University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Quality Counts 2016

In The View from the OEP on January 7, 2016 at 11:02 am

Today Education Week released their 20th annual Quality Counts report, which grades each state on their education performance.  This year Arkansas received an overall grade of C- and is ranked 41st overall.  Arkansas received a C- last year as well, but was ranked slightly higher nationally at 36th.  As we have discussed in previous blog posts there are several issues with the grading system, and we cannot compare overall scores prior to 2015, because the grading criteria was different in earlier reports. Today we wanted to dig into the grades and see what information might be useful.

This year’s report includes summative grades and rankings for states on education indicators as well as a special focus on school accountability, specifically assessing student achievement during the No Child Left Behind era.

What is Being Graded?

A state’s overall grade is the average of its scores on three separate indicators: Chance-for-Success, K-12 Achievement and School Finance.  Prior to 2015 there were six indicators, however the format was updated in 2015 in an attempt to focus on “outcomes rather than on policy and processes.” Although the report can be useful there are several issues with the grading system; previous blog posts have discussed the flawed nature of the grading system. 

While we cannot compare overall scores prior to 2015, because the grading criteria was different in earlier reports, we can compare performance in the categories retained for the 2015 and 2016 reports: Chance for Success, School Finance and K-12 Student Achievement.

Here are the most recent three years of  Arkansas grades in each of the categories considered for 2016.  The full report highlighting Arkansas student achievement can be accessed here.

2016 Quality Counts Categories AR Grade 2014 AR Grade 2015 AR Grade 2016
Chance for Success C- C-  C-
School Finance C C  C
K-12 Achievement D+ D+  D

The High and the Low:

Each of the three areas are an average of many other scores, so here at OEP we wanted to bring out the high (ranked in top 15 states) and low (ranked in bottom 15 states) areas for each category.

Chance for Success: According to EdWeek, “The Chance-for-Success framework allows states to identify strong and weak links in their residents’ educational life course―their typical trajectory from childhood through adulthood.”

  • Strong scores:  steady adult employment. Note that students attending preschool was also above the national average and ranked 18th!
  • Low scores: family income, parental education, middle school math, postsecondary enrollment, annual income and adult educational attainment

K-12 Achievement:  The K-12 Achievement Index examines 18 distinct state achievement measures related to reading and math performance, high school graduation rates, and the results of Advanced Placement exams.

  • Strong scores:  8th grade math gains and closing of the 4th grade reading achievement gap
  • Low scores: achievement levels, math excellence, family income, parental education, middle school math, postsecondary enrollment, annual income and adult educational attainment.

School Finance: Examining school finance can provide insight into how a state is supporting public education.

  • Strong scores: Equity of spending, and spending on education
  • Low scores: not spending as much as the national average

The strong scores summarized above reflect Arkansas’s commitment to education and that students are making gains.  The low scores reflect the many challenges that Arkansas students face: poverty, low parental and adult educational attainment, and, unfortunately, low achievement (especially in math). Although a D in student achievement is a decrease from last year’s D+ and definitely nothing to brag about, it is important to remember that Arkansas’ students are making gains.

If policymakers and education leaders can focus on meaningful data, like growth and efficiency in the face of disadvantage, rather than an overall grade, then students in Arkansas can continue to improve and reach greater levels of educational and lifelong success.

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