University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

2013-14 Benchmark Results Database Released: Did Scores Fall Due to Weather?

In The View from the OEP on July 9, 2014 at 9:24 am

actaapAbout a week ago, we reported on preliminary data released from the 2013-14 academic year’s Benchmark/ACTAPP testing results in our blog post “Statewide Benchmark Scores Released, Drop in Scores.” This week we are proud to release our corresponding yearly database, which can be found here. This database was created using original source data provided by the Arkansas Department of Education Testing website. Each year, the OEP takes the raw data and aggregates them into school and district-level databases that allow the user to look at performance of the entire school, the entire district, by educational region, and statewide. In the event that you are interested in previous years’ data, our databases go back to the 2004-05 academic year. We hope that these databases will serve as valuable resources for Arkansas education stakeholders. Please contact our office at or (479) 575-3773 if you have any questions about these data.

The release of this year’s data signals the finale of the ACTAAP exam. Next year, it will replaced by the PARCC exam, which will be the first test administered in Arkansas to measure students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Factors Contributing to Lower Scores

As stated in last week’s blog post, scores dropped across the state in all categories. Three factors may have contributed: 1) inclement weather and  subsequent snow days, which many districts struggled to make-up before testing week; 2) the fact that students were being taught the Common Core State Standards, but tested on the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks; and 3) ceiling effects. A ceiling effect is exactly what it sounds like: when scores reach high levels, growth from that point on becomes difficult and close to impossible.  While Arkansas scores have not reached the ceiling of 100% proficient or advanced on these tests, they have still reached levels which leave little room for additional growth.

Snow Day Study

Joshua Goodman

Joshua Goodman, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University

A 2012 study from Harvard researcher Joshua Goodman has looked into the impact of snow days on student achievement in his study titled Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time, and Student Achievement. Goodman was asked to look into this matter by the Massachusetts Department of Education. He examined data from students in Massachusetts from 3rd grade-10th grade from the years 2003-2010, paying close attention to school closures, individual absences, and standardized test scores. In short, Goodman concluded that school closures due to inclement weather did not affect student achievement, but that individual absences do. He speculated that schools are prepared to deal with disruptions like snow days, but that they are ill-equipped to deal with individual absences. In fact, estimates suggest that student absences explain about 8-20% of the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students.

However, a Business Week article pointed out that Massachusetts usually only calls off school 2-3 days per year. Many districts in Arkansas went way beyond 2-3 days. For instance, Viola School District missed 23 days! Goodman, the author of the Harvard report, states that larger chunks of time spent away from school will hurt student achievement, especially when it comes to scores on standardized tests.

In a 2010 article for Education Next, Dave Marcotte of the University of Maryland found that each additional inch of snow reduced the percentage that 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students scored on math assessments from one-half to seven-tenths of a percentage point.

Make-Up Days

Goodman does not believe that it is effective to tack on days at the end of the year, stating that school days become “increasingly calorie-free” the longer that a school year lasts. “These are not real days,” Goodman stated, from his experience as a former high school math teacher.

Instead, Goodman suggests that districts reschedule standardized testing for later dates. This way, teachers would have extra time to cover material needed for exams. This year, Arkansas chose not to push back the exam schedule.

snow day waiversArkansas Snow Days & Performance

In March 2014, 75 school districts requested waivers from the State Board of Education and they were all granted, except for the requests of Decatur and Quitman School Districts, who did not meet the criteria of being out of school for 10 days. These waivers shortened the required 178 days of instruction. Dr. Kimbrell, Commissioner of Education at the time, stated, “They’re [school districts] making up 10 days, but some of them are actually getting waivers for 7 days, 5 days, 4,3,2…It’s pretty phenomenal.”

Unlike most other school districts in Northwest Arkansas, Springdale School District did not request a waiver, choosing instead to make-up all of their snow days prior to standardized testing, even shaving days off their spring break. So, did Springdale students experience better growth on the Benchmark exams than did their peers in other bad-weather districts?

Take a look at the OEP databases for the answer!


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