University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

September Education Committee Meetings — Little Rock, AR

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on September 19, 2017 at 4:57 pm

capital-picTwo bi-partisan educational meetings held September 18th and 19th engaged lively discussions on a myriad of topics.  Monday afternoon was an educational caucus meeting that is a “deeper dive” by the educational committee before the larger committee meetings take place.  This week they honored the 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, Courtney Cochran.  Ms. Cochran presented briefly on the importance of legislators getting into the schools to see what is happening on the ground.

Teacher Cadets

The remainder of the caucus meeting was a presentation to the committee from the Office of Educator Effectiveness on the Teacher Cadets program.  The Teacher Cadets program allows high school students to develop a better understanding of the field of education as well as promote growth in teacher preparation programs. Students participating in the program are paired with universities and earn concurrent credit towards education/teacher preparation hours. Teacher Cadets is a national program that has been in effect in Arkansas for 4 years, and is currently operating in 58 Arkansas schools. Some resistance seemed to stem from the lack of data to determine if the program was achieving its desired outcomes, as well as why the program is not being utilized in more (if not all schools) as it is relatively free to implement and open to all public schools. There seems to be a lack of Cadet programs in Southeast Arkansas, and the committee will continue to seek ways to engage districts to take part in this program.

Higher Education Funding

In large session, many of the states’ colleges and universities had representatives present to hear about the new funding calculations presented by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE).  The meeting was “standing room only” as stakeholders awaited more information on how their future funding could be affected.  Act 148 of 2017 required the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to adopt policies developed by the ADHE necessary to implement a productivity based funding model for state-supported institutions of higher learning. The ADHE presented the proposed funding addendum that would incentivize institutional productivity over funding strictly based on needs.  Maria Markham, director of ADHE, began the presentation by highlighting the fact that Arkansas currently ranks 49th in the nation when considering the numbers of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher and 47th when all degree types are considered. These low ranking have been consistent over time, indicating that current and past funding models have had no impact on increasing student degree attainment in Arkansas.

The new funding model would work with additional “new money” that would need legislator approval, but recent comment by the governor suggest that money is available.  The committee utilized the amount of $10 million for their discussion as that would cover the cost if all institutions were found to be “positive growth institutions” and were awarded the financial bonus.  The funding model would utilize criteria to rank a college or university’s performance against itself to ensure that the institution is improving student degree completion and affordability. Institutions could gain additional funds by operating efficiently or be penalized (capped at 2%) for not being efficient.

The program is designed to encompass missions of varying institutions, so they won’t be penalized for being “liberal arts focused” by comparing them to themselves and similar institutions nationally.  There are different models for 2- and 4-year institutions.  year colleges that send students to universities will receive bonuses as well as those universities for graduating those students with existing credits. Universities would be weighted in their score on their ability to serve underserved student populations and graduate students in STEM fields, as well as utilizing money on student services vs operations. All credited programs will be counted in the calculations, but there was some pushback from legislators for programs that are not credit-based, but provide technical skills and education.

If this funding protocol was utilized today, the models show that among 4-year institutions, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville would receive the largest percentage of additional funding, and Henderson State would receive the lowest.  Among 2-year institutions, Arkansas State University-Newport would receive the largest percentage of additional funding with North Arkansas College receiving the lowest.

Representatives were apprehensive about several aspects of the new funding model.  They wanted to make sure there are ways for institutions to monitored, so they do not raise tuition or other expenses to cover cost of the “penalties.”  They also want to make sure that the state isn’t further creating an achievement gap by shifting money from low-performing schools to high-performing schools.  As stated by Senator Chesterfield when she said it reminds her of the old song that says, “Thems that get’s is thems that’s got”.

The chairman will allow the comments period to remain open on the topic until the 25th in order to allow all voices to be represented as many of the members present continued to have   questions, comments, and concerns.

