University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

November Education Committee Meeting — Little Rock, AR

In The View from the OEP on November 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

ar legislature

The educational sub-committee met on November 20th to discuss current issues in Arkansas education.  The bipartisan group meets regularly to create discussion, study research, and pass legislation to help the educational system in Arkansas grow stronger to support the diverse needs of the youth.  The agenda for the meeting showcases the wide array of topics discussed in the open session.

Prior to the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting, the floor was open for Senators and Representatives to discuss trips or conferences attended that recently occurred to learn more about education.  A recent trip to Germany was discussed in which their “apprenticeship” programs were studied in order to gain better understanding of their success.  While no specific programs or practices were discussed in this forum, it was clear that “business is the driving force of their educational system.”  The needs of the community, work force, and business at-large guides the decisions made for the development youth.

Too Much Paperwork? 

Senator Chesterfield submitted a request for an ISP (Interim Study Proposal) to study the correlation between excessive paperwork for teachers and teachers leaving the profession.  She had heard from administrators in her district about quality teachers that are leaving the profession due to large amounts of energy spent on routine administrative tasks that are distracting from their role in education.  Other comments and questions asked about other leading factors that are currently cited as causes of teacher attrition led the committee to make sure the language of the ISP was broad enough to find other data points.  There is strong evidence nationally from exit surveys regarding student behavior, lack of administrative support, and overall behavioral health being leading causes of attrition as well, according to comments from committee members.  The ISP was approved with no votes in opposition.

Learning from the “Top 10”

Senator Joyce Elliott shared her findings from the NCSL International study group. (National Conference of State Legislatures) in which they observed the activities, protocols, and patterns of the “Top 10” academic countries in the world.  She stressed the importance of every individual state in America needs to focus on steps to joining nations on that list.  The bipartisan study group was designed to find solutions to shared problems specific to education.  She gave a brief overview of the history of the NCSL and its mission.  She also discussed the history of education pitting nations against nations (i.e. “The Space Race”), rather than working together and with collaboration.  The nations studied were Ontario, Alberta, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taiwan.)

Comparison of Arkansas as well as the USA against educational outcomes in any of those 10 countries indicates a vast discrepancy.  Senator Elliott’s presentation cites the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) findings that America is showing little to no progress within key educational objectives.  The presentation debunked myths that are circulated as to why this might be occurring, like the argument that other countries only educate/assess their “best students.”  Senator Elliott indicated that no matter which population group America is compared to, the findings are the same (i.e. America’s best students vs. other countries’ best students, poorest students vs. poorest students, etc.).   Senator Elliott also spoke to the myth of America serving more immigrants that most countries while other countries in the Top 10 have higher numbers of immigrant populations.

The key lessons shared in the learning from other countries was that there was a laser focus on “where they wanted to be” as a country.  They made decisions, funding, and legislation with this focus in mind.  Initiatives and projects outside of this focus simply did not proceed.  Senator Elliott shared how this focus along with aligned assessment towards achievement of these goals led countries to increased success.

Senator Elliott also discussed that most countries do not view “career tech” as a lesser form of higher education.  She indicated that it is a viable pathway for learners that is held in high regard in the educational systems.

Senator Elliott shared that “If American did not compete in the Olympics, we would lose our minds.  What would happen if we had the same view of education.”   She spoke of the findings that other countries embrace diversity and practice equity.  They do not treat each student or organization equally, but they give each what is needed to support them.  There is also a strong belief among educators in high-performing countries that “equity” starts at birth, not the first day of school.

She closed with questions and comments supporting the finding of the study.  She gave the example of each component of the educational system that is a focused part of the study’s findings being like vital organs in the human body.  They must work together and have different jobs, but they are all equally important and impossible to function without one.

Full findings of the “No Time to Lose” study can be read here.

The “Indifference” Project

The committee heard from an Arkansas English teacher, Michael Hensley, on his annual class project at Alma High School.  This served as an example and highlighted the higher-level instructional practices around the state.   Representative Douglas spoke in favor of the teacher as she has worked with his class on this project.  He served students in her district, and he spoke highly of the support she has shown him.

