University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

English Language Learners in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on June 18, 2019 at 3:16 pm

English language learners (ELs) are a growing student population throughout Arkansas.  With the passage of ESSA, the progress of EL students towards proficiency in English has been added to the metrics by which schools and districts are held accountable. With this academic context in mind, we at the Office for Education Policy thought it would be useful to provide a descriptive analysis of the EL population in Arkansas. These analyses, beginning with an overview of the recent enrollment trends in the state, may help policymakers and school leaders better understand this important group of students.

Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show that ELs comprise about 9.5% of K-12 students in the United States. Some states have a larger share of EL students than others. For example, in fall 2016, only about 1% of West Virginia’s student population were ELs while nearly 16% of students in Nevada were ELs.

We really like this map from USDOE that shows the percentage of ELs by school district across the country.

EL Map

Additionally, some states are experiencing faster growth in the proportion of EL students than others. For example, the states with the highest growth of EL student population from 2000 to 2014 include Arkansas.

The change in Arkansas’ EL population by district from 2009-10 to 2014-15 is presented below.  Most districts had few or no ELs, as represented by black or gray shading, but many districts are colored dark purple, indicating an increase in EL enrollment of at least 50% over the years examined.

El Change legend

Change in EL


With such large changes in the EL population by 2014-15, we wanted to bring in more current data to examine the trends here in Arkansas.  Examining data from the Arkansas Department of Education, we describe overall EL enrollment in the state, the proportion of EL students to general population, and the proportion of EL students by academic region for the past 15 years.

Table 1, below, presents the number of students enrolled in English language learning programs over the last 15 academic years. Overall, the total number of EL students enrolled in Arkansas schools has doubled from just under 20,000 students in the 2005 academic year to just under 40,000 in the 2019 academic year. All regions have seen increases in the number of EL students from 2005 to 2019. In total numbers, the Northwest academic region welcomed over 23,000 EL students in AY 2018-19 – the most by far.

Table 1. EL Enrollment in Arkansas, 2004-05 through 2018-19.


Changes in the proportion of EL students in Arkansas from 2004-05 through 2018-19 are illustrated in Figure 1, below. The figure shows the EL percentage of the general student population in Arkansas, by academic region, and in the United States overall. The available data for the national EL rate, represented by the blue dotted line, reflect that the overall share of the EL K-12 population is consistently between nine and ten percent of the general school population.

Figure 1. Percentage of General Population Identified as EL, 2004-05 through 2018-19.


Several key points should be noted from Figure 1.

  1. Although Arkansas enrolls a smaller percentage of EL students than the national average, the share of Arkansas public school students identified as EL is increasing, from 4% in 2004-05 to 8% in 2018-19.
  2. While Northwest Arkansas consistently enrolls the highest percentage of EL students in the general student population, both the Southwest region and the Central region have seen large relative increases in the percentage of EL students enrolled.
  3. A recent decline in the percentage of EL students is also evident in Figure 1. Starting with academic year 2016-17, there is a downturn in the percentage of EL students in Arkansas overall, and a sharp decline in the Northwest region in particular. This decline coincides with a change in the assessments used to reclassify EL students as proficient in English. Beginning in academic year 2016-17, Arkansas replaced the ELDA with ELPA21, and although not evident in all regions, the decline in identified students overall is likely due to a greater percentage of EL students being identified as English Proficient through the new assessment.

In addition to looking at the proportion of ELs enrolled in the general population, we examined which region has the highest proportion of EL students overall and how that has changed over time. Figure 2 illustrates the shift in the overall share of EL students between the academic regions over the last 15 years. While all regions demonstrate growth, Figure 2 illustrates that while Northwest Arkansas consistently has the highest number of EL students enrolled, the region’s proportion of the EL population in the state is decreasing, due, in part, to an increase in the numbers in the Central region.

Figure 2. Share of EL Enrollment by Academic Region, 2004-05 through 2018-19.

ELALLRegionIn 2004-05, over three-fourths of the state’s EL students were enrolled in Northwest Arkansas schools. This has dropped to 61%. In contrast, both the Central and Northeast regions have experienced growth in the share of the overall proportion of EL students. The Central region’s share, for example, has increased from 11% to 2005 to over 21% in 2018-19.

