Each year, the OEP releases an annual “Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools” highlighting student performance on statewide and national standardized tests, examining the achievement gaps in Arkansas, the states that border Arkansas, and the nation.
Arkansas is entering a new phase for K-12 education. All students in Arkansas public schools are now being taught new standards, and this spring students in grade 3-11 are planning to take new assessments. Changing the standards taught and how student performance is measured is difficult, but Arkansas is committed to preparing students to leave the K-12 school system ready for college and careers.
In addition to administering new assessments, this spring schools are going to be ‘graded’ on their performance. Intended to help parents better understand how their local schools are performing, the A-F grades include a wider set of criteria than the prior school rating system and provide meaningful measures for parents and stakeholders.
As we reflect on Arkansas K-12 performance, there are several areas of success to highlight:
- Pre-Kindergarten: In national reports, Arkansas gets high marks for access to, spending on and quality of pre-kindergarten programs.
- High School Graduation Rates are above the national average and continuing to increase.
- Education funding is consistently supported in the state budget, and progressive for regions in need of support.
- ACT scores in English, reading and science are closing in on national averages, and almost all Arkansas high school graduates are taking the test.
Of course, there are also areas for improvement:
- Math and literacy proficiency rates on state assessments have been stagnant or declining over the past three years. The declining results could be due to the mis-alignment between the new standards and the old assessment (ACTAAP), but student performance has also declined on the ITBS.
- The achievement gap between students who participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch program and and their peers who do not, is relatively unchanged over the past several years.
- Arkansas continues to lag behind the national average for 4th and 8th grade students as measured by the NAEP, and for high school students taking the ACT.
Pre-kindergarten and high school completion targets are examples of policies that have made a real difference to Arkansas students. The continuing financial support of the K-12 education provides Arkansas students the opportunities to learn and grow every day. While students have demonstrated increased performance on standardized assessments overall, for the past several years there has been little growth and the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students persist. Moreover, there are several schools around the state that continue to struggle to serve students year after year. Simply put, education leaders need to do better for the students who need school the most.
New and innovative models for teaching and learning should be implemented and rigorously evaluated for their impact on student achievement. Effective school leadership and quality classroom teachers are critical to student success, and we need to continue to support the development and retention of quality educators. Changes in state assessments may make it more challenging to measure student progress and track the effectiveness of the K-12 education system, so it is important that stakeholders use a variety of methods to monitor student progress. By working together to discover the path to success for each and every student, educators and policy makers will ensure Arkansas students are ready for college and careers!
Take a look at the 2014 Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools and leave us a comment. Tell us your thoughts or suggestions for how we can continue to improve education for Arkansas students.