Michael Hensley sought an activity that would engage his students in real-world challenges while still following the pace and content objectives within Arkansas curriculum.  He developed an open-ended project that allowed students to “choose something that is so important to them, that they cannot be indifferent about it.”  Then, through the project, the students are able to research, plan, and put into action a plan to create awareness.   While the project is still on-going, Hensley reports seeing strong levels of participation on a wide array of topics and interests.

This project was first highlighted with a student’s idea becoming a bill signed into law in April 2017.

Discussion of the Annual Report from the School Leadership Coordinating Council

Mr. David Cook, the Chair of the School Leadership Coordinating Council and the Director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy opened the session by introducing the annual report process.  (Download PowerPoint).

Program Lead Blaine Alexander and Research Specialist Jennifer Medeiros led the findings from the past year regarding their “Theory of Change” and “Strategic Plan Cycle”.  They seek to use a 4-point assessment scale to find the “current reality” of a school organization, and then they can develop a specific plan.  They understand the importance of creating systems changes, not just trainings for one part of the educational system.  They train superintendents, teachers, principals, and other educational stakeholders.

Superintendents Thelma Forte (Mineral Springs) and Jerrod Williams (Sheridan) spoke about their experiences and learnings in the Academy.  They felt that their success now as leaders can be attributed to the education and coaching they received in their past attendance in the Academy.


Parent Perceptions about Assessment

In The View from the OEP on November 8, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Gallup_ParentToday Gallup and NWEA released an interesting report about how parents and teachers think about assessments.  In this blog we are going to focus on parent perceptions about the amount of time spent assessing students, how frequently the results of assessments are communicated to them, and their feelings about the usefulness of assessments. The report is based on a survey of Texas parents, and provides some ‘food for thought’ about how Arkansas parents might be feeling about assessment.

Time Spent on Assessment Activities

The responses of Texas parents presented in the figure below reflect a nearly even split between those that think the time devoted to assessment is ‘just right’ and those that consider ‘too much’ time is being spent on assessment activities.


Parent perceptions were split regarding teacher activities around assessment. The amount of time teachers spent preparing for and administering assessments was ‘just right’ for 42% of parents and ‘too much’ for 43%.   Only 13% of parents felt teachers spent ‘too little’ time preparing for and administering assessments.

Parents were somewhat more comfortable with the amount of time students spent taking assessments, with 50% reporting it was ‘just the right amount’, while 40% of parents felt that it was ‘too much’.  Only 10% of parents felt that students spent ‘too little’ time completing assessments.

The report highlights an interesting difference related to parents’ socioeconomic status. Parents from low- and middle-SES households are less likely than high-SES parents to say that teachers and students spend ‘too much’ time on assessment activities.

Communication about  Assessments

The responses of Texas parents reflect an understanding of when assessments are being administered, but a lack of understanding about why.  As presented in the figure below, nearly 3 out of 4 parents (73%) responded that the school did a good job of informing them when assessments will be conducted, but fewer than half felt that schools did a good job of explaining the purpose of classroom/ district assessments or the annual state assessment.


Additionally, more than half of the parents surveyed reported that teachers ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discussed their student’s assessment results with them (58%), and rarely give them feedback about how they can improve their student’s academic performance (56%).

Value of Assessment Activities

Given the reported lack of communication about student assessment results, it is not surprising that few parents believe that state assessments improve teaching or learning.  Nearly half (48%) of the parents surveyed reported that their child’s teacher was ‘effectively’ or ‘very effectively’ using state assessment results to meet their student’s learning needs.  Overall, only 32% of parents surveyed reported that the use of state accountability tests were improving students learning and only 31% reported improving the quality of teaching.

As can be seen in the figure below, interesting perception differences are again related to parents’ socioeconomic status. Parents from low- and middle-SES households are more likely than high-SES parents to say that their child’s teachers are effectively or every effectively using the assessment results to meet their student’s learning needs (64% to 41%, respectively).  Parents from low- and middle-SES households are also more likely than high-SES parents to say that the use of state assessments improves student learning (44% to 13%) and the quality of teaching (41% to 11%).


A high percentage of parents surveyed support using assessment data to evaluate school performance (79%). Parents from low- and middle-SES households are more likely than high-SES parents to support evaluating school performance using assessment data (89% to 65% respectively).

