University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Parents/Guardians Share Opinions

In The View from the OEP on January 13, 2021 at 12:45 pm

In November, OEP partnered with DESE’s Office for Family Engagement to administer a survey to parents and guardians of K-12 public school students across the state. Our goal was to learn from the families of Arkansas students about what is working currently as well as future considerations. The report goes to the State Board this week, and we wanted to share the results with you too! Our key takeaways are that most students were attending schools in person (69%), most parents feel like their student is learning about the same or more than normal (62%), and most parents rated their child’s school as doing an “excellent” or “good” job on on the quality of teaching and instruction (72%), and on handling health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (71%).

Parents were informed about the survey through social media channels, and superintendents and principals were asked to share the link with the parents and guardians of students in their schools and 17,836 parents/guardians representing 30,381 individual students responded to the survey. We estimate this to be about 6% of the parents/guardians of K-12 students in the state. This is a sample of convenience and the results may not be generalizable to all parents in the state. Parents/guardians of white students were overrepresented in the sample by 15 percentage points compared to statewide student demographics, and the 42% of parents/guardians that reported their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) were underrepresented by 24 percentage points compared to statewide student demographics.

In the first part of the survey, parents/guardians responded about what schools should be focused on and their worries regarding COVID-19.

Survey respondents were asked to select which statement they agreed with more:

  • Schools should be focused on rethinking how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
  • Schools should be focused on trying to get back to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis as soon as it is safe to do so

We found it interesting that the parents/guardians were nearly evenly split in their opinions. 51% of parents statewide selected “rethinking how we educate students… as a result of the COVID-19 crisis” and 47% of parents selected “get back to the way things were before COVID-19.” Two percent of survey respondents did not answer the question. These results are more evenly split than the national sample, in which 66% of parents supported re-thinking education. When we compare the results of parents that indicated that their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) with those who indicated that their student was not eligible to participate in the program, we see differences along these socio-economic lines. Parents of FRL-Eligible students are 10 percentage points more likely to believe that schools should be focused on rethinking how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Figure 1. Percentage of responses to the question regarding what schools should be focused on, by reported FRL-Eligibility

Overall, parents were most concerned about their child or children staying on track in school, that their child might miss important social interactions, or that someone in their family would get the virus. These were also the top 3 concerns in the national sample. Respondents who indicated that their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) reported higher levels of worry than the full sample in all areas except missing social interactions. Figure 1 displays the comparison between the full sample and FRL-eligible parents/guardians who responded that they “worry a lot” or “worry some” to each area.

Figure 2. Percentage of full sample and FRL-eligible parent/guardian responses of “worry a lot” and “worry some” to the question “With regard to the current coronavirus situation, how much do you worry about each of the following as a parent or guardian?”.

In the second part of the survey, parents/guardians responded individually about each child in public school regarding current instructional setting, how much the student was learning compared to the prior year, and perceptions of the student’s school.

Current instructional setting:

The vast majority of parents indicated their student was attending school in person only on their school campus (69%), which is much higher than the national sample, in which only 19% of parents reported that their student was attending school in person. Twenty percent of Arkansas students were reported to be attending online or remotely only, and 10% were reported to be attending part-time in person and part-time remotely. One percent of students were doing “something different” or didn’t respond. These percentages were similar to what DESE reported at the time of the survey: 64% in person, 22% virtual, and 14% part-time in person and part-time remotely.

Reasons for instructional setting selection:

Among parents that selected in-person learning on the school campus, the most popular reasons were worries that their child would not learn as much any other way (74%) and that their child would miss social interactions (52%).  Among parents that selected remote instruction, the main reasons were to reduce the risk of the child getting Covid-19 (84%), as well as health and medical concerns for students, their families, or the community.

Learning amount:

Parents were also asked to compare how much their student was learning this year compared to normal. The majority of parents (62%) felt that their student was learning more (8%) or about the same (54%) as normal, however, there was variation by instructional setting. Parents of remote only or part-time remote students more likely to report that their student was learning less than normal. Among in-person parents, 25% reported that their student was learning less than normal, compared to 38% of remote only parents and 47% of parents whose students were attending school part-time in person and part-time online.

