University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Some Schools Show BIG Gains

In The View from the OEP on August 18, 2021 at 11:59 am

While anxiously awaiting the mid-October release of Arkansas’ growth scores (which we think are the best measure of how well a school is educating its students academically), here at OEP we are developing tools to help stakeholders interpret the recently released ACT Aspire scores.

Although we have reported that proficiency rates declined at every grade level in every subject in 2021, when we examine school level data, we find some bright spots to celebrate! Some schools made gains in proficiency during the challenging learning context of the last year and a half. For example, in 2021, 3rd graders in Deer K-12 were 27 percentage points (pp) more likely to be proficient in math than the school’s 3rd graders in 2019.

We present the top proficiency gaining schools for each grade and subject below:

MathReadingEnglish Science
3rd gradeDeer K-12
David O. Dodd ES +22ppKingston ES
Ouachita ES
4th gradeMountainburg ES
Yellville-Summit ES +26ppCollege Station ES +25ppWeiner ES
5th gradeOuachita ES
Garfield ES
Viola ES & Cedarville ES
Parkers Chapel ES
6th gradeGosnell ES
Carnall ES
Bradley ES
Carnall ES
7th gradeHoratio HS & Augusta HS +21ppOden Schools
Oden Schools
Oden Schools
8th gradeKingston HS
Kingston HS
St Paul HS
Palestine- Wheatley SHS +29pp
9th gradeConcord HS
Oark HS
KIPP Blytheville HS +29ppConcord HS
10th gradeBradley HS
Bradley HS
Augusta HS
Rural Special HS

Want to see how your school’s proficiency rates changed?

Last week we released a school-level data visualization that allows educators and parents to examine how performance has changed in a school or district since 2019.

Our newest data visualization allows educators and parents to examine how a specific grade-level’s performance has changed in a school or district since 2019. You can compare, for example, 4th grade math performance in 2019 with 4th grade math performance in 2021. It is important to understand that in this visualization we are comparing two different sets of students from two different years, and there may be important differences between those student groups that are related to achievement. Comparing within a grade level, however, is important because we know that historically there are differences in proficiency rates by grade and subject.

It is important to remember that two different sets of students from two different years are being compared in this visualization, and there may be important differences between those student groups that are related to achievement. Comparing within a grade level, however, is important because we know that historically there are differences in proficiency rates by grade and subject.

We hope that these resources are helpful as educators and parents are planning for the school year. In most classrooms, students are entering with lower skills in math, reading, English, and science than those who came before them. It is critical to reflect on our practices and measure our success.

Be sure to check back next week as we share information about how proficiency rates have changed since 2016 by district and school for grade-level cohorts!

Time to Hit the Ground Running

In The View from the OEP on August 11, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Last week. we discussed the large declines in test scores across the state. This week, we dig into the numbers more and try to put them into context.

First of all, we don’t have a good explanation for why the scores dropped so consistently throughout the state, and for every student population. While the challenges associated with the pandemic seem likely to be involved, it isn’t clear to us what the specific cause was. Regardless, we need to get focused on teaching like never before starting on DAY ONE of the school year.

The critical need for a renewed focus on teaching reading, math, English, and science is obvious in the table below that estimates how many months of content knowledge the average Arkansas student fell behind since 2019.

Grade Fall 2021MathReadingEnglishScience
Incoming 6th graders-8.1 months-5.0 months-3.0 months-7.7 months
Incoming 7th graders-9.5 months-3.4 months-5.6 months-7.3 months
Incoming 8th graders-4.1 months-5.7 months-1.5 months-5.7 months
Incoming 9th graders-4.4 months-4.0 months-9.9 months-4.2 months
Incoming 10th graders-14.6 months-6.7 months-23.9 months-4.4 months
Incoming 11th graders-21.2 months-9.0 months-12.0 months-7.3 months
Months Behind in Learning, on Average, for Incoming Students

For example, incoming 6th graders completed the ACT Aspire in spring of 2019, when they were in 3rd grade, and most recently in spring of 2021 when the vast majority of those 3rd grade students were finishing 5th grade. These students, who will be entering 6th grade this fall, are, on average, almost a full year behind in math (8.1 months), 5 months behind in reading, 3 months behind in English, and nearly 8 months behind in Science. We can’t estimate the learning deficits for incoming Kindergartenrs-5th graders, since the only completed the ACT Aspire last spring or not at all, but we do know that rising 4th and 5th graders they scored lower on across all content areas than previous cohorts.

