University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Outstanding Educational Performance Awards 2016: High Achieving Elementary Schools

In The View from the OEP on February 22, 2017 at 3:07 pm

best-2016Here at the OEP  we are excited to celebrate the achievement of the highest-performing schools across the state in our 2015-16 Outstanding Educational Performance Awards (also known as the OEP Awards)!  Each year, we celebrate two types of schools: “High-Achieving” and “Beating the Odds”.  High Achieving schools are those whose students demonstrated the highest performance on the ACT Aspire tests, and “Beating the Odds” are the highest performing schools serving low-income communities.

Today’s awards for High Achieving elementary schools are based on the performance of elementary students on the ACT Math, English Language Arts, and Science assessments.

How are OEP awards different?

There are many lists of “Best Schools”, so why is the OEP’s list special?  It’s simple- we use the most recent assessment data and a methodology that is easy to understand, accounts for students at all performance levels, and doesn’t include self-reported (unverified) data. We have addressed our concerns with the Niche rankings before, Schooldigger uses a modification the old-school % proficient measure, and Greatschools uses assessment data from 2014!

Unlike the state performance awards that were given out a few months ago, OEP awards are grouped by school level (Elementary, Middle, Jr. High and High) and by Region (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast).  In addition, we include Science as well as ELA and Math in calculating overall achievement, and report high achieving schools by individual subjects as well.

The OEP calculates a GPA for schools in each subject based on the number of students that performed at each level on the most recent state exams.  Because of changes in the state assessment system, GPAs for 2016 are not directly comparable to prior years. For ACT Aspire performance, students scoring ‘Exceeded Expectations’ are assigned 4 points, those ‘Ready to Learn’ are assigned 3 points, students who are ‘Close to Meeting Expectations’ get 2 , and students ‘In Need of Support’ receive 1 point.  If all students in a school scored at the highest level, Exceeded Expectations, the school would get a 4.0, while if all scored at the lowest level the school would be assigned a GPA of 1.0.

Highest Achievement: Elementary

The top elementary school overall is Vandergriff Elementary from Fayetteville School District, with 83% of students meeting or exceeding readiness benchmarks in all subjects combined.  Vandergriff was also the top performing school in the state in each subject area, with 89% meeting readiness expectations in math, 80% in ELA, and 81% in science.

The top elementary schools for overall achievement are:

1. Vandergriff Elementary (Fayetteville)
2. Forest Park Elementary (Little Rock)
3. Gillett Elementary (Dewitt)*
4. Don Roberts Elementary (Little Rock)
5. (tie) Park Magnet (Hot Springs)
5. (tie) Bellview Elementary (Rogers)
7. Baker Interdistrict Elementary (Pulaski County Special)
8. Bernice Young Elementary (Springdale)
9. Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy (responsive Ed. Soltions)
10. Salem Elementary (Salem)
11. Root Elementary (Fayetteville)
12. John P. Woods Elementary (Fort Smith)
13. Chenal Elementary (Pulaski County Special)
14. (tie) Central Park At Morningstar (Bentonville)
14. (tie) Armorel Elementary (Armorel)
16. Euper Lane Elementary (Fort Smith)
17.Valley View Intermediate (Valley View)
18. Mount Pleasant Elementary (Melbourne)
19. (tie) Hunt Elementary (Springdale)
19. (tie) R.E. Baker Elementary (Bentonville)

We were pleased to see a variety of districts on our list this year and to see schools with more diverse populations having such success. While the majority of these high achieving elementary schools enroll a relatively small percentage of students eligible for the Free/Reduced Lunch program (due to low household income), two of the top five schools serve Free/Reduced Lunch to over half of their students (Gillett is 60% FRL and Park Magnet is 55%).  We are also pleased to note that Hunt Elementary is ranked 19th in the state, and serves a population of students where 29% are identified as Limited English Proficient, compared to 4% LEP in the rest of the top 10 schools.

You can find the top elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.

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

Next week we will share “High Achieving” Middle and Junior High schools, followed by High Schools.  On March 15th we will release the list of high performing school serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”


Local Control and Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on February 15, 2017 at 1:24 pm

appleThis week, we consider actions school districts can take to attract and retain teachers.  Last week we addressed how education is a local issue, and we know that many of the most important decisions impacting student education take place locally.  One of those local decisions is teacher compensation.

In response to our recent blog post about several bills in the legislature to incentivize teachers, and we received feedback from teachers who were frustrated that these incentives are not helpful to them. These veteran teachers are at the top of the salary scale, and given rising healthcare contributions, feel they are earning less each year. Arkansas is developing incentives to bring folks into the profession, but how can we keep them from leaving?