Opinions on daily schedule:

Overall, parents reported that their student was getting about the right amount of time receiving instruction from their teacher(s) (72%), time to communicate directly with their teacher(s), and to ask questions, or get help with assignments (71%). A smaller percentage of parents reported that their student was getting about the right amount of time to interact and communicate with other students (64%). Again there was variation by instructional setting, with parents part-time remote students less likely than parents of in-person students to report that their student was getting “about the right” amount of time receiving instruction from their teacher(s), time to communicate directly with their teacher(s), and to ask questions, or get help with assignments, and to interact and communicate with other students. Parents of students who were only remote were the least likely to report students were getting “about the right” amount of time in all three areas, particularly relative to interacting with other students.

Opinions of school performance:

Survey respondents were asked to rate how well their child(ren)’s school was doing on a variety of measures. Over 70% of parents rated their child’s school as “excellent” or “good” on the quality of teaching and instruction (72%), and on handling health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (71%). Over 60% of parents rated their child’s school as doing and “excellent” or “good” job on assessing their child’s progress and level of learning (68%), communicating with parents (66%) and providing additional resources and support to help their child continue learning (62%). Schools received lower ratings in two areas: providing additional resources to support learning and to support students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing. Some areas received lower levels of agreement, Only 53% of parents felt that their child’s school was doing an “excellent” or “good” job managing online learning programs, and only 43% reported that their child’s school was doing an “excellent” or “good” job support student’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. In large part these lower ratings, however, were due to an increased percentage of respondents who indicated that they did not know how the school was performing in these areas.

Figure 3. Percentage of parent/guardian responses to the question: “How would you currently rate how your child’s school is doing on each of the following?” Full Sample

A challenge in interpreting the survey results is that we do not have the same information from parents before COVID, so we can’t determine if parents’ feelings about their schools have improved or declined as a result of COVID- related changes. Although we examine the survey results by geographic region in the full report, parents and guardians did not identify their school or district, so it is impossible to determine if these results reflect certain school systems or a more general perspective across multiple districts. In addition, certain populations are over- or underrepresented in the responses and parent perspectives may have shifted with the rising rates of COVID. Given these limitations, however, this is valuable information and the large sample indicates that parents want to share their opinions. Here at OEP, we recommend the state consider implementing an annual parent survey so that the opinions of these important stakeholders can continue to be heard and included in the discussion about the future of Arkansas’ public schools. You can find more details about the sample and the results in the full report.

School-Based Health Centers

In The View from the OEP on December 9, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Do you think School-Based Health Centers improve student attendance or academic achievement? Today OEP releases new research examining some of the intended impacts of SBHCs on public school campuses in Arkansas.  You can read the policy brief or the full paper for more details, but we wanted to share the highlights. We asked if the presence of an SBHC is associated with a change in school-level standardized achievement scores and looked descriptively at attendance trends. Results suggest that overall, Arkansas SBHCs are not associated with changes in school-level achievement scores or attendance rates.

What are School-Based Health Centers?

School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) are multi-faceted healthcare facilities serving school-age children and adolescents, their family members, and the wider community.  Arkansas’s SBHCs started in 2009 with the Arkansas SBHC Grant Program. Open to all Arkansas public schools, the grant awards schools $150,000 to open and begin operating an SBHC.  Grant funding can be renewed annually for up to five years. Currently, SBHCs are funded out of a line item in the Public School Fund. SBHCs often operate in partnership with local healthcare providers. There are several centers across the state that are not grant funded where providers have partnered with districts to implement on-campus services for students.

 Schools with SBHCs

Arkansas SBHCs provide a combination of basic physical, mental, dental or vision services. There are 40 SBHCs located on public school campuses throughout the state, located on twenty-five elementary schools, four middle schools, and eleven high schools. Average enrollment rates for the 40 schools with SBHCs is 486.  On average, 70% of students receive free and reduced lunch, and 38% of the school populations are a minority. Although there are 40 schools with SBHCs, conducting an effective before-after analysis of the relationship between SBHCs and school-level achievement scores requires the sample be reduced to 24 schools.

Do school outcomes like achievement and attendance benefit from SBHCs?

