University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

We’re all better off with more data!

In The View from the OEP on January 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Avid readers of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette have received a steady dose of  Data Talk recently. First, the OEP’s new and improved school performance indicators were introduced in a front page article. This week, the Arkansas Department of Education released its own rankings for schools. The rankings are based on a measure that is similar to the OEP’s GPA measurement. Of course, the ADE rankings have a little more weight behind them!

For more on the ADE’s rankings:  click here for the ADE home page, and here for the home page for the school performance reports. On each school’s individual performance report card on the NORMES site, the school now receives ratings for both STATUS and GAINS (but only up to the 2009-10 school year).  When you click on the “school report card” link for a particular school, you can scroll down the left hand side of the page and look for a link that says “Click here for a 2010 Gains Index List” and  “Click here for a 2010 Status Index List”.

Quick sum:  Of the 1,038 schools listed, 260 are ranked as schools of excellence with GPA’s higher than 3.22; the next 506 schools are ranked as schools exceeding the standards with GPA’s from 2.78 to 3.22; another 246 schools are ranked as schools meeting the standards with GPA’s from 2.20 to 2.78.  Thus, by this rating, 97% of the state’s schools (1,012 of the 1,038 ranked schools) are meeting standards.

This either means that all of our schools are wonderful–or live near Lake Wobegon–or that we need a slightly stricter rating system!

The remaining 26 schools are not meeting standards as of 2009-10: 19 are listed as approaching standards while 7 schools (mostly alternative schools) are listed as in need of immediate improvement in 2009-2010.

If you’re wondering about the origin of this new status rating system, which just hit the internet this week, here is some background. Act 35 of 2003 required the Department of Education to establish a numerical ranking system on a scale of 1 to 5 where the ranking of 1 refers to a low-achieving school in immediate need in improvement and a 5 is given to “a school of excellence.”  Act 35 required two sets of rankings: one for the percentage of students scoring proficient (or status), and the other for growth or improvement in student achievement over time. The ranking system is similar conceptually to the system implemented in Florida in the early 2000sthough arguably not as clear a depiction of student achievement. However, the act was a step in the right direction. Fast forward nine years from the 2003 legislation and, for the first time, the status rankings were released both online and as part of the school’s state created report card.

While the growth rankings have been out for some time (click here for an OEP policy brief from early 2009 describing the ranking system), the status rankings have only recently appeared. These efforts, while a long time in coming, reflect a growing desire of stakeholders in Arkansas to more clearly understand our student’s performance. While few disagree the No Child Left Behind labels are obviously imperfect, most agree that the enhanced focus on data that NCLB has fostered has been a positive change for students and schools.

In any event, it is our belief at the OEP that more data is better; sure, data can be misinterpreted, but NO DATA is wide open to any interpretations!

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