University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Cash Rewards for Computer Science!

In The View from the OEP on October 18, 2017 at 1:13 pm

ARCSYesterday, the Arkansas Department of Education announced a program to drive more students to enroll and demonstrate success in a high-level computer science course. Students who complete an Advanced Placement Computer Science A course, and receive a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the associated AP exam are eligible for the cash reward!  According to the announcement, an Arkansas public school student can receive $1,000 for scoring a 5 on the exam, $750 for scoring a 4, and $250 for receiving a score of 3.

But the rewards don’t just apply to students!  Schools get money for each qualifying  score as well! Schools will receive $250 for each 5 on the AP CSA exam, $150 for each 4, and $50 for each 3.

Why is this important?

Advanced Placement Computer Science A is one of the highest-level Computer Science courses that has a quantitative assessment associated with it.  The course introduces students to computer science with fundamental topics that include problem solving, design strategies and methodologies, organization of data (data structures), approaches to processing data (algorithms), analysis of potential solutions, and the ethical and social implications of computing.

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are administered throughout the country in a wide variety of subjects. AP exams can serve as a consistent and nationally comparable measure of student content knowledge, and students are likely to be granted college credit for a score 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam. In an earlier blog about AP, we mentioned Arkansas is one of a few states that provide AP testing at no cost to students.

AP CSA exam results in Arkansas compared to the country

In 2016, 46,480 public school students across the country completed the AP CSA exam, and 63% received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  In Arkansas, 298 public school students completed the AP CSA exam, and 29% of students received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  If the new incentive program had been in pace, 14 Arkansas students would have received $1,000, 29 students would have received $750, and 44 would have received $250.

Females made up only 27% of AP CSA testers nationally, so Arkansas is about average with 23% of AP CSA exam takers being female. African American students were 6% of those tested in Arkansas, and only 4% of the national pool.

Increasing Access to Computer Science

Arkansas hit the national computer science education stage in 2015 with Act 187, which  requires that public high schools and public charter high schools offer at least one computer science course at the high school level. As presented in the graph below, Arkansas has seen a sharp increase in the number of students enrolling in, and the number of districts offering computer science classes.  From 2004-05 through 2012-13, about 300 students from 15 districts enrolled in computer science courses.  In 2016-17, there are over 6,600 students from 225 districts enrolled in computer science courses.

CS trend


BUT- not yet equitable access to AP CSA

Most of these students are enrolled in classes other than AP CSA. In 2016-17, over 24% of computer science students were enrolled in “Essentials of Computer Programming”.  Comparatively, only 338 (5%) of computer science students were enrolled in AP Computer Science A in 2016-17, and only 33 school districts offered the class. When we consider what type of district provides access to AP Computer Science, we see that they are relatively large (4,500 students on average) and that more than half of the districts that offered AP CSA were in Northwest Arkansas, while it was offered in only 2 districts in Southeast Arkansas.  Please note that all districts are allowed to offer AP CSA, and decisions about which courses to offer to students are made by individual school districts.  If your district isn’t offering this course- we would love to know why!

In order to be eligible for the cash reward, students must enroll in the AP Computer Science A course. A student cannot just learn the material on their own and pass the test, so what if their school is one of the 87% of districts that does not offer the course?

According to ADE, there are six digital providers approved to teach AP CSA, but we are still checking into how a student gets signed up.

Our thoughts:

Here at OEP we like the idea of incentivizing students and schools to focus on computer science, but we are concerned that not all students have the same access to the course.  We fully support students taking the AP exam, as it is a stable measure of student knowledge than teacher-assigned course grades, which are inconsistent across the state.  We would like to see the program changed, however, so students who do not have access to the course or who prefer to learn the material independently could still be eligible for the reward.

The student-focused goal should be the learning, not the seat time.



PSAT day! Are your students benefiting?

In The View from the OEP on October 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm
Throughout Arkansas today, many high school students are spending a few hours taking the PSAT.  Here at OEP, we are big on everyone understanding the purpose behind assessments, who is going to make what decisions based on the results, and how students can benefit from the assessment, so we wanted to review what the PSAT is, how it is being used in Arkansas, how it benefits (or doesn’t) Arkansas students, and what OEP recommends moving forward.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is an assessment developed for high school students that measures skills in Reading, Writing, Language, and Math.  The paper/pencil test takes about 3 hours to complete.

How the PSAT is being used in Arkansas:

Arkansas school districts are not required to administer the PSAT, but if a district agrees to administer the test to all 10th graders, they can do so at no cost to students or to the district. The PSAT typically costs $16 per student, but the Arkansas State Board of Education approved covering the costs using at-risk funding as allowed by Act 989.
Districts do not have to offer the test to any student. Districts that want to test only select students on the PSAT can do so, but the district/student must cover the associated cost.
All 11th grade test fees are always the responsibility of the school district/student.

Some states (Deleware, Colorado, and Michigan) are requiring students to take the PSAT, and are planning on using the results in their state accountability system.