We finally illustrate this major shift in student composition in the state by looking at the extremes – districts with no EL student enrollment and districts with at least 10% of their student population identified as ELs. We illustrate this in Figure 3. While the number of EL students in Arkansas has increased, so has the number of individual districts that enroll these students. Look at the Northeast region, for example. In 2004/05, 56 of the 75 districts in the Northeast region did not enroll a single EL student. None of the remaining districts in the Northeast region had EL enrollments that comprised 10% of the overall student population. By 2019, however, only 17 districts in the Northeast have no EL enrollment and two districts had EL enrollments that comprised over 10% of their student population. In 2019, every academic region of Arkansas has at least two school districts where at least 10% of their student population are English learners.

Figure 3. Share of EL Enrollment by Academic Region, 2004-05 through 2018-19.



The English Learner student population in Arkansas has more than doubled over the last decade and a half. While the majority of EL students attend schools in Northwest Arkansas, the Central and Southwest regions have higher rates of growth. Additionally, schools in the Northeast academic region account for whittling some of the Northwest region’s share of EL students. The share of EL students in the Northeast has grown by over 2.5 percentage points from 2018 to 2019.

While the number of EL students has grown, so has the number of districts in which they are enrolled.  In 2004-05, 155 districts throughout the state enrolled no EL students, but in 2018-19 there were only 44 such districts.  In addition, over 30 districts have at least 10% of their students identified as EL, compared to fewer than half that 15 years ago.

The differential growth patterns in the EL population in Arkansas may be problematic for districts that have had few or no EL students enrolled. Districts that have long welcomed EL students may have greater institutional knowledge to identify and support their EL students as they learn and become proficient in English. Districts that have experienced high EL growth, or have recently received their first EL students, may struggle with how best to meet the learning needs of these students. This can be an opportunity for the veteran EL districts to be pedagogical leaders, sharing their expertise with other districts.

It is important to ensure that EL students who attend schools in all regions of Arkansas are afforded the opportunities to succeed in learning English as well as core academic content. In addition to looking descriptively at the educational contexts EL students find themselves in, we will examine how EL students are doing academically in future installments of this OEP blog – watch this space!



Is your elementary school getting Outstanding Educational Performance?

In The View from the OEP on October 16, 2019 at 11:32 am

This week, OEP is pleased to recognize elementary schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth.

Last week, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education released school letter grades for public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between letter grades, school poverty, and academic growth.

We think school letter grades can be helpful in communicating with stakeholders about school performance, but are concerned that Arkansas’ letter grades send the wrong message because they are driven primarily by student achievement, which is generally reflective of the demographics of the students in the school.  As shown in Figure 1, the overall score on which the letter grades are based, are strongly correlated (R=-0.71) with the percentage of students in the school who are participating the the Free/Reduced Lunch program (an indicator of low-income). Figure 2 overlays the elementary letter grade categories on top of Figure 1 to further illustrate  the relationship between letter grades and school poverty rates.

Figure 1: 2019 ESSA Score Index and % FRL, Elementary Schools


Figure 2: 2019 ESSA Score Index and % FRL, Elementary Schools with Letter Grade Overlay


Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success.  As shown in Figure 3, academic growth, is not very correlated with school demographics (R=-0.37), and improvement in growth scores is positively correlated with improved academic achievement at the school level (R=+0.66), so a good indicator of  improvement overall.

Figure 3: 2019 Growth Score and % FRL, Elementary SchoolsGrowth FRL

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because, on average including the ELP progress, slightly depresses the growth score for schools. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle and high) and by region of the state.

Today’s awards for High Growth Elementary schools are based on the growth of elementary students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Growth: Elementary Level

The top elementary school for overall student growth is City Heights Elementary from Van Buren School District, with a growth score of 90.21. Stagecoach Elementary from Cabot School District had the highest Math growth with a score of 91.59, while City Heights Elementary also obtained the highest growth score in ELA at 89.97.

The 20 elementary schools with the highest overall content growth are:

1.   City Heights Elementary, Van Buren SD (52% FRL)**
2.   Ward Central Elementary, Cabot SD (58% FRL)
3.   Pottsville Elementary, Pottsville SD (48% FRL)
4.   Carolyn Lewis Elementary, Conway SD (53% FRL)
5.   Salem Elementary, Salem SD (67% FRL)**
6.   Stagecoach Elementary, Cabot SD (39% FRL)
6.   Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (68% FRL)
8.   Center Valley Elementary, Russelville SD (51% FRL)*
9.   Oscar Hamilton Elementary, Foreman SD (71% FRL)**
10. Greenbrier Wooster Elementary, Greenbrier SD (42% FRL)**
11. Westside Elementary, Cabot SD (62% FRL)
12. Cross County Elementary Tech Academy, Cross County SD (73% FRL)*
12. Greenbrier Springhill Elementary, Greenbrier SD (43% FRL)**
12. Bernice Young Elementary, Springdale SD (27% FRL)*
15. Walker Elementary, Springdale SD (54% FRL)
16. Lamar Elementary, Lamar SD (72% FRL)
17. Chenal Elementary, Pulaski County Special SD (23% FRL)
18. Hunt Elementary, Springdale SD (46% FRL)**
19. Des Arc Elementary, Des Arc SD (75% FRL)*
20. Frank Tillery Elementary, Rogers SD (70% FRL)
20. Jefferson Elementary, Little Rock SD (28% FRL)

