University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

If we are closing, students need better

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

Here’s a question: Do charter schools have to be performing better than similar traditional schools to remain open, or can performing similarly be sufficient grounds for the state to let schools retain their charter?

Yesterday, the State Board answered this question for one Little Rock charter school, overturning the Charter Authorizing Panel’s recommendation to revoke Covenant Keeper’s charter.

Covenant Keepers is a charter school in Southwest Little Rock, that served 171 students in grades 6-8 during the 2015-16 school year. The student enrollment is representative of the community: 57% African American, 42% Hispanic, 32% English Language Learners and 98% low-income.   You may remember that the school has been classified as in Academic Distress for having a 3-yr average of fewer than 50% of students meeting expectations on state assessments. In April, the Charter Authorizing Panel recommended that the school’s charter be revoked, although a three-year renewal had been granted last year.

Earlier this month, the SBE decided to review the recommendation to revoke Covenant Keepers charter.  The special meeting was set, and yesterday OEP had the opportunity to present on the academic performance of Covenant Keepers.  Proficiency rates at the school are low, but we feel it is important to compare the performance of similar schools.  OEP compared Covenant Keeper’s academic performance to the other traditional middle schools in the area which enroll students with similar demographics: Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson. Overall, we found that all of the schools examined have performed similarly in terms of proficiency since Covenant Keepers opened in 2008-09.  In terms of  Value-Added growth, Covenant Keepers had the highest scores in 2015-16, although data were inconsistent over the three years available.


So here’s the question- is similar good enough?

Although there were other issues in play, including some fiscal and governance issues, the academic performance of the school was a primary concern.  State Board member Jay Barth pointed out that regardless of other issues,

“We’ve got to be clear that how we evaluate whether schools are in or out of academic distress… is about proficiency.  Nobody at this table loves that as the way to gauge that, and we are changing it, and we are going to begin taking growth into account, but that is the ruler by which all schools are evaluated in the state and this school has consistently failed to meet that.”  

He continued, “I know some of that is unquestionably the student population that Covenant Keepers serves, but other school do serve very similar student populations and do reach achieving status.”  Here at OEP we appreciate Dr. Barth’s willingness to acknowledge the limitation of a straight proficiency based model, the current rules, and his desire to ensure that Arkansas students are attending a high-quality school.

Board member Fitz Hill responded to Barth by saying,

“At the end of the day, student learning is why we are all serving on this board. But if we close this school, can you say with good clarity that these students are going to be placed in a high academic achieving classroom by August?” 

After Barth replied that he could not, Hill continued,

If we close the school we need to know exactly where those babies are going, who is going to teach them. Always, if we are closing, they need better…If they aren’t getting ‘better’, we haven’t helped the situation.”

Yes, Dr. Hill.  Exactly.  Here’s the thing- the students attending Covenant Keepers, who likely attended LRSD school before Covenant Keepers, have no other real options than to attend the traditional public schools that they are zoned for (Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson) which are similarly.  The difference is that Southwest Little Rock parents are CHOOSING to send their students to Covenant Keepers.  And here at the OEP, we think that allowing parents to have a choice, is good for kids and families, even if the school’s test scores are just the same.

The SBE voted unanimously to not revoke Covenant Keepers charter!  Congratulations to the SBE for carefully considering the information, weighing the options, and making the right choice for students in Southwest Little Rock.






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