The PSAT is not required for Arkansas students, the results are not used in any aspect of the accountability system.  The PSAT administration does not replace the required 10th grade ACT Aspire administration in the spring, which is used as a measure in school accountability.

How the PSAT benefits Arkansas students:

Students can benefit from taking the PSAT in 10th grade in several ways.  The test serves as a practice for the voluntary 11th grade PSAT, which score qualifies you for National Merit Scholarship consideration. In addition, the PSAT is good practice for the SAT, a college entrance exam similar to the ACT, and required by some out-of-state colleges.
Participating in the 10th grade PSAT provides students and their schools with the opportunity to find out if students have the potential to be successful in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  This can help identify students who may have been ‘flying under the radar’ for academic success in AP- and can serve as a particularly helpful tool for encouraging AP participation and enrollment of underrepresented academically prepared students. Schools and students receive AP Potential information in January, allowing time for students to discuss academic plans with counselors , teacher, and parents before selecting classes for their junior year.

A final bonus of PSAT participation in 10th grade is the opportunity to participate in Student Search Service, which connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from nearly 1,700 colleges, universities, scholarship programs, and educational organizations.

When taken in 11th grade, the PSAT automatically enters students for consideration in the National Merit Scholarship competition.  From an initial pool of over 1.6 million students, this well-known program annually identifies 7,500 Merit Scholars to receive college scholarships.

What type of 10th graders are benefiting?

According to information provided by ADE, eighty-one (81) school districts elected to provide their 10th grade students the opportunity to complete the PSAT for free in 10th grade. This is less than one-third of the 262 school districts in Arkansas.

Although less than a third of Arkansas’ school districts are participating, nearly half of 10th graders in the state attend a participating district.  More than 17,000 10th grade students are getting access to a free PSAT, representing over $270,000 in test fees that are being covered by the state.

We were wondering about the characteristics of districts who chose to offer the PSAT to all 10th graders.  Overall, the districts seem representative of state demographics.  As a group the PSAT participating districts serve students whole are slightly more likely to be a minority than the state (47% of participating district students are minority compared to 36% of the state as a whole).   Participating districts also serve students who are about as likely to be participating in FRL as the state (60% of participating district students are FRL compared to 63% of the state as a whole).

Although the PSAT-participating districts look similar to the state as a whole, the program is not reaching some students.  Regional differences are presented below.



District participation in the 10th grade free PSAT program is highest in the Southeast Arkansas, where over 50% of districts are participating, compared to the lowest participation of 21% in the Northeast region. In terms of overall 10th grade enrollment participation, Northwest Arkansas is providing free access to the PSAT to over 60% of 10th graders, but only 1 in 5 10th graders in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.

When examined by student demographics, we find stark differences in access by region.   Over 70% of African-American students will take the test for free in the Northwest and Central regions, but only 1 in 5 African American students in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.  Over 80% of Hispanic students in Northwest Arkansas will take the test for free, as will over half of the Hispanic students in Central and Southeast. Less than 15% of Hispanic students in Northeast and Southwest Arkansas will get the opportunity.

What does OEP recommend?

Here at OEP, we like how the state is willing to support all 10th graders taking the PSAT for free, but wonder about how meaningful an opportunity it is for students.

It is certainly a meaningful opportunity for students who are going to re-take the PSAT in 11th grade and may be one of the 3% of students who get selected to participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition. It seems prudent to note that although finalists are eligible for scholarships from colleges or corporations, only 2,500 students nationally win scholarships from National Merit, and these are a one-time payment of $2,500.

So, for most Arkansas students, the benefit will come if districts actively USE THE DATA to identify students for possible enrollment in AP.  Enrollment in AP is particularly helpful if students are on the college-bound track, and if instruction in the course is high-quality. Due to the ACT Aspire testing, which is required in the spring of 3rd through 10th grades, teachers and counselors should ALREADY have good data about students and their academic performance.  ACT Aspire for 9th and 10 graders gives students a predicted ACT score, which is likely a much more relevant indicator of success for Arkansas students than if they are ready to take an AP class.

We think the state should continue to promote the free 10th grade PSAT opportunity to districts, particularly those in the Northeast and Southwest regions, where African-American and Hispanic students are unlikely to get access to the test and subsequent information.  We also recommend that the state examine how many students are being identified for AP potential who are not already enrolled in AP courses.  Perhaps the schools are doing a good job of placing students in appropriate courses!

Most importantly, we need to be sure we are using our resources effectively to provide the best quality college and career counseling to all Arkansas students.

We would love to hear your thoughts…


Some Thoughts on Arkansas Teacher of the Year

In The View from the OEP on October 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm


Here at OEP, we wanted to extend our congratulations to Ms. Randi House, the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (ATOY)!  Ms. House teaches kindergarten in Conway, and as ATOY she receives a $15,000 award and, under Act 17, a year of paid administrative leave to work with ADE. Throughout the year, the ATOY creates professional development materials and provides technical assistance to Arkansas teachers and students.  In addition, the ATOY serves as a non-voting member of the State Board of Education, as an ambassador for education in Arkansas. The ATOY makes public appearances throughout the state and represents Arkansas in the National Teacher of the Year Competition.