Here at OEP we like that half of the elementary schools on our top 20 list demonstrate that high growth can be achieved year after year.  Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for growth in prior years. The six schools with two asterisks were included in the top 20 list for the last two years, while the four schools with a single asterisk were on the list one of the last two years.  We also like how half of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

Similarly to last year’s list, a variety of schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 27% to a high of 75%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in  growth in all types of schools!

You can find the elementary schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  you can also download the datafile.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

Next week we will share “High Growth” Middle level schools, followed by High Schools, and then we will release the list of high growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

Computer Science + AR = Success!

In The View from the OEP on August 28, 2019 at 11:18 am

Students in Arkansas are getting a lot more opportunities to enroll in a Computer Science course in high school, and an increasing number of students are taking advantage of those opportunities!  In today’s blog, we review how this change came about, what types of students are benefiting, and suggest some next steps to keep the momentum going.

The computer science initiative in Arkansas began in earnest in February 2015, when Governor Hutchinson signed Act 187, which required all public high schools to offer computer science education beginning in 2015-16.  Since then, student enrollment in CS classes has taken off, climbing to over 6,300 students in 2017-18 (the most recent year for which data are currently available).

Figure 1. Computer Science Enrollment in Arkansas, 2007-08 through 2017-18


Students weren’t required to take the CS courses, so what led to this rapid increase in enrollment?   Some schools had already been offering computer science courses prior to the law, but fewer than 900 high school students were enrolled in such courses in 2014-15.  This enrollment was reflective of a recent increase as fewer than 250 were enrolled annually prior to 2013-14. We expect there was some unmet demand prior to 2015-16, but the results are impressive!

We suggest the increased enrollment is the outcome of clear direction and ensuring resources for success. The state has taken two key steps in the process:

1) Incentivize teachers to get certified to teach CS courses.  With each high school required to offer CS, Arkansas needed a lot more CS teachers!  The state provided money for teacher certification (Praxis reimbursement and teacher stipends of up to $2000). According the Anthony Owen, Chief State STEM Officer and state director of Computer Science Education, currently over 200 teachers are fully certified and nearly 600 others are in the process.

2) Incentivize students to enroll in CS courses. Just because a class is offered doesn’t mean students will want to enroll. There are many other courses competing for their time.  The state allowed a CS course credit to work as a substitute for the 4th math or 3rd science course required for graduation, allowing students to take something else off their plate so they could enroll in CS. In addition, the state offered financial incentives for students to take an advanced CS course.  The AP Advanced Computer Science A initiative awards students between $250 and $1000 for passing the AP Computer Science A exam. The exam (like all AP exams) is free for Arkansas students to take, and they are guaranteed to get credit at all state Universities for a passing score.

It sounds simple, but such clear direction and aligned resource allocation is rare. So teachers are teaching CS, and students are taking CS, but we wondered, has the initiative changed the type of students engaging with the content?

In 2007-08, students who were enrolled in computer science courses in Arkansas were generally white (76%), not economically disadvantaged (76% non-Free/Reduced Lunch), and male (70%).  Figure 2 displays enrollment by race statewide (top) and in computer science courses (bottom).  We need to consider demographics of the state as a whole to provide context to any changes we might see in CS enrollment.

Racial Enrollment Changes

As presented in Figure 2, there are differences between the statewide racial demographic percentages and the racial demographic percentages of students enrolled in CS courses.  In addition, the CS demographics had shifted somewhat over time.

