University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Asking the Right Questions!

In The View from the OEP on September 16, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Yesterday’s meeting of the joint education committees addressed several issues that OEP loves to think about: the achievement gap, equitable funding for schools, and how to tell if schools are spending money effectively.

Last year we released a report describing achievement gaps in Arkansas entitled Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas: Moving Beyond Achievement Gaps.  This report examined achievement gaps within Arkansas, compared to the nation, and compared to similar states. You can read the summary blog, but we agree that while most groups have experienced growth over time, achievement gaps still remain and in many cases have widened.

As Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock stated, “The state has not addressed remediating the poverty gap … after all these years and all this money.”

The money in question is money that schools receive for every student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, which is often used as a proxy measure of poverty. The money is not awarded per-student, however, but rather based on tiers of poverty students with a school.  Here at the OEP we have addressed this funding process before, and recommended in our policy brief that the funding model be smoothed and the expenditures be more focused.

Like all of you reading this, one of our key concerns here at OEP is determining if students are benefiting.  We conduct a lot of program evaluations and know that collecting good data is essential to determining if there is a benefit to students.  The first step is always to agree on an outcome and find a valid and reliable way to measure it.  High quality assessments are key, and as Arkansas adjusts the required assessments from Benchmark to PARCC to ACT Aspire- the determination of if students are ‘improving’ gets more complicated. Although some critics complain about complexity, high-quality growth models of student learning are imperative at this point. Another key to determining if a programs works is fidelity of implementation.  Consistent accounting procedures are integral to being able to identify where the money is going and link it to outcomes.

Here at  OEP we are glad that these issues are being discussed, and will continue to focus on how to be more effective in educating all Arkansas’ students.

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