School Nurses

The committee heard an update from the Public Health Services Advisory Committee about health issues of Arkansas Public School students and how school nursing services can be improved.  In the report it was noted that 38.8% of Arkansas children are obese or overweight and that for the first time obesity has surpassed attention disorders as the most frequent “chronic condition” for Arkansas school children.  The report also indicated that there are 950 school nurses reported in schools, and that based on acuity level 884 nurses are needed.

NSL Funding and Expenditures

The committee received an annual report on calculations for the free/reduced lunch program as well as the manner in which National School Lunch (NSL) funds are spent by districts.  NSL funds are provided to schools where more than 70% of the students are eligible for the federal free/reduced price lunch program. While state law lists a number of approved uses for the funding,  districts have some flexibility in the use of these funds, the majority of NSL funds support salaries and benefits for additional personnel such as curriculum specialists, instructional facilitators, counselors, social works and other personnel that support student learning. The committee sought to have measures to restrict the use of funds to areas that would be most effective in closing the achievement gap, but there was not clear direction regarding how to do so. In some cases, districts are not spending all of the funds provided, and four districts and one charter school were identified as having a portion of their NSL funding withheld by the ADE as a consequence for failing to spend at least 85% of funds previously distributed (per Act 1220 of 2011).

Issues of Equity

There was a presentation on the “issues of equity”.  This was a presentation that occurs annually that compares equity amongst youth across the state.  It measures opportunity, revenue, and expenditures as all elements of equity.

Interim Study Proposals

The committee also did hear from Rep. Meeks and approved the continuation of his sponsored ISP (interim study proposal).  The first proposal will allow studies to take place on the effects on technology being introduced to school children to find the optimal grade level to do so.  The second study proposes to study the effects of creating performance tasks for all grade levels for completion rather than simply attendance and hours.  Commissioner Key suggested that this is a process taking place of having personalized learning for individualized students, but that it is not currently occurring in every classroom statewide.


XQ: The Super School Project

In The View from the OEP on September 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm


Last Friday, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox simultaneously broadcast a live show about reinventing American high schools.  Although over 8 million people tuned in, you may have missed it, because you were watching Netflix or a cable channel. Ironically, that was what the show was about: disruptive innovation. To us, it felt more like an MTV awards show, with stars we only vaguely recognize, kids dancing, and hip sets, but there are real ideas and smart education minds behind the glitz.

When you strip away the Hollywood, the message was familiar…

  • American high schools are not meeting students’ needs. Our country has fallen behind in high school completion and performance on international exams. Students are not prepared for college, although two-thirds of jobs now require some college education.
  • American high schools are not increasing social equity. Longstanding inequities in the quality of education provided to different groups of young Americans continue to produce wide achievement gaps separating students of color from their white counterparts, and low-income students from their more affluent counterparts.
  • American high schools cannot change unless many more people participate. Reconnecting communities to their schools and students to their communities is key in improving education for our kids.

XQ: The Super School Project began as a challenge to reimagine and design the next American high school.  Teams from across the country submitted ideas and a year ago, 18 schools were selected to implement their plan. Each school received $10 million to help turn the ideas into reality, and new schools are up and running.


That’s some serious cash, and it comes from the Emerson Collective, the group that Laurene Powell Jobs (wife of Steve Jobs) uses to finance philanthropic projects. The funded schools have wide-ranging visions, including: experiential learning, individualized academics, biliterate teaching, entrepreneurism, entwining the school with other community organizations, serving students facing challenges of homeless and foster-care placement, environmental and social justice, civic contributions, and making the school like a modern, creative workplace.

Although there are a lot of ‘buzz words’ in the school descriptions, it is important to recognize that the projects were essentially crowd-sourced, and reflect the needs of the local community and education team that submitted them.  None of us have all the answers, or the time to individually reinvent the wheel, so check out the schools that were funded (or these other examples of innovative schools) and consider if any of the ideas would benefit your community.

While no Arkansas school received the $10 million in support, there ARE schools in Arkansas implementing a variety of innovative ideas, and the Office of Innovation for Education is supporting the work in 52 schools throughout the state. We love to see the innovation in these schools, and how the ADE is supporting their efforts.