It doesn’t seem like it. Stare departments of Education and Health intend for SBHCs to impact educational outcomes by reducing absenteeism rates among staff and students and contribute to the overall improvement of academic success.  However, school-level achievement trends for the 24 schools in our analytic sample show that average school performance does not improve after an SBHC opens on the school’s campus (Figure 1). In addition, data limitations prohibit us from conducting an empirical analysis of the relationship between SBHCs and absenteeism rates for Arkansas SBHC schools, a preliminary inspection of the available attendance data suggests that the presence of an SBHC is not associated with a change in school level attendance rates (Figure 2). 

Figure 1: Average annual achievement Z-scores, by SHBC opening year cohort

Figure 2: Average annual attendance rates, by SHBC opening year cohort

What are the implications?

As the prevalence of SBHCs continues to expand across the state, it is important to understand whether these health centers are associated with improvements in school standardized achievement scores. These findings suggest SBHCs are not improving Arkansas’s school-level achievement scores, and a preliminary examination of data trends suggests SBHCs are not benefiting Arkansas school-level attendance rates either.

We do not claim that SBHCs do not benefit Arkansas public school students in other ways! In fact, given that SBHCs continue serving students and communities after the five-year renewable grant lapses, and state officials report an increase in student’s health knowledge SBHCs are benefiting students and communities across Arkansas. However, if the state persists in the expectation of SBHCs to contribute to the overall improvement in academic success, clear and measurable steps should be taken to help SBHCs and schools work toward meeting this state-wide goal.  Or perhaps it is enough to eliminate the repeated claims of SBHCs improving or contributing to education outcomes and simply declare SBHCs to be significant and essential to the school community because of other identified and mutually agreed upon reasons.

Early Research on Learning During COVID-19

In The View from the OEP on December 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm

We’ve all been wondering- how did COVID-19 disruptions impact students’ academic learning?

Yesterday, NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth released new research that found some good news! You can read more in the full brief here, but the takeaway is that there were not consistent declines in student achievement over the spring and summer.

Using data from nearly 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP® Growth™ assessments in fall 2020, the researchers examined three primary research questions:

  • Are students performing at lower levels this fall compared to last fall?
    • Reading held steady: In fall of 2020, students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019.
    • Math falls behind: In fall of 2020, students in grades 3-8 performed about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math compared to same-grade students in fall 2019.
  • Did students demonstrate lower academic growth than typical since schools closed in March?
    • Students still demonstrated academic growth during COVID: In almost all grades, most students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
    • Growth in reading scores was consistent with typical learning projections.
    • Gains in math were lower on average than in prior years, resulting in more students falling behind relative to their prior standing.
  • Were the early predictions of a COVID slide accurate?
    • NWEA’s earlier projections of a COVID slide were lower than actual performance for reading, but pretty spot on for math.


Although the news about student achievement and growth is better than we had feared, the researchers caution that many students that would typically take the MAP assessment in the fall are not appearing in the data. Student groups especially vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic were more likely to be missing. Without the information from these students, the understanding of how achievement this fall may differ across student groups is incomplete and the research may be underestimating the impacts of COVID-19. In addition, the research only includes students in grades 3-8, so the relative achievement of students in K-2 and high school is still unknown.

The research highlights a critical need for clear data to understand where students have fallen behind and to guide where additional resources and supports should be deployed to get them back on track. Here in Arkansas, many students complete an assessment in the fall, be it MAP or something else. We should collectively examine data from this fall to determine if the trends observed nationally are reflective for Arkansas’ students.

The reported declines in math achievement are particularly concerning for Arkansas students, as only one in three of our 4th graders scored at grade level on the most recent national assessment in mathematics. We should take this opportunity to think creatively about how students are organized for instruction in mathematics, and providing differentiated support for each student.

Arkansas leaders are continuing to support our schools, proposing in the FY22 budget the largest increase in education in more than a decade. It is our responsibility to ensure that the resources are being used effectively to support Arkansas students.

If you want to be a part of a collective (anonymous) analysis of Arkansas’ data, or if you want support interpreting your data- just reach out to us at oep@uark.edu.