University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

2013 State Report Card: Does Arkansas Make the Grade?

In The View from the OEP on April 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

coverWhen a student brings home a report card, the parent has prior expectations that shape how they view the report card.  If a parents expects A’s and the child brings home B’s, expect disappointment.  If a parent expects D’s and F’s and the child brings home C’s, expect the parent will be pleased.  So, when we were putting together our “2013 Arkansas Report Card” – recapping the year in education for the Natural State for the 8th year running – we know that our readers will have expectations as well.

So, what should we expect from our schools?  We might be shooting for the stars if we say that every child should be advanced in every subject (or perhaps this means the test is too easy).  But we should have positive expectations from our schools.  For this reason, our Report Card tries to set forward some reasonable comparisons.

First, as with any report card, you have to know what is being tested.  For students in our state, there are several tests that they could potentially take, such as the Benchmark, ITBS, EOC, and/or NAEP exam.  For each of these tests, we then consider different comparisons.  The Benchmark and EOC exams allow us to compare within the state, while the ITBS and NAEP allows for comparisons outside of our state.

Second, we can make comparisons against previous administrations of the test: has my school compared against last year?  Is my region improving?  How does Arkansas compare to bordering states?  To the Nation?  Establishing who we want to be compared to is important, but it can be a double-edged sword.  Sometimes we set our expectations too low – it really isn’t that impressive when your favorite basketball team beats the same team every year by forty points!  And sometimes we set ourselves up for failure.  For example, some schools compare themselves to the school in the next county over – when in fact their student composition and resources are drastically different from what is available to your school!

What do we find?  Here are some highlights from these tests:

  • There were small decreases on both the math and literacy Benchmark exams across all grade levels compared to results from last year.
  • Steady declines have been realized on the ITBS exam, in both math and literacy.
  • Arkansas NAEP scores kept up with the pace of the nation, rising at a similar level while still a few points behind, at the 4th and 8th grade testing level.

There will always be room for improvement – and while some scores have decreased over the past year, we should keep in mind that overall, our state is making gains steadily over the years, even with slight regressions in some years.

bythenumbersWith these expectations in mind, we hope that this report card is informative and spurs you on to ask more questions about your local education system – we know that it has for us. We need new strategies to serve our traditionally underserved students and more innovation to encourage greater improvements for all students across the state.  For this reason, we added a “Spotlight” section to this year’s report card so that we can highlight new educational programs that have the potential to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for Arkansas students.  We hope that you have the time to visit www.officeforeducationpolicy.org to view the report card and learn more about how our state’s schools are doing.

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