University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

OEP Awards: Most Improved Schools – Benchmark Exam Growth 2006-2012

In The View from the OEP on November 29, 2012 at 11:00 am

Since August of this year, we have been releasing bi-weekly installments of the OEP Awards which recognize the top performing schools on the spring 2012 administration of the Arkansas Benchmark Exam. To date, we have released the following “chapters” of the OEP Awards report:

In previous years, as our semester has drawn to a close, we typically would release our final installment of OEP Awards highlighting the Most Improved Schools comparing scores from the previous year’s administration of the benchmark exam to the current year’s scores – and measuring growth. However, this year, we have gone a step beyond improvement over one year by building a database that measures 5 years of growth (from a baseline created by averaging school-level benchmark scores from the 2005-06 and 2006-06 academic years and our outcome metric created by averaging school-level benchmark scores from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years) and using this database to recognize the Most Improved Schools on Benchmark Exam Performance from 2006-2011. We encourage you to read more about this database in this separate blog post.

Whereas there is merit in showing benchmark growth after one year, it does have its limitations. For example, imagine a school that experiences an event that perhaps affects the whole school (i.e., a broken air conditioner/heater that affects the school’s inside temperature during testing) or that affects the whole town (i.e., a severe storm that renders homes without power). Either of these events could lead to an uncharacteristic performance by the students in the school. Thus, observing growth over multiple years, as we do in this installment of the OEP Awards, produces a clearer picture of student performance.

That said, today we applaud SMC Elementary at Luxora in the South Mississippi County School District who top our list of elementary schools in math benchmark growth. In the past five years, SMC Elementary at Luxora has seen a 50% increase in students scoring at the proficient and advanced level on the math benchmark exam. In this same period, the school’s math benchmark GPA has increased by 1.14 points. The school also ranks near the top of our list in benchmark literacy growth. For example, in the same 5-year period, SMC Elementary at Luxora has seen a 50% increase in students scoring at the proficient and advanced level on the literacy benchmark exam. In this same period, the school’s math benchmark GPA has increased by 1.03 points. In both benchmark subjects, SMC Elementary at Luxora has increased their benchmark GPA by at least one full “letter grade.” We think it is remarkable that the school achieved these results with a high percentage of their students eligible for a free or reduced price lunch (FRL for Luxora Elementary was 99% in 2011-12). Congratulations to Principal Gloria Phillips, Superintendent Gary Masters and all the teachers and staff at SMC Elementary at Luxora on this wonderful achievement!

Placing toward the top of our high-growth middle schools list is Southeast Middle School in the Pine Bluff School District. Between our baseline and outcome academic years, Southeast Middle has increased their student’s math benchmark proficiency rate by 36%. For example  In addition, the school’s math benchmark GPA has grown almost a full point from 1.63 in our baseline academic year  to 2.43 in our outcome academic year. The school also had high growth on the literacy benchmark exam over the past five academic years by growing their proficiency rate by 31% and realizing a roughly 2/3 of a GPA point growth (from  a 2.00 at the baseline to a 2.65 in the outcome year). Like  SMC Elementary at Luxora above, Southeast Middle has achieved this growth with a high percentage of FRL students (88% in 2011-12) in their school. Congratulations are in order for Principal Cheryl Hatley, the Southeast Middle teachers and staff and Superintendent Linda Watson on this remarkable achievement.

Of course there are MANY more schools that have achieved remarkable growth on the math and literacy benchmark exams. You can see if your school is among those recognized by clicking here and reading the OEP Awards for Most Improved Schools in Arkansas, 2006-2011.

One final note: We want to address a statistical phenomenon that may be keeping high-performing schools from a spot on this installment of the OEP Awards. This phenomenon, called the “ceiling effect,” occurs when an individual score on a test is achieved near the top of the scale (say, a 92 out of a possible 100) thus decreasing the probability of earning a higher score because at the top of the scale, it is harder to distinguish varying degrees of ability. In this installment of the OEP Awards, our lists feature schools with the greatest levels of growth on our benchmark GPA measure. Higher growth scores on this measure suggest that schools are not just being recognized for moving more students to “above proficiency,” but are moving more students from Below Basic to Basic and/or Proficient to Advanced.

That said, according to our 2005-06 School-level Benchmark Database, there were 110 schools with a math benchmark GPA at or above 3.0. Considering the ceiling effect, it will be much harder for these schools – especially schools such as Vilonia Academy of Technology with a math benchmark GPA of 3.64 and Wilburn Elementary School with a math benchmark GPA of 3.50 – to achieve the high levels of benchmark GPA growth required to earn a place on the latest OEP Award lists (the schools at the bottom of our elementary math  growth list still grew by .86 math benchmark GPA points). However, even though they may not be included on the current lists recognizing growth, that does not mean that they are not high achieving schools.

If you don’t see your school on our Most Improved Schools in Arkansas, 2006-2011 lists, check out our new growth database, to see your school’s growth.

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