We also like a bunch of the resources available on the XQ site that are worth checking out (although, like the show, they were pretty heavily packaged). We think you could use these with your staff, school board, or community members to think about changes that you aall want to make.

Are these schools really going to be Super? Will the innovations make positive change for students?  How will impacts be measured?  Are the innovations sustainable without the millions?  These are all good questions that we don’t have the answers to right now. All we do know is that we can do better by our students.

One of our favorite parts of the XQSuperSchool Live broadcast was entertainers sharing what they wished they had learned in high school.

“I wish I had learned that it’s okay to make mistakes”

“I wish I had learned how important it would be to work with other people.”

“I wish I head learned about what it is like to actually live in the real world.”

“I wish I would have learned Mandarin.”

“I wish I had learned to be more tech savvy.”

These are things that students may be wishing right now. The XQ website has lots of student voices, and it is fascinating to listen to them. They want to learn, but see that the current system isn’t giving them what they need. students_voices


What do you wish you had learned in high school? Take a moment to think then comment below about what you wished you had learned. Then, take the next step and ask a student in your local high school what they really want to learn in high school, and ask how you can help them achieve that goal.



ACT scores are down, but it’s okay.

In The View from the OEP on September 7, 2017 at 6:24 am

This morning, ACT scores for the graduating class of 2017 were released.  Like we suggested in our blog yesterday, the scores were lower than the scores for every graduating class for over twenty years. While this may sound alarming, here at the OEP we are recommending that folks put the data in context and celebrate the good decisions Arkansas has made regarding ACT.

5yrs_17The statewide average composite score decreased from 20.2 for 2016 graduates to 19.4 for 2017 graduates.  As we mentioned yesterday, the decline is likely due to the fact that Arkansas tested 100% of graduates for the first time.  Declines were evident in every subject area:

  • English dropped from 19.8 to 18.9
  • Math dropped from 19.6 to 19.0
  • Reading dropped from 20.7 to 19.7 and
  • Science dropped from 20.2 to 19.5


Although there was an increase in the percentage of graduates tested, at least 90% or more of the graduating class has taken the ACT since 2013. Like we discussed in yesterday’s blog, some of the students who completed the ACT may be different than those who participated in prior years. These students likely struggle academically and/or don’t consider themselves college-bound.  To make the scores more comparable across the years, we suggest looking at the scores by academic preparation. Students who have taken ‘Core or More’ are those enrolling in more rigorous core content in high school (4+ English courses, 3+ math courses, 3+ social studies courses, and 3+ natural science courses).


Even when only comparing students who have taken similar academic preparation (Core or More), scores declined slightly across the state. The statewide average composite score for ‘Core or More’ graduates decreased from 20.9 for 2016 graduates to 20.4 for 2017 graduates.  Declines were again evident in every subject area:

  • English dropped from 20.7 to 20.2
  • Math dropped from 20.2 to 19.9
  • Reading dropped from 21.4 to 20.8 and
  • Science dropped from 20.8 to 20.4


One of the great things about ACT is that is taken by students throughout the US. In some states, however, only a small percentage of students take the ACT.  It isn’t appropriate to compare ACT scores for Arkansas with states that don’t test all their students. There are, however, 20 states that have tested 100% of students within the past two years, so we can compare the performance of Arkansas graduates to the graduates in those states. The states and the percentage of graduates tested since 2007 are presented in the table below. Years where 90% of graduates were tested are highlighted in green.

Note that Colorado, Illinois, and Mississippi have been testing all (or close to all) of their students for 10 years.  Michigan, who has also been testing 100% of graduates for nearly a decade switched to statewide SAT in the most recent year, which explains why only 29% of 2107 Michigan graduates completed the ACT.  We kept Michigan in the table, however, because they provide a great example of how changes in the percentage of students assessed can result in big changes to average ACT scores.


