University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’ Best High Schools

In The View from the OEP on April 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Today, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best High Schools” rankings, and we want to clarify what the rankings do (and do not) mean.

First, congratulations to those Arkansas high schools that made the Best High School list!  Below are the Top 10 in Arkansas:

#1: Haas Hall Academy

#2: Bentonville High School

#3: Rogers High School

#4: Greenbrier High School

#5: Lakeside High School

#6: Rogers Heritage High School

#7: Green Forest High School

#8: Arkansas Arts Academy High

#9: Springdale High School

#10: Berryville High School

Here at the OEP, we are big advocates for assessment literacy, which essentially means understanding different types of assessment information, having the skills to determine if the information is dependable,  and knowing how to use it productively to support or certify achievement.

The first thing you need to know about the U.S. News rankings is that they are based on state assessment data from the 2013-14 school year, so the ranking is reflecting student performance from nearly 2 years ago. Anyone remember that year?  This was the one year that we used the PARCC assessment, the first year students and teachers across the state used computer- based assessments, and the first time Arkansas’ 9th and 10th graders were assessed on English Language Arts.

Even though it was a ‘unique’ year, this shouldn’t impact the rankings US News, which  compare the performance of students in each Arkansas high schools to the performance of students in other Arkansas high schools, because all schools were facing the assessment challenges. In addition, it is not a simple ‘direct’ comparison of how the students performed, but includes information about how the students would be EXPECTED to perform given the percentage of students enrolled that are economically disadvantaged.

There are four aspects to the ranking: 1) the performance of students on state assessments in literacy and mathematics; 2) the performance of disadvantaged student subgroups; 3) graduation rate and 4) the degree to which high schools prepare students for college by offering a college-level curriculum.

Schools must pass the first step by performing better than expected based on their student population in order to continue in the ranking process.

STEP 1: Identify High Schools Performing Better than Expected

To determine if schools are performing better than expected, U.S. News created a Performance Index for each high school by examining student performance on state assessments, and compared it to the percentage of students participating in Free/Reduced Lunch Programs (which are an indicator of low socioeconomic status). This model reflects the understanding that students who face economic challenges outside of school are typically less likely to achieve at the same levels at their peers who do not face economic hardships.  We are going to skip the details, but you can read more about it here.

The figure below represents Arkansas high schools’ school-level Performance Index scores plotted against the school percentage of students participating in Free/Reduced Lunch Programs. The figure below present the information used in Step 1 of the Best High School rankings. You can see the relationship between Performance and the percentage of students who are identified as economically disadvantaged. The red line represents the ‘typical performance’ of schools in Arkansas given the percentage of students in the school that are disadvantaged. Yellow markers represent schools where students performed BETTER than expected, and light blue markers represent schools where students performed AS expected. Dark green markers indicate schools where students performed BELOW what is typical for schools with the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students.




The yellow dot on the far left side is easily identified as Haas Hall because they are the only high school in the state that reports 0% of students participating in FRLP. The Performance Index for Haas Hall is more than 140, which is 20 points above the expected performance. As you move to the right side of the graph, the percentage of students participating in FRLP increases. At the far right hand side of the graph are dots representing schools with 100% of students participating in FRLP. The highest yellow dot on the right hand side shows a school whose enrollment is entirely low-income, but whose Performance Index is also 20 points higher than expected!


Only schools whose Performance Index is ABOVE the gray performance zone and represented by yellow dots and passed on to the next step. This is the critical step for Arkansas high schools. A majority of Arkansas’ high schools do not pass this step, and are therefore unranked. This year, 100 (35%) of Arkansas high school were performing above expectations and move on to Step 2 of the ranking.

STEP 2: Identify High Schools Performing Better than State Average for Their Least Advantaged Students

For this step, the performance of African American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students on the state assessments are compared to state averages.  Schools where these disadvantaged students are performing as well or better than state averages are automatically considered bronze-medal high schools and move on to Step 3 of the ranking to determine silver or gold medal.

STEP 3: Ensure Graduates Rates Are Above 68%

This step of the of the U.S. News ranking process is new for 2016 and requires that high schools have graduated at least 68% of students. Arkansas’ graduation rate is 85% overall, so this is an EXTREMELY low bar for Arkansas, and only a couple of high schools fall below this bar.