We addressed more details about the test score declines during our interview on Ozarks at Large. We also created an interactive data visualization so educators and stakeholders can see for themselves how students in different schools and districts performed on the 2019 and 2021 ACT Aspire assessments compared to the percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch.

If you would like us to help you interpret your data- just send us an email:

Leave us a comment about how you are going to ensure that your students are catching up during the school year. We know there is a lot going on in schools right now, but it is more important than ever that we focus on student learning.

Note: For these calculations we examined the average scaled score for students in grades 3-8 that completed the ACT Aspire in the Spring of 2019, and for students in 5th-10th grade that completed the ACT Aspire in Spring 2021. We compared the typical 2-year growth for students, based on national norms, to the actual growth of these students. We then transformed the difference into a ‘school month’ base, assuming 9 months of learning per school year.

School Starting With Our Students Way Behind

In The View from the OEP on August 4, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Here at OEP, we’ve been digging into the recently released state assessment scores and, unfortunately, a greater percentage of Arkansas students are beginning the school year performing well below grade level expectations. We are not unique. Other states throughout the country are reporting similar declines on the state assessments completed by their students last spring. Unlike in other states, however, Arkansas students at risk for academic challenges don’t seem to have fallen farther behind relative to their peers, which could be due to the high percentage of our students that were able to attend school in person last year.

We are going to hit the highlights here, but if you want to dig into the data for your school or district, you can get the data here:

Statewide results from 2019 and 2021 are presented below. The 2021 results show that students are less likely to have met readiness benchmarks in all subjects than they were in 2019, the last time state assessments were administered. The greatest decline was in Math (-12 percentage points), but also evident in English (-5 percentage points), Reading (-5 percentage points), and Science (-6 percentage points).

Declines were consistent across grades, although were somewhat more pronounced in 3rd grade. Math proficiency by grade is presented below, and the pattern is consistent across the other subjects as well.

When we examine different student populations, however, we don’t find consistently larger declines for specific student populations as have been reported by other states. Students with Disabilities and Gifted/ Talented students generally demonstrated the smallest declines, which makes sense given that the assessment is less able to measure changes for students that tend to perform well above or below typical grade level performance.

In the graph below, we present math proficiency rates for various student groups, in order of 2019 achievement. The darker bar represents the 2021 achievement, while the lighter area indicates 2019 achievement, While all groups demonstrated lower proficiency in 2021, Military Dependent students and Female students evidenced the greatest decline from the 2019 levels at -14 and -13 percentage points, respectively. In contrast, Students with Disabilities’ math proficiency dropped by only 5 percentage points.

Proficiency, however, can be a blunt measure of student learning, so we examined changes in the percentage of students at each performance category. Students who are determined ‘proficient’ score in the top two categories: Ready and Exceeding. Students that score in the bottom two categories, In Need of Support and Close, are not meeting the grade-level performance benchmarks. We compared the percentage of students in each performance category to the percentage in the same category in 2019. The results for math are presented below:

The red bars indicate the increase in the percentage of students in the lowest performance category. In 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grades the increase is between 9 and 11 percentage points. In contrast, we also see declines in the percentage of students scoring at the highest level, represented by the blue bars. Across all grades, there was a 5 percentage point decrease in the percentage of students Exceeding grade level expectations in math.

The same information for Reading is presented below. In this case we can see that there are many more elementary students in the lowest performance category than in 2019. For older students, the change in reading proficiency was less dramatic.

When we examined the relationship between these declines and district characteristics, we found essentially no relationship between the magnitude and percent of students participating in Free/ Reduced lunch programs, the district size (as measure by enrollment), or prior achievement. This means that schools serving a higher percentage of students that are economically disadvantaged did not consistently experience greater declines in achievement than school serving more economically advantaged students, larger districts did not experience declines that were consistently different than those evidenced by smaller districts, and districts that had experienced higher performance in the past did not experience greater or smaller declines than districts with lower achievement historically.

Weird huh?

So, we are all in this together.

It’s up to all of us to do everything we can to support Arkansas students as they continue to learn and grow. This may take a while to turn around. Hopefully, we will see many more students meeting grade level expectations next year and the year after.