How might Arkansas’ parents perceptions differ? 

Students in Arkansas spend much less time completing assessments than students in Texas.  Arkansas’ required annual assessments take about four hours for students to complete, while Texas students spend up to five days taking the state assessments.  Perhaps Arkansas parents would be more likely to think assessment activities were taking up the right amount of time, given the short duration of the annual assessment.

Arkansas parents may be just as unsure about the purpose of assessments as their Texas counterpoints, and Arkansas teachers may be just as unlikely to effectively communicate the results to parents. Nationally, about 1 in 3 teachers reports receiving training in communicating assessment results to parents, and less that half (41%) feel ‘very prepared’ to do so.

What would your parents say? 

Do your parents understand the purpose of assessments?  Do teachers explain how they are effectively using assessments to support student learning in their classrooms?  Are parents just mailed/handed the paper copy of their student’s ACT Aspire results or does the staff help them to understand what the information means for their student and provide suggestions about how they can help their child succeed?

Here at OEP  we found it particularly interesting that low- and middle-SES households reported more positive perceptions regarding assessment. We think this may be due to a greater use of assessment data in communications with these parents. Perhaps teachers communicate more effectively with them about how assessments reflect developing skills, while more affluent parents may being told that their (perhaps higher-performing) students are ‘fine’.

Upcoming opportunity? 

We expect Arkansas school ratings will be released before the end of the year, and we suggest making a plan for clearly communicating with your stakeholders surrounding the ratings.  Use the insights from the Texas parent survey to reflect on your communication, and be sure to address the purpose of state assessments, how the results are being used to support student learning, and the strengths/growth areas for your district/school.


Digital Learning- Is it working for students?

In The View from the OEP on November 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm


Many Arkansas students are participating in digital learning and here at OEP we are interested if they are benefiting- aren’t you?

Digital Learning is learning facilitated by technology that gives students some element of control over the time, place, path and/or pace of their learning. Digital learning is more than providing students with a laptop or tablet, as it requires a combination of technology, digital content, and instruction. Digital learning can be a blended instructional model that combines learning in a brick-and-mortar classroom with content delivered online, or full online learning, where all instruction and content are delivered over the internet.

Arkansas has supported digital learning through resource allocation and legislation since 2005. Arkansas is currently one of only a handful of states where every student is connected to the internet at speeds more than sufficient for digital learning. In addition, this year’s seniors must complete a digital learning course in order to graduate, and all public and charter high schools must offer computer science courses to students. This year, Advanced Placement Computer Science students students who pass the AP exam are eligible for up to $1,000 in cash. While not every school may have an AP Computer Science teacher on staff, students can enroll in a digital version of the course. Arkansas currently has 53 Approved Digital Learning Providers that offer nearly 1,000 digital courses to students in the state.

But are the current digital learning options meeting the needs of students? 

A new survey released yesterday by the Task Force on Quality Digital Learning Providers gives educators, parents, and students the opportunity to share their thoughts about how digital learning is (or isn’t) working in their school.


It is important that stakeholders participate in the short and anonymous survey because the primary purpose of the Task Force is to make recommendations to improve the quality and educational benefit of blended and online digital learning for Arkansas students.  Data from the survey will be used to guide the ongoing work under Act 939, which requires a report the Arkansas State Board of Education.

Here at OEP we are pleased to be partnering with the Task Force to conduct the evaluation of Digital Learning Providers. We will be examining several aspects of Arkansas’ digital learning environment:

  • Availability: What online and blended programs are currently operating in Arkansas? How many students are participating in these programs? And what do the students ‘look like’ in terms of demographic characteristics, academic performances, and geographic location?
  • Educational Benefit: Are Arkansas’ online and blended learning program effective in terms of fostering students’ academic achievement and growth?
  • Quality: Are there differences in the quality of Arkansas’ online and blended learning program providers as measured by students’ academic achievement and growth?
  • Cost: What costs are associated with Arkansas’ online and blended learning programs and are there differences between the providers in cost to the state?

We are very interested to hear from educators, parents, and students about their experiences with digital learning in Arkansas! Please help spread the word about the survey.  We need to check and see if current options are supporting student learning, or if there is more that needs to be done to ensure students benefit from quality digital learning experiences.