Here at OEP, we love how the ATOY supports professional development and interacts with policy by sitting on the State Board.  We think hands-on experience with educational research might also be an interesting perspective to add and we would love to partner with Ms. House in researching a question of interest during her tenure.

According to ADE, the mission of the ATOY program is to promote the profession and recognize quality teachers who implement “best practices” in Arkansas public school classrooms. We know there are lots of great teachers in Arkansas’ schools, and we wondered about the process of identifying the Teacher of the Year.



How many ATOY have there been?

The National Teacher of the Year program began in 1952, but the Arkansas Department of Education lists ATOY back to 1959.  No ATOY is indicated for 1960 or 1961, so by our count Ms. House is the 58th ATOY!

Has an ATOY ever been selected as the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY)?

Not yet!  Arkansas is one of 17 states from which the NTOY has never been selected. Among our border states, Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma have each had two NTOY, Tennessee has had one, while Louisiana and Mississippi join Arkansas in never having had a teacher selected for NTOY.

Where do ATOY come from?

Based on the information provided by ADE, ATOY have been elementary, middle, junior high, and high school teachers engaged in teaching a wide variety of subjects.  The 20 most recent ATOY are listed below:

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 12.30.39 PM

ATOY have been selected from districts of varying sizes: in 2015 the ATOY was from Poyen which enrolled 582 students, while the 2014 ATOY was from Little Rock which enrolled over 22,000 students.  The percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced lunch in ATOY districts also varied- from 44% (White Hall- ATOY 1991) to 90% (Osceola- ATOY 1974).

Interestingly, over 40% of the ATOY came from districts located in the central region of the state, even though only 28% of Arkansas teachers are employed there.  Over time, 25 teachers from the central region have been selected, compared to eight from each of the other regions (the NW, NE, SW and SE). Northwest Arkansas is noticeably underrepresented- the region employs over 35% of Arkansas teachers, but has produced only 14% of ATOY.  Although ATOY have been selected from Fort Smith, Russellville, Van Buren, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville, we were surprised to see that no ATOY had been selected from Bentonville.

Why would there be such a discrepancy is where ATOY hail from?  We propose it is about visibility of the program in schools and districts.  Although each district may select one teacher as its District Teacher of the Year and nominate that teacher for the ATOY, very few do.  Only 33 districts, or 12% of those eligible, submitted a candidate for ATOY 2018.

Why wouldn’t EVERY district submit a candidate?

We have no idea! Perhaps districts are reluctant to participate because they don’t want to ‘lose’ one of their teachers.  This is understandable, because we all want our teachers working with students, but it is important to provide teachers the opportunity to move outside of the walls of their classroom to learn more about their profession and what is happening around the state. Almost all ATOY teachers return to the classroom following their experience, bringing back new skills and enriching perspectives to their school.

The ATOY application process is free, straightforward, and open to all licensed teachers from pre-k to 12th grade who have taught for at least three years, and who spend the majority of their time working with students in a classrooms.  Over 20,000 teachers are eligible to be ATOY, but only 33 applied.

Candidates for ATOY complete an online form and submit a resume, three letters of recommendation, two artifacts that showcase the candidate’s teaching and/or students’ achievement, a form that indicates the school and district leadership support the candidate’s application, and a photo.

From the submitted applications, 16 regional finalists are selected (one representing each education service cooperative and one representing Pulaski County), and four state semi-finalists are selected among the regional finalists. The selection panel visits each semi-finalists’ classroom before selecting the ATOY.

Interested in submitting an application?  

Having an ATOY can be a very positive for your community and provide an opportunity to highlight the great work being done by ALL the teachers in your schools.

Here are some next steps:

  1. Start talking with your staff about identifying a couple of excellent teachers to celebrate as district teacher(s) of the year.  Some districts partner with local businesses to provide bonuses (free meals, gift cards, services like car washes or house cleaning, etc.).
  2. With a team at the district level, select the teacher you would like to submit as a candidate for ATOY.  Keep your eyes out for the 2019 ATOY application, which ususally comes out in February and is announced through a Commissioner’s Memo.
  3. Help your district’s candidate for ATOY get the forms signed, the 3 letters of recommendation, and a nice portrait taken.
  4. Maybe your teacher will be selected as ATOY, and maybe Arkansas will get the opportunity to be recognized with a National Teacher of the Year.

While you are waiting for the 2019 application to come out, you can benefit from ATOY’s expertise by connecting with the Arkansas Exemplary Educators Network (AEEN). The statewide network is comprised of veteran and current Arkansas Teachers of the Year and Milken Educators Award recipients who have volunteered to share their knowledge and expertise with other educators and groups across the state. These educators have a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in education, as well as strong leadership skills, and are willing to support your work so take advantage of their expertise!