Figure 2. Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses by Race, 2007-08 through 2017-18


Statewide Enrollment by Race


Computer Science Enrollment by RaceCS_race

  • White students consistently make up the greatest share of CS students, and generally make up a greater share of CS enrollment than of the overall school population statewide. White students accounted for 68% of CS enrollment in 2017-18 compared to 63% of school enrollment overall.
  • Black students make up about 16% of the CS enrollment, which is slightly less than the 21% share of overall student enrollment. While enrollment share in CS declined in 2009-2013, recent years reflect an increased percentage of CS enrollment.
  • Hispanic students account for about 10% of CS enrollment, which is close to the 12% share of overall enrollment. The Hispanic enrollment share in CS courses has declined somewhat since the CS initiative began, likely due to increased enrollment in more rural school communities.
  • Asian students’ share of CS enrollment has fluctuated over time, ranging from 12% to 4% of students.  This is slightly greater than the group’s 2% representation in the statewide school enrollment.  Similar to Hispanic enrollment, Asian enrollment share in CS courses has declined somewhat since the CS initiative began, likely due to increased enrollment in more rural school communities.

Economically Disadvantaged Enrollment Changes

We do see an increase in the enrollment of economically disadvantaged students since the initiative began in 2015-16.  As presented in Figure 3, 49% of the students enrolled in CS in 2017-18 were participating in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program (a proxy indicator of poverty), which is an increase of 19 percentage points over 2007-08 participation rate. In addition, this has halved the gap between statewide FRL rates and CS enrollment rates from 17 percentage points in 2007-08 to 8 percentage points in 2017-18.

Figure 3. Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses by Participation in Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, 2007-08 through 2017-18


Gender Enrollment Changes

When we examined CS enrollment by gender, we find that females consistently make up about 27%-30% of CS students, although about half the students in the state are females.   As presented in Figure 4, the ratio of females in the CS courses in the state has remained relatively unchanged since 2007-08.

Figure 4. Female Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses, 2007-08 through 2017-18

When we examined CS enrollment by gender, we find that females consistently make up about 27%-30% of CS students, although about half the students in the state are females.   As presented in Figure 4, the ratio of females in the CS courses in the state has remained relatively unchanged since 2007-08.  The under-representation of females in CS is not unique to Arkansas, and work is being done across the nation to increase female participation in STEM.  Arkansas educators are working too, for example, incorporating CS into Family and Consumer Science courses by having students code in embroidery machines!

Figure 4. Female Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses, 2007-08 through 2017-18


When we examine female participation in AP Computer Science A exams, we find that Arkansas had a higher ratio of females taking the exams than the nation as a whole!  As presented in Figure 5, the percentage of AP CSA exams taken by females has been steadily increasing, and in 2017-18, 27% of Arkansas participants were female (compared to 24% of exam takers in the US overall).

Figure 5. Advanced Placement Computer Science A Exams, Percentage Female, 2007-08 through 2017-18


So, the data shows some positive student outcomes from the Computer Science initiative- increased enrollment overall, increased participation by economically disadvantaged students, and above average AP exam-taking by female students.  What are the next steps to keep the momentum going?

1) Make sure CS stays important to schools: Arkansas wrapped computer science into the states ESSA school accountability plan,  ensuring that CS stays important to schools.  Schools get points for students that have taken CS, and for students taking AP courses (including CSA).

OEP Suggestion: Enhance the benefit by rewarding schools for industry-recognized certifications and passing scores on AP exams.  These indicators of measurable success demonstrate that students aren’t just enrolling in CS, but are actually mastering meaningful content.

2) Make sure CS is actually beneficial to students. While we can see increased enrollment, we don’t yet know what students are actually DOING with the CS knowledge they are getting.  Anthony Owen indicated that the state is working towards an industry certification program, which is key.  These certifications are meaningful outcomes for students that they can take directly into the workforce, and will be an economic driver for the state.

OEP Suggestion: Keep tracking the data and doing research.  The state, and the students, have made significant investments in CS.  We need to learn more about what really helps students.  Are students taking multiple classes?  How many are getting certifications and/or going to college for CS? For example, about 1/5 of students are taking the courses online- we need to determine if the instructional effectiveness is different than face to face instruction.  Keep an eye on gender enrollment- are there schools where more females or underrepresented races are more likely to enroll?  Can we determine what creates that culture?

3) Make sure there are viable pathways for students to continue CS after high school. How are businesses and colleges preparing for these students?  There is lots of knowledge coming their way, so we need to help them capitalize on it!  The state requires that colleges assign credit for a passing score on AP computer science, but how are our post secondary schools going to continue to challenge them?  How can we create partnerships with businesses to ensure we reap the benefit from their CS experience?

OEP Suggestion: Keep up excellent communication and forward planning.  The website for CS in AR has lots of information and does a great job of getting the word out about what is going on.  With continued focus, we will be able to model the success of the CS initiative beyond high school enrollment.