the new targets are based on ACTUAL previous school improvement.  While I may WANT to get to 100% proficient in one year, historical trends indicate that most schools improved about 3-4 percentage points in ELA and Math each year.  AND- get this- they aren’t yearly targets that schools must meet- but rather 3-year checkpoints to give schools feedback about it they are on track for meeting the 12 year goal.

Other Indicators of School Quality vary by grade span as presented in the table below, but include chronic absenteeism, percent Reading Ready by grade 3, percent Science Ready in Middle Schools, and percent of graduates with one or more AP/IB/Concurrent credits earned.

5th Indicators

Schools that aren’t on track aren’t ‘in trouble’- the idea is to give feedback, but some schools will be targeted for support.  The lowest 5% based on the school performance rating by grade span will be identified for the first time in 2018-19 and will get support for three years. After three years, new schools will be identified.

ADE is asking stakeholders for specific feedback on the following questions during the draft plan review period:

  1. Do stakeholders want ADE to create a “watch” category or “alert” category for schools that are just above the bottom 5% cutoff?
  2. For schools in the next 5%, should ADE notify LEAs of schools that are in this position/rank above 5% through 10% to empower districts to provide preventative support?

Please give your feedback to ADE by June 23rd! We need educator voices to be included If you have questions about aspects of the plan, or thoughts you would like to share- please comment below or email us at!


School Discipline in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on May 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm



While many of us laugh at Bart’s chalkboard trials, discipline in schools has been raising concerns nationally.  Today’s Policy Brief examines trends in school discipline in Arkansas. In response to concerns about disparities in discipline outcomes and the impact school discipline has on student achievement, Arkansas passed Act 1329 in 2013. State policymakers recognized that lost instructional time contributes to poor student performance and that disciplinary measures that keep students engaged in the education process support student learning and academic achievement. The goal of the law is to evaluate and to track the progress of school districts in reducing disciplinary rates and disciplinary disparities. The law provides for annual district-level reporting of school disciplinary data.

The Office for Education Policy assists with the analyses required under ACT 1329, and posts the research on our website. The consistent collection of data permits evaluation of disciplinary practices and aids in the identification of state, district, and student-level disparities in Arkansas schools.

A disciplinary incident has two parts– the infraction and the consequence. We examine both sides of the incident statewide, by student characteristics and by school characteristics.

A quick summary of key points:

  • Reported disciplinary incidents have increased since Act 1329 was enacted.
  • 82% of reported infractions were minor and non-violent (insubordination and disorderly conduct).
  • In-school suspension rates have risen, and out-of-school suspension rates have increased slightly since 2004-05.
  • Corporal punishment is occurring less frequently, although is still used by over 80% of districts in 2015-16.
  • Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for disciplinary infractions.
  • Schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior.
  • Differences in disciplinary severity reflect differences in practices between schools, not within a school.

Unlike academic performance data, where higher scores are better, interpretation of discipline rates is unclear. Is more discipline reporting the sign of a school where student behavior is out of control, or of a school where behavior expectations for students are high and enforced consistently? If we aim for lowering discipline rates, how to we avoid the unintended consequence that only the reporting of disciplinary incidents will decrease? Although we may not yet know the answers to these questions, meaningful conversations can only begin when the data are available and transparent. By raising awareness of potential discrepancies, school leaders may seek solutions to address such issues.

The main point is that these data are available and should be discussed.

One thing we do know is that there are real disparities in school discipline for certain types of students and schools. Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for infractions, and schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Research into Arkansas discipline data, however, has determined that these differences in the frequency and severity of consequences are due to differences between school practices. This means that within a school, students receive similar consequences for infractions regardless of race, but that there are significant differences in practices between schools.

We find that Black students are more likely to attend schools that exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Black students attend schools that adhere to stricter disciplinary policies, so they are disproportionately missing school. Being excluded from school leads to lost instructional time and has been associated with disengagement in school and negative life outcomes. Policymakers and school leaders may want to focus on these schools to identify possibilities for ensuring students are not being excessively excluded from the learning environment.

Policymakers and educators alike should be concerned with the long-term consequences of denying children access to the educational process. Arkansas took a necessary first step by adopting AR 1329 which aims to reduce disciplinary rates and disparities. To that end, decreasing suspensions overall will require a transformation in disciplinary practices, and particularly in schools that administer more severe consequences for minor non-violent infractions.