STEP 4: Identify High Schools That Performed Best in Providing Students with Access to Challenging College-Level Coursework

For this final step, the participation of 12th grade students in AP or IB examinations was used to determine which high schools passed Step 4 to become silver-medal high schools, and also was used to rank high schools across states to distinguish the gold-medal high schools from silver medalists.

So, is the “Best” really the best?

We like the U.S. News rankings because it provides information that can be helpful! We want to know which high schools are performing better than expected, serving their most disadvantaged students and preparing kids for college. We also like being able to compare to other high schools across the country.  It is a somewhat clumsy comparison, however, since each state currently uses a different test to measure performance, and we look forward to the day when cross- state comparisons are facilitated by common assessments. We DON’T like that the data used by U.S. News are nearly two years old and hope that stakeholders will keep that in mind as they search for their school on the “Best” list.

The final stage of the rankings is focused on College- Level coursework. Here at OEP, we would like to see them including more indices of career readiness, because not everyone wants to go to college. Just like ‘the best’ colleges, just because it is ‘the best’ doesn’t mean it is the best for your student.




A few notes:

Towards the low and high ends of the economically disadvantaged distribution, however, it can be difficult to predict where a ‘typical’ school should be. For example, there is only one high school in Arkansas with less than 20% economically disadvantaged (Haas Hall), so the ‘prediction’ of how the students should be performing may not be as accurate as it is for the schools in the range of 40-70% economically disadvantaged where the majority of the high schools are identified.

A high school’s low performance may be the result of the entire school system that the students attended BEFORE the high school. However, many of the significantly under-performing schools are small rural high schools that serve grades 7-12.

2016 Arkansas Education Report Card

In The View from the OEP on April 19, 2017 at 10:35 am

2016 ARRC

Today, OEP is pleased to release our annual Arkansas Education Report Card.  Also this week, the Arkansas Department of Education released the annual School Performance Reports.  Although both reports provide information about student performance on state and national assessments, the reports have different perspectives;  OEP’s Report Card compiles the information to inform a state and regional analysis, while ADE reports district- and school-level information.

OEP’s Report Card includes summary information and analysis of student performance, high school graduation rate, college readiness, student growth, school discipline, National Board Certified teachers,  and education spending in one easy-to-access report.

Highlights from this year’s report card include:

  • ACT Aspire:  Arkansas students in grades 3-10 completed ACT Aspire assessments in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science in Spring 2015, and performed the highest in ELA, with 48% meeting readiness benchmarks. In math, 43% of students statewide met the benchmarks, but in science only 38% of students met the readiness benchmark. Students in 6th grade were most likely to meet the benchmarks in all three subjects.


  • ITBS: In 2015-16, Arkansas’ 1st and 2nd grade reading scores held steady, and math scores rebounded to previous levels after a sharp decline in 2014-15.


  • ACT: For the first time, all 11th graders in the state completed the ACT in Spring 2015, and the results, similar to the results for the graduating class of 2016, show that Arkansas students are more likely to meet college-readiness benchmarks in English and reading than in math and science.


  • High School Graduation Rate: Arkansas’ 2014-15 graduation rate of 85% is above the national average but declined slight;y from the prior year.   continued an upward trend.  The 2015-16 graduation rate released this week, however, bounced back to 87%. In addition, we find that the gap between graduation rates for at-risk students and their more advantaged peers has been reduced by more than half in the past six years.


  • Value-Added Student Growth: The new student growth model examines how students are growing academically. Measuring individual student growth
    over time provides a different perspective than the percentage of students meeting readiness benchmarks. The current two years of growth information are based
    on a variety of assessments but we are optimistic that future years based on consistent assessments may inform educators and policy makers about which schools are providing students high-quality learning experiences.


  • School Discipline: During the 2015-16 school year, school districts reported 59 disciplinary incidents per 100 students. Over 80% of the reported infractions are minor and non-violent. The majority of consequences received by students for misbehavior exclude students from their learning environment, with 57% of the consequences reported as in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension.


  • National Board Certified Teachers: Arkansas is a leader in the percentage of teachers that have received National Board Certification, but we find that they are more likely to work in low-poverty schools.


