University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Save the Data: New Ways to Look at Arkansas Schools

In The View from the OEP on July 30, 2012 at 9:38 am

Here at the OEP, we are anxiously waiting for the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) to release the testing data from the most recent Augmented Benchmark and End-of-Course (EOC) Exam administration from the spring of the 2011-2012 academic year. As we anticipate and prepare to build new OEP Databases of Benchmark, Norm-Referenced Test (NRT – in this case the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, or ITBS), and EOC exams, we have returned to our Arkansas School Data page to give it a facelift.

We now have school- and district-level benchmark exam, End-of Course exam, and demographics data spanning from the 2004-05 academic year to the 2010-11 academic year. We also posted the norm-referenced Iowa Test of Basic Skills data from 2004-05 and 2010-11, and a new school finance database including per-pupil expenditures and teacher salary data from 2010-11. The fun doesn’t stop there!! We have also been adding new variables to the benchmark and ITBS databases to make it easier for users to understand and consider student performance.

You may recall that at the end of last year, the OEP compiled a database of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills performance for all schools; the database was published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. We blogged about this new database and rating system back in January, 2012. At the time, we were examining Arkansas’ school performance on the norm-referenced ITBS tests by using a newly developed school grouping procedure to compare similar schools. For example, we grouped schools according to the grades served (1=primary, 2=elementary, 3=middle, 4=junior high) AND the fraction of economically disadvantaged students at the school (measured by the number of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch – FRL) grouped into three categories: 1 = low economic disadvantage, = middle economic disadvantage, and = high economic disadvantage.

Recently, we revisited our databases and calculated a Similar Schools Group and appropriate Similar Schools Ratings for the school-and district-level benchmark databases from the 2010-11 academic year. Using this Similar Schools Group (SSG), you can now easily group together, for example, “high economic disadvantage elementary schools” with all other “high economic disadvantage elementary schools” across the state. We have also included a “Similar Schools Rating” score to easily compare academic performance of an individual school to that of other similar schools within that group.  There are two ways that we derive a Similar Schools Rating. 1) We compare the school’s OEP-calculated “GPA” with the SSG average GPA;  and 2) we compare the percent of students scoring Proficient or Advanced (in math and literacy, separately) with the average % proficient and advanced of ALL other schools within the SSG.

For example, in our 2010-2011 School-Level Benchmark Exam Database, If we wanted to see how Allbritton Upper Elementary School compares with the rest of the schools in its SSG (Albritton has an SSG of 2.3, meaning it is an elementary school with a high number of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch … this is all explained in the KEY in the database), we would be interested in the following numbers:

  • Allbritton Upper Elementary’s Math Similar Schools Rating is +17%. This means that Allbritton has a math proficiency rate that is 17 percentage points higher than the average math proficiency rates (% more students scoring proficient and advanced on the math benchmark exam) of all of the schools in the 2.3 SSG.
  • Allbritton Upper Elementary’s Literacy Similar Schools Rating is +14%. This means that Allbritton has a math proficiency rate that is 14 percentage points higher than the average literacy proficiency rates of all of the schools in the 2.3 SSG.
  • Allbritton Upper Elementary’s Overall Similar Schools Rating (based on school GPA) is +0.38%. This means that, if we were weighting the 4 levels of benchmark exam performance using a standard similar to the typical Grade Point Average students maintain (Below Basic = D; Basic = C, Proficient = B; and Advanced = A) the students in Allbritton are scoring almost a half letter-grade above the students in their peer 2.3 SSG schools.

In short, It appears that Allbritton Upper Elementary is performing quite well as compared to peer schools despite having a large number of FRL students. It’s no wonder this school received an OEP Award in our high-achieving schools serving low-income students category for grade 4 math benchmark performance  last year (among several other overall performance awards by grade)!

Comparisons like the Allbritton Upper Elementary School one above, can be made for any school or district across the state that administered the benchmark exam in the 2010-11 academic year. We have also included a “sorting/filter row” (row 9 in the database) so that you can filter out, say, only those schools in your region or district etc.

We hope that you will find this method for comparing schools beneficial. In addition to the school-level benchmark data, we have also computed Similar Schools Groups and Ratings for the 2010-11 district-level benchmark exam data, and the 2010-2011 school- and district-level Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) Norm-referenced databases so that school and district comparisons can me made using the ITBS as well. Each of our newly posted databases have “tabs” at the bottom of the sheet which may include databases with more variables, and most importantly, an extensive Key that details each variable, and how the columns were calculated, if a calculation was applied. If something seems confusing, please let us know via the comments section below. We want these databases to be as user-friendly as possible.

Keep checking back on our Arkansas School Data page for the new 2011-12 benchmark exam data which we hope to post for you shortly after it is released by the ADE.

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