Although Arkansas has a lower percentage of teachers leaving the profession than most other states, many teachers exit each year. In a recent Bureau of Legislative Research survey,  26% of Arkansas teachers who responded indicated they are currently considering leaving the teaching profession.  New teachers leave at a high rate,  36% of new Arkansas teachers left the profession within five years.  Older teachers leave at high rates as well, with about 10% of teachers between 40 and 60 leaving the profession, and exit rates sharply increasing for teachers over 60.

Although teachers leave for a variety of reasons, it is often about the money.  District leaders who responded to the survey identified difficultly in offering competitive salaries was the greatest challenge when it comes to retaining teachers, and 54% of teachers indicated that higher salaries/better benefits would keep them in the profession.

Arkansas teachers are not underpaid compared to the national average and regional states. Arkansas teacher salaries are increasing and about average nationally and regionally when cost of living is figured in. Arkansas’ average classroom teacher salary for 2015-16 was $48,976 but there is variation between districts throughout the state.

Who decides how much to pay teachers?

Your local school boards.

So, why can’t districts offer competitive salaries? They can.

Districts in Arkansas receive the guaranteed funding at the same per-student amount  according to the state funding matrix. In 2015-16 allocated $4,290 per student in teacher salary and benefits. Since the average teacher salary is 2015-16 was $48,976, assuming a benefit rate of 26% would make the average teacher cost $61,709 in salary and benefits to the district. Given the matrix funding per student, if the district allocated the matrix funding as suggested, the average teacher’s salary and benefits would be covered by just over 14 students. Note that this is based just on the foundation funding, not any additional mils that may be collected locally.

But teacher salaries are determined locally, so districts can essentially set the salaries as whatever they want.

The state legislated a minimum teacher salary, but districts set their own compensation schedules.  Interesting data about the differences in classroom teacher salaries come from examining district-level payments as a per student basis. On average, districts are spending near the per-student matrix amount on classroom teacher salaries and benefits. Some spend more, but others spend less.

For example, the Jonesboro school district spent less than average, about $3,962 per student on teacher salaries and benefits (again, assuming the 26% benefit). By contrast, Deer/ Mt. Judea school district spent more, with an estimated $5,357 per student on teacher salaries and benefits.

Although the district is spending more, teachers in Deer/ Mt Judea make about $10,000 less than the teachers in Jonesboro. In Jonesboro the average teacher makes a salary of $48,000, and in Deer/ Mt. Judea the average teacher makes $38,000.

How can there be such a significant difference in salary, given that the schools are funded similarly and that Deer /Mt Judea is spending more per student? It isn’t really due to district enrollment, there are large and small districts on both sides of the teacher salary data.  It has to do with staffing. In Jonesboro, the student–teacher ratio is 1 teacher to 13 students, while in Deer/ Mt. Judea, there is 1 classroom teacher to 7 students.

While we love small class sizes, this seems very low. And it isn’t just these districts: the state average ratio of classroom teachers to students is 1 to 12. State limitations on how many students can be in a teacher’s class vary from 20 (for Kindergarten) to 30 (for 7th grade and up), but every district in the state is well below the average of 1 teacher to 25 students. If the state were staffed in the 1 to 25 ratio, the average classroom teacher salary, using only existing salary funding, could double to over $90,000.


But teacher salaries are determined locally, so districts can choose to set the salaries as whatever they want!

So far we have addressed only the average teacher salary, and teacher salaries are typically based on years of experience and level of education. Arkansas teachers typically receive an increase in salary each year and additional increases for further education credits.

Districts determine how large annual salary increases are and when they ‘top out’. Some districts stop increasing teacher pay after 20 years, while others continue to 30 years or beyond.  Some districts only provide additional compensation up to a Master’s degree, while others provide additional pay through Specialist or Doctorate degrees.

So, districts should be strategic with their resources, and we have some suggestions:

Make sure spending is aligned with district priorities.

  • If high-quality teachers is your goal- make sure your salary schedule reflects that through high pay.
  • If you care more about small class sizes, make sure to communicate that being responsible for fewer students is a benefit of working with you.
  • If you want to keep experienced teachers in the classrooms, be sure your salary schedule continues increased for veteran teachers.
  • If you want to attract the best new teachers, be sure your salary schedule has high beginning salaries.

Ensure your staffing is aligned with student needs.

  • Identify your teacher needs now and hire early.
  • Actively seek out excellent candidates.
  • Have prospective teachers teach as part of the interview process, and ask for student input.
  • If trying to fill a position where there may be limited applicants (like secondary math/science), consider attract the best through a signing bonus, additional planning time, or other benefits.
  • Don’t feel like you need to hire full-time. If you just need a chemistry teacher, find one and offer a position for that amount of time. Many people like the flexibility of a less than full time job, and trying to find the best chemistry teacher who is also a tennis coach might not be the best choice for students.

Resource allocation is under district control and your local school board decides how much to pay teachers and how many students should be in each class. These decisions are under local control, so get involved!