  • Education funding: Arkansas ranks 11th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. with respect to the percentage of taxable resources that are spent on education.  Education is consistently supported in the state budget, and progressive for regions in need of support.


We hope the 2016 Arkansas Education Report Card can inform parents, teachers and policy makers as they work to ensure all Arkansas students are on track for success.


Superintendent Salaries in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on April 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm


Last month, a bill limiting superintendent salaries to 250% of the lowest teacher salary in the district passed out of the House education committee. HB1917, sponsored by Representative Walker, didn’t go any further before the end of the session, but it got us thinking.

Representative Walker’s stated intention was to use the bill as a level to increase teacher salaries in the state.  As we’ve discussed before, teacher salaries are determined by local school boards, so perhaps the proposed Superintendent salary limitation would  incentivize school boards to increase teacher salaries to be able to pay more for a quality superintendent, or perhaps the Superintendent would pressure an increase in teacher salaries to ensure his/her own.

Comparing Superintendent and Teacher Salaries

Here at the OEP, we decided to take a look at the salary data, and hope these short analyses will help you learn more about superintendent salaries in Arkansas, how HB1917 would work in practice, and some modifications that could make the salary comparisons more equitable.

First, we had to find how much each district paid the “lowest paid classroom teacher”.  Teacher salary varies by experience and education, but we used the public salary scales to determine how much each district paid teachers with a BA and no experience- the lowest point on the salary scale.  Beginning teachers in Arkansas have an average of salary of $33,645.

Next, we had to find how much each superintendent is currently paid.  This information was more difficult to locate.  While each district is required to post the salaries of all employees on their website, it often takes some digging to find.  Like teachers, superintendents vary in their experience and education which impacts their salary.  In addition, some superintendents receive additional benefits like a car, a phone allowance, or a housing allowance. For the purposes of this analysis, we just consider the most recently available annual salary. The average superintendent in Arkansas makes $113,801 annually.

The HB1917 Ratio would apply at the district level, with each superintendent’s salary compared to the salary of the teachers employed by his/her district.  We’ve developed a handy spreadsheet so you can find all the data here. A quick note about charter schools: Charters were excluded from these analysis because many have waivers for salary scales and other requirements, but we included what data we would locate in the spreadsheet.

HB1917 Ratio: Superintendent Salary Compared to Base Teacher Salary

The table below examines the district-level comparison, and the proposed HB1917 Ratio.  Statewide, superintendents are paid 338% of beginning teacher salaries. The lowest HB1917 Ratio is 218%, while the highest is 639%.  Note that the district with the lowest ratio pays beginning teachers more than the state average, and pays the superintendent less than the state average.

In fact only 5 districts (2% of the traditional districts in the state) currently have a HB1917 Ratio less than 250%. Although the intention of the cap seems to be to incentivize districts to raise teacher salaries, two of the districts with low ratios, below 250%,  pay starting teachers less than the state average, and the reason why the ratio is low is due not to better teacher salaries but rather to the relatively low superintendent salaries.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Base Teacher Salary        (BA+0 years experience) $33,656 $33,750 $35,232
Superintendent Salary $113,647 $73,494 $225,000
HB1917 Ratio   Superintendent Salary / Teacher Salary 338% 218% 639%

HB1917 Ratio v2: Superintendent Salary Compared to Average Teacher Salary

Given how few districts would meet the 250% threshold under the proposed bill,  we think it might be more meaningful to compare superintendent salaries to the average teacher salary in each district.  The average teacher in Arkansas has 12 years experience and 41% have a Master’s degree. District average teacher salary is a more equitable comparison because superintendents have more education and experience than the brand-new teachers in their districts. We call this ratio HB1917 Ratio v2

When examining average teacher salary under HB1917 Ratio v2, 60% of districts (139 of the traditional districts in the state) have a HB1917 Ratio v2 of less than 250%.  The table below examines the district-level comparison of the modified ratio.  Over all districts, the average HB1917 Ratio v2 is 232%, while the lowest is 168% and the highest is 416%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Average Classroom Teacher Salary $48,976 $55,819 $51,740
Superintendent Salary $113,801 $94,000 $215,000
HB1917 Ratio v2 Superintendent Salary / Average Teacher Salary 232% 168% 416%