States Testing at Least 90% of High School Graduates, 2007-2017

Although the percentage of students tested impacts ACT scores, so does the demographics of the students.  State that serve a more economically disadvantaged population tend to have lower ACT scores than states that serve populations with less economic instability. We grabbed the percent of population that lives in poverty from, added it to the table of states that test all (or nearly all) of their graduates on ACT, and sorted it from least percentage of population in poverty to the greatest.  To this we added the average composite ACT score for the prior 10 years to illustrate the performance trends.


Poverty Rate (2014) and Average ACT Scores for States Testing at Least 90% of High School Graduates, 2007 to 2017

Of the states that tested at least 90% of high school graduates on the ACT, Wyoming had the smallest percentage of its population living below the poverty level at 11.2%.  Mississippi had the highest poverty rate at 21.5%.  In 2017, Wyoming had one of the highest ACT composite scores at 20.2, while Mississippi had one of the lowest at 18.6.  Arkansas has a greater poverty rate than most states at 18.9%, and an average composite score of 19.4.

Remember that Colorado, Illinois, and Mississippi have been testing all (or close to all) their students for 10 years. Although Colorado and Illinois have a smaller percentage of people living below the poverty line than Arkansas does, they can serve to illustrate what happens to ACT scores over time when 100% of students are tested each year. In Colorado, the scores have fluctuated slightly from 20.4 to 20.8, but have not consistently moved upward.  Illinois scores have also fluctuated slightly, from 20.5 to 20.9 until 2017, when scores rose but perhaps this was due to a reduction in the percentage of graduates completing the ACT (from 100% to  93%). Mississippi has a higher poverty rate than any other state that widely tests high school students on the ACT, and although lower than Colorado and Illinois, scores have also fluctuated slightly, from 18.4 to 19.0.

Kentucky and Alabama are the two states that are most similar to Arkansas in both ACT testing rates and poverty rates. Alabama tested 100% of graduates for the first time in 2015, and the statewide composite dropped from 20.6 to 19.1. The score stayed 19.1 for 2016, but crept up to 19.2 for the class of 2017.  Kentucky tested 100% of graduates for the first time in 2009, and the statewide composite dropped from 20.9 to 19.4. Over the eight years since the initial drop, however, Kentucky has made consistent gains in ACT scores, and has maintaining a high of 20.0 since 2015.  Although Kentucky has a greater percentage of people living below the poverty line than Arkansas, the average ACT score for the state is now higher than Arkansas’.

Remeber Michigan?  They had tested 100% of students from 2008 to 2016, and had shown consistent improvement in average score over time.  Like with other states, there was some variation from 19.6 to 20.3, but in 2017 the score jumped to 24.1!  The reason- only 29% of students completed the ACT this year.

So What:

What these statewide scores over time illustrate several key points for Arkansas education stakeholders to consider.

  1. States experience a dip in scores when they begin to test all students.
  2. States that test a high percentage of graduates on ACT do not demonstrate large changes in average scores.  Most states hold relatively steady over time, with fluctuations of less than half a point.
  3. Poverty does not limit performance: Kentucky students are outperforming similar states.

Now What?

Arkansas need to keep testing 100% of graduates for the long haul.  We can’t just stop because we don’t like the scores.  Arkansas’ ACT scores will not increase, however,  unless educators and students do something differently!  This is a classic example of weighing the pig not making it fatter.


ACT is a meaningful test for students and parents, and student success on the ACT may soon become a part of how school quality is measured. While improvement may be difficult to see at the state level, changes can be implemented at the local level.  There are lots of resources available to support student success. Schools should be mindful to set realistic and meaningful goals for ACT improvement.

We LOVE that Arkansas is giving every student the opportunity to get a picture of his/her readiness for college and careers, and doing it early enough that students can use the information when making decisions. Although statewide scores decreased slightly, we think it is important to focus on the positive outcomes of the program rather than any decrease in scores. More students are getting more information about their achievement, and districts and schools have better information about the performance of their graduates.  This is a good thing, regardless of the statewide average scores.

What are your thoughts?