On a side note, salary decisions aren’t limited to teachers. Principals, district staff and Superintendent salaries are also variable throughout the state and decided by local boards.  In Jonesboro, the superintendent was paid $145, 000 in 2014-15, while the superintendent in Deer/Mt Judea received $118, 000. While these salaries may seem reasonable, consider that Jonesboro served 5,382 students and Deer/ Mt. Judea served 338 students. In per student costs, the Jonesboro superintendent was paid about $26  per student per year, while in Deer/Mt Judea the superintendent was paid more than 10 times that amount.  Examining district expenditures using a ‘cost per student’ method can help districts compare their expenditures to other districts.


Heavens to Betsy! What Betsy DeVos Means for Arkansas Students

In The View from the OEP on February 8, 2017 at 11:47 am

Yesterday, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Education. She was a contentious appointment, as reflected by the historic 51 to 50 vote that confirmed her.

In our opinion, DeVos failed to effectively answer questions during her confirmation hearings, and we cringe at her apparent lack of understanding of basic education policy concepts. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter if she thinks measuring proficiency is more important than measuring growth, or if charters and vouchers are the answer.

What DOES matter is what Arkansans think (and say) about these issues.

What does the DeVos confirmation mean for students in Arkansas?


Not much.

Education is mainly a State and local responsibility. The federal government provides only a small share of Arkansas’ education funding (approximately 10%). These funds are used to support the education of students in poverty and those with disabilities. Withholding these funds is the only leverage that the federal government has over State and local decisions about education, and although federal funds were withheld from some school districts that refused desegregation in the 1960s, withholding these funds isn’t a current reality.

In addition, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes extensive limitations to the Education Secretary’s role.

Language in ESSA prohibits the Secretary from:

  • any influence in academic standards,
  • requiring additional assessment reporting requirements, data elements or information to be reported,
  • adding any new rules to statewide accountability requirements,
  • requiring states to add or delete any elements to the state plans,
  • prescribing specific goals or specific assessments or specific indicators,
  • prescribing the weight of any indicators or a specific methodology,
  • prescribing specific school improvement or support strategies, or
  • prescribing any parameter of a teacher or principal evaluation system.

Essentially, ESSA makes it clear that education is a State matter, and states get to make their own decisions.


Who DOES make these decisions for Arkansas students?


Academic Standards and Accountability:  The State Board of Education adopts the academic standards for Arkansas, and the Arkansas Department of Education is currently developing the state’s accountability plan.

Under ESSA there are a few things that states must measure: Proficiency rates, graduation rates, and English Language Learner progress in attaining proficiency in English. Other measures can be selected by states. How DO we feel about measuring student growth? Do we want to include a growth measure in our school accountability plan? What other indicator of school quality is important? We don’t have to ask Betsy- she’s not allowed to tell us (and likely couldn’t) – because WE get to choose what we think are important outcomes for our schools.

ADE has been on a listening tour to find out what folks around the state thought were important outcomes for schools. You can see the feedback here.

In addition, a group of stakeholder representatives meets monthly to discuss the development of the ESSA plan. Last month they learned about issues like determining the minimum number of students required in a particular student group for them to be included in accountability calculations (aka the Minimum N), and examined differences in 4, 5 and 6 year graduation rates. You can see the information presented here.  Both of these topics may sound boring, but they can have BIG IMPACTS when it comes to school accountability.

Unlike Secretary DeVos, you DO have a voice in Arkansas education. Stay informed about our ESSA plan by signing up here and share your thoughts about the future of Arkansas education by emailing

If you care about education, you should also pay attention to what is happening in the state legislature.  Many education issues are decided by the legislature, and there are several education-related bills currently on the agenda in the House and Senate Education Committees.

Voucher Programs:

Arkansas currently has a voucher program for special education students, and there is a bill currently in the House that would create a universal voucher opportunity for Arkansas. Any voucher system in Arkansas would have to be legislated through our state officials, or enacted through changes to the federal tax code.


Charter Schools:

Arkansas law established an initial cap on the number of open-enrollment charter schools allowed in the state at 24. The cap is automatically increased by five spots when the number of charter schools is within two of meeting the existing cap. The cap currently stands at 29, and there are 24 active open-enrollment charters in the state.

A dedicated and professional group of educators serve as the Charter Authorizing Panel. The Panel carefully considers each new application and renewal request before making recommendations to the State Board of Education. These recommendations for charter authorizations, renewals, or closures must be approved or denied by the State Board of Education.

Any expansion of charter schools in Arkansas would be in increments of 5 schools annually and would only be possible if increasing numbers of charter schools applied and were approved by the Charter Authorizing Panel and the State Board of Education.

If Betsy DeVos grabbed your attention, we recommend shifting your focus to Arkansas.  Education is local and your opinions can influence important decisions happening now.