HB1917 Ratio v3: Adjusting for Contract Length

One more thought: Superintendents generally are contracted to work 25% more days than teachers. Teachers typically have 190-day contracts, while Superintendent contracts are usually for 240 days. It makes sense to calculate a daily salary based on the number of days contracted to work and compare that rate between Superintendents and teachers.
HB1917 Ratio v3– the ratio of the daily superintendent salary to the daily average teacher salary, has an average of 183% over all districts. Under this model which is adjusted for days worked, 88% of the districts in the state have a HB1917 Ratio v3 less than  250%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily Average Classroom Teacher Salary $258 $294 $272
Daily Superintendent Salary $474 $392 $896
HB1917 Ratio v3 Daily Superintendent Salary / Daily Average Teacher Salary 184% 133% 329%

HB1917 Ratio v4: Adjusting for Number of Students Served

A teacher in Arkansas is responsible for, on average, 12 students, but the average superintendent is responsible for over 1,800.  Some superintendents oversee around 350 students, while Little Rock’s superintendent supports over 20,000.  District size and superintendent salary are correlated at +.84 , meaning that superintendents in larger districts generally get paid more than superintendents in smaller districts. Examining salary on a per pupil basis provides further insight into the relationship between superintendent and teacher salaries in the state.

HB1917 Ratio v4– the ratio of the daily per pupil superintendent salary to the daily per pupil average teacher salary, has an average of 1.23% over all districts. As you would expect, teachers make much more per student than superintendents, with the average teacher earning $21 per pupil per day, and the average superintendent earning $0.25 per pupil per day.  Under this student enrollment-adjusted model, the largest districts have the lowest superintendent cost per pupil, and smaller districts have higher superintendent costs per pupil.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily per pupil Average Classroom Teacher Salary $20.78 $24.96 $15.18
Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary $0.25 $0.04 $1.03
HB1917 Ratio v4               Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary /    Daily per pupil Average Teacher Salary 1.23% 0.17% 6.8%

There are issues with this ratio, however, because examining only the superintendent’s salary likely provides a distorted view of the per pupil cost.  In larger districts there are typically additional administrators supporting the superintendent whose salaries we are not including, while in small districts Central Administration staff is limited.

Summary and recommendations:

Here at OEP, we like the idea of examining teacher salaries, superintendent salaries, and how schools are using their resources to support student learning.  It is interesting to note that neither superintendent salary or average teacher salaries were correlated with district performance in 2015-16 (values were .09 and .24 respectively). While we like the idea of examining school spending, we like it best when it makes sense and compares apples to apples as much as possible.

By using average teacher salary instead of base teacher salary, and adjusting for the difference in the number of days contracted, the ratio of superintendent salary and average teacher salary shows that superintendents are typically making 184% of the average teacher in their district.  Given that 88% of the districts in the state have a ratio below  the proposed 250%, we suggest that this is the more reasonable ratio to use to examine the relationship between Superintendent and teacher salaries.

For smaller districts, it might be helpful to examine the per pupil cost of superintendent and teacher salaries to ensure that resources are being allocated appropriately.  Teacher-student ratios are below the funded level in every district throughout the state, but particularly in small districts.  Current teacher-student ratio is one teacher per twelve students, while the state standards and the funding matrix allow a for a ratio of more than double the current teacher-student ratio of one teacher per twelve students.  Increasing the number of students per teacher to nearer the funded ratio allows for greater resources to be allocated to teacher salaries or other district needs.

How much SHOULD districts be spending?

Every district receives the same funding per student for teacher and administrative salaries and benefits. Funding for teacher salaries and benefits is set at $4,290 per student for the 2015-16 school year, and about 75% of school districts are allocating that amount or more.

The only central office position required by the state accreditation standards is the superintendent.  In the funding matrix, central administration is indirectly funded at $376 per student, and includes the salaries and benefits of the superintendent as well as administration personnel (legal, fiscal, human resources, communications, etc.), district instructional and pupil support directors, and clerical staff.  Only one district was spending more than $376 per pupil on the superintendent salary, and the HB1917 Ratio v4 captures the difference between the relatively high superintendent salary and the low teacher salary.

Examining the relationship between per pupil funding and spending on salaries and benfits, as well as comparing to ‘similar districts’ can help schools ensure that their resources are being allocated appropriately.