School-level discipline data, current discipline reports and future research can be found on OEP’s website at


A Student’s Bill of Assessment Rights

In The View from the OEP on April 26, 2017 at 11:39 am

Ahhh, testing season.  Throughout the state, students are completing their annual state assessments.  Participation in Arkansas’ assessment is required for all public school students, and most are completing the ACT Aspire.  This is the second year for this assessment, and here’s the main facts about the test:

  • Each student will be assessed in English, reading, math, science and writing
  • 4 to 4 ½ hours total testing time per grade
  • Accessibility features available for all students, and
  • Accommodations available for qualifying students
  • Students in grades 9 and 10 will receive a predicted score for the ACTⓇ
  • Computer-based administration with hardship waivers available for paper/pencil administration
  • Schools set their own schedules within the following windows:
    • Computer-based administration: April 10-May 12

But what else do students and their parents need to know about these assessments?  Here at the OEP, we think they should know

  • when the results will be back,
  • how the results will be used and by whom,
  • how to interpret the results when they get them, and
  • what is the next step if the student didn’t meet grade-level expectations.

We were discussing these issues last week at the National Task Force on Assessment Education, and we like Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights that clearly identifies the rights of students and their families when it comes to assessments.



Certifying Learning

Annual standardized statewide assessments like the ACT Aspire ‘certify‘ learning by identifying if a student has (or has not) met the performance expectation set by the state.  State and district leadership examine the results to determine if ‘enough’ students met the performance expectation.  Over the past 15 years, Arkansas used the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations to ‘rate’ schools.

The annual ‘snapshot’ of student performance provided by the statewide assessments is intended to provide a benchmark for how Arkansas students are performing.  Over the past several years, this has been difficult to determine because the assessments have been changing each year- from Benchmark (2013-14) to PARCC (2014-15) to ACT Aspire (2015-16).  The results from this year’s ACT Aspire assessments will be the first directly comparable results since 2013, and will allow us to more easily determine if we are doing a better job helping our students learn.

More recently, Arkansas has developed a way to use these annual assessments to measure if students have made enough ‘growth’ from the prior year.  This measure examines how students score compared to how well we thought they would score based on prior assessments.  Schools where the majority of students score better than expected receive a high “Value-Added” score. Here at the OEP, we really like the idea of examining student growth, because it should be less related to the economic status of the students at the schools than the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations.  You can read more about this new measure and what the data show here.

Supporting Learning

Whether measuring performance or growth, however, annual standardized assessments like the ACT Aspire are not good tools for SUPPORTING student learning.  The once-a-year snapshot isn’t detailed enough to dig down into the specific skills that students do and do not know, and by the time the results are back, students have moved into the next grade.

Information that SUPPORTS student learning are often gathered in the classroom through observation, questioning, or other checks for understanding are called formative assessments.  Teachers and students use formative assessments to gather evidence of where students are in their learning and of any problems that they are having. In the hands of a knowledgeable teacher and informed student,  these assessments can move students learning forward.

Unfortunately, classroom assessments are not always used effectively to support learning. A primary cause is when assessments are being used (like annual state assessments) to ‘certify’ learning. Many students complete an assignment or classroom test, fail to demonstrate that they understand the material, and receive a ‘bad grade’. In most classrooms, the student will be presented with new content the next day, and is never given the opportunity to fully understand the previous material.  When students are not provided the opportunity to master content, they can face poor foundational skills and begin to feel that they cannot be successful in school.

In some cases, students may receive ‘good grades’ from their teachers, but fail to demonstrate their understanding on standardized assessments.  According to the State Report Card, more than 1 in 3 Arkansas high school students are ‘Grade Inflated’. This means they have a GPA of “B” or above, but scored less than “19” on the ACT math or reading. Students who score less that 19 on these sections of the ACT  have to take remedial courses in college which do not count toward their degree.  Poor assessment practices at their high schools are providing students the wrong information about their learning and leading them to encounter barriers in continuing their education.  PAS

Some teachers ARE using formative assessments to adjust their instruction but often they do not have access to high-quality tools.  As Rick Stiggins points out in his new book, The Perfect Assessment System, we have invested in the quality of an annual standardized assessment but not in the quality of classroom and interim assessments.


Focusing on Learning

Unfortunately, many teachers and students do not understand how to use assessment data in the learning process.  This feedback loop is essential to improving student learning and should be occurring regularly throughout the school year.

Arkansas can use the flexibility inherent in ESSA to ensure that students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and school districts develop a better understanding of the principles and practices of sound assessment that ultimately support student learning.  We can leverage ESSA funds to do some of the important work to develop sound assessment practices and the ESSA guiding document on assessment literacy provides concrete suggestions for using ESSA funding to address this critical need.

While schools may make a ‘big deal’ out of the ACT Aspire testing, it isn’t the most important time of the school year.  We would like to see as much focus on each day of the learning in the classroom, with students and teachers using high-quality formative assessment practices to help students understand where they are in their learning and what they need to do to grow their understanding.