University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Cheering for Key Clarification

In The View from the OEP on October 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

cheeringThis blog was going to complain about how Arkansas missed an opportunity to clearly communicate with parents and stakeholders about students’ readiness for career and college, but Commissioner Johnny Key has made us cheer instead!

Why are we cheering?

Last night, Commissioner Key released a statement clarifying that Arkansas will use the high expectations of the PARCC to identify if students that are meeting or exceeding grade level expectations. You will remember that last Spring PARCC assessments in English Language Arts/Literacy and Math were given to Arkansas students for the first (and last) time. Unlike the assessment we were used to, where students scored Below Basic, Basic, Proficient or Advanced and we commonly talked about the “Percent Proficient”, the PARCC assessments are scored Levels 1 through 5, and Commissioner Key stated that only students who scored a level 4 or 5 on the PARCC assessments will be identified as meeting grade level expectations.

This was a brave decision.  Only 28% of Arkansas students scored Level 4 or 5 on the PARCC Algebra 1 assessment, compared to a 75% proficiency rate on Arkansas’ 2014 Algebra 1 assessment.  Last week it seemed that Arkansas was ‘relaxing’ the criteria, releasing news that 60% of Arkansas students were ‘on track’ in Algebra.  The Washington Post noted that we were following Ohio’s lead and allowing students who scored at Level 3 to be called ‘proficient’.  This lower criteria would have raised fewer questions about the effectiveness of Arkansas’ education system, but it was the wrong choice for our kids.

Telling students they are ready for college and career when they are not would continue our history of sending the wrong message to Arkansas students and parents. Arkansas has been administering the Arkansas Benchmark and End-Of-Course tests to its students for the past decade, and while over 70% of students scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” on these assessments, national assessments like the NAEP and ACT data show Arkansas students lagging behind. The idea behind the PARCC assessment was that the same assessment would be given to students in multiple states, allowing comparison of student performance outside state lines.

And it happened!  Students in eleven states and the District of Columbia completed PARCC assessments last spring. This summer, educators from throughout the PARCC Consortium met and set initial standards for performance levels, the PARCC Governing Board then made a few adjustments and adopted the scores.  Although all PARCC states will use the same performance levels, each state within the consortium approves them individually, and last week the State Board of Education approved the performance levels for use in Arkansas.

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What do the PARCC results say?

To date, only the scores for Arkansas’ high school tests have been released:  9th -11th grade English Language Arts, Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2.  Note that 11th grade ELA and Algebra 2 were ‘optional’ assessments for students and only 1/3 of eligible students were assessed, so the data are not representative of statewide performance.

Algebra 1: 28% at Level 4 and Above

Geometry: 21% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 9: 36% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 10: 37% at Level 4 and Above

Algebra 2: 15% at Level 4 and Above

ELA Grade 11: 43% Level 4 and Above

How does Arkansas compare?

PARCC states release assessment results on their own timeline. So far, four states have released at least some of their scores: Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Arkansas. So how do Arkansas students compare?

Well, so far we can’t compare because other states also had inconsistent administration of the high school assessments:

  • Illinois aggregated their results in ELA and Math across courses, saying that due to small testing volumes in particular courses the results can not be interpreted as representative of overall performance.
  • In Ohio, only students in grade 9 and below were required to take the assessments.
  • In Massachusetts, few districts administered the high school PARCC tests because districts could select between the PARCC tests and the Massachusetts test, which is still a graduation requirement.

What’s Next?

Statewide PARCC Scores for Arkansas students in grades 3-8 are scheduled to be released next month, and will allow for a more complete comparison of performance to other states.  District and School level results will also be released within the next month or so.

Other PARCC states will be releasing their scores, allowing for more meaningful comparisons.

ADE is providing professional development to districts regarding how to communicate about the PARCC scores, and have provided a resource for parents as well.

Students and teachers will continue to learn in schools across the state, and students in grades 3-10 will complete the ACT Aspire assessment for the first time this spring, if the contract is approved by the legislature.

Here at the OEP we will continue to cheer loudly for those making brave decisions to support high standards for Arkansas students!

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  1. Interesting: You’re celebrating what should have been clearly stated in the first place. Shall we also celebrate the pathetic scores?

    • Thanks for your comment.
      We were pleased that Com. Key is setting high expectations for Arkansas students. We agree that the percentage of students scoring a Level 4 or 5 on the PARCC assessments is not very high compared to the percentage of students who scored proficient on the Arkansas End-Of-Course exams in past years. When we consider the performance of Massachusetts students on the PARCC tests, however, we find evidence that these tests were much more difficult than the tests we had been taking! We think it is better for Arkansas students to have a more rigorous test that provides them with realistic feedback regarding their readiness for college and careers even if the percent of students meeting (much higher) performance expectations seems low.

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