University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

If we are closing, students need better

In The View from the OEP on May 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Here’s a question: Do charter schools have to be performing better than similar traditional schools to remain open, or can performing similarly be sufficient grounds for the state to let schools retain their charter?

Yesterday, the State Board answered this question for one Little Rock charter school, overturning the Charter Authorizing Panel’s recommendation to revoke Covenant Keeper’s charter.

Covenant Keepers is a charter school in Southwest Little Rock, that served 171 students in grades 6-8 during the 2015-16 school year. The student enrollment is representative of the community: 57% African American, 42% Hispanic, 32% English Language Learners and 98% low-income.   You may remember that the school has been classified as in Academic Distress for having a 3-yr average of fewer than 50% of students meeting expectations on state assessments. In April, the Charter Authorizing Panel recommended that the school’s charter be revoked, although a three-year renewal had been granted last year.

Earlier this month, the SBE decided to review the recommendation to revoke Covenant Keepers charter.  The special meeting was set, and yesterday OEP had the opportunity to present on the academic performance of Covenant Keepers.  Proficiency rates at the school are low, but we feel it is important to compare the performance of similar schools.  OEP compared Covenant Keeper’s academic performance to the other traditional middle schools in the area which enroll students with similar demographics: Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson. Overall, we found that all of the schools examined have performed similarly in terms of proficiency since Covenant Keepers opened in 2008-09.  In terms of  Value-Added growth, Covenant Keepers had the highest scores in 2015-16, although data were inconsistent over the three years available.


So here’s the question- is similar good enough?

Although there were other issues in play, including some fiscal and governance issues, the academic performance of the school was a primary concern.  State Board member Jay Barth pointed out that regardless of other issues,

“We’ve got to be clear that how we evaluate whether schools are in or out of academic distress… is about proficiency.  Nobody at this table loves that as the way to gauge that, and we are changing it, and we are going to begin taking growth into account, but that is the ruler by which all schools are evaluated in the state and this school has consistently failed to meet that.”  

He continued, “I know some of that is unquestionably the student population that Covenant Keepers serves, but other school do serve very similar student populations and do reach achieving status.”  Here at OEP we appreciate Dr. Barth’s willingness to acknowledge the limitation of a straight proficiency based model, the current rules, and his desire to ensure that Arkansas students are attending a high-quality school.

Board member Fitz Hill responded to Barth by saying,

“At the end of the day, student learning is why we are all serving on this board. But if we close this school, can you say with good clarity that these students are going to be placed in a high academic achieving classroom by August?” 

After Barth replied that he could not, Hill continued,

If we close the school we need to know exactly where those babies are going, who is going to teach them. Always, if we are closing, they need better…If they aren’t getting ‘better’, we haven’t helped the situation.”

Yes, Dr. Hill.  Exactly.  Here’s the thing- the students attending Covenant Keepers, who likely attended LRSD school before Covenant Keepers, have no other real options than to attend the traditional public schools that they are zoned for (Mabelvale, Cloverdale, and Henderson) which are similarly.  The difference is that Southwest Little Rock parents are CHOOSING to send their students to Covenant Keepers.  And here at the OEP, we think that allowing parents to have a choice, is good for kids and families, even if the school’s test scores are just the same.

The SBE voted unanimously to not revoke Covenant Keepers charter!  Congratulations to the SBE for carefully considering the information, weighing the options, and making the right choice for students in Southwest Little Rock.






Your Feedback is SOOO Important!

In The View from the OEP on May 24, 2017 at 12:51 pm

While most schools in Arkansas are winding down for summer break, here at the OEP we encourage all educators to give their feedback on an important plan that will impact the future of education in the state.

The ESSA Accountability Plan (draft #2) Feedback Due by June 23rd.

Seriously- read it and give your feedback.  This new draft includes details about school accountability models, including:

Long Term Goals of 90% achieving or exceeding grade level proficiency and 94% 4-year high school graduation rate and 97% for 5-year graduation rate.  The timeline for these goals is 12 years – that’s 2020 folks!


School Performance Rating that will consist of the following indicators:

  • Weighted Achievement (100 points possible with up to 25 extra possible points) Using Weighted Achievement for the academic indicator in the School Performance Rating honors stakeholder concerns that students at the upper end of the continuum of achievement (higher performers) are valued in the system so that schools will attend to their learning needs
  •  School Growth (100 possible points) Using Arkansas’ Value-Added Model
  •  English Learner progress to English Language Proficiency (100 possible points) Arkansas will transition this in
  •  Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (100 points possible each)
    • 4‐year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate
    • 5‐year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate
  • School Quality and Student Success (100 possible points)


The ESSA Plan draft also includes a cool mockup of a Performance Report Dashboard (see below)!



Although each of the 5 areas is worth 100 points, some areas are weighted more heavily than others, and we are SO EXCITED to see that growth is weighted more heavily than proficiency/ achievement.  Here’s how the percentages would work, and note the differences based on ELL population size- if you have fewer than 15 ELL students, those points move to another area:

o1 ratings

The Minimum N size is 15 (this is down from the prior minimum N of 25).  Minimum N indicates how many students have to be in a subgroup for that group to ‘count’ in school accountability.  A lot of data was examined to determine the ‘best’ N size. In the past, larger schools were held accountable for more student groups, while smaller schools often didn’t have 25 students in many groups and so were not. With a minimum N of 15, more schools will be reporting performance for various student groups, and as you can see in the table below, at least 90% of students from all groups will be included in the school performance calculations.

Min N Students

Interim Progress Measures:  The ADE used prior year trends from 2005 to 2013 for evidence of realistic rates of improvement based on Arkansas’s population of students and previous school improvement efforts. Instead of making up interim targets that ‘sound good’, the new targets are based on ACTUAL previous school improvement.  While I may WANT to get to 100% proficient in one year, historical trends indicate that most schools improved about 3-4 percentage points in ELA and Math each year.  AND- get this- they aren’t yearly targets that schools must meet- but rather 3-year checkpoints to give schools feedback about it they are on track for meeting the 12 year goal.

Other Indicators of School Quality vary by grade span as presented in the table below, but include chronic absenteeism, percent Reading Ready by grade 3, percent Science Ready in Middle Schools, and percent of graduates with one or more AP/IB/Concurrent credits earned.

5th Indicators

Schools that aren’t on track aren’t ‘in trouble’- the idea is to give feedback, but some schools will be targeted for support.  The lowest 5% based on the school performance rating by grade span will be identified for the first time in 2018-19 and will get support for three years. After three years, new schools will be identified.

ADE is asking stakeholders for specific feedback on the following questions during the draft plan review period:

  1. Do stakeholders want ADE to create a “watch” category or “alert” category for schools that are just above the bottom 5% cutoff?
  2. For schools in the next 5%, should ADE notify LEAs of schools that are in this position/rank above 5% through 10% to empower districts to provide preventative support?

Please give your feedback to ADE by June 23rd! We need educator voices to be included If you have questions about aspects of the plan, or thoughts you would like to share- please comment below or email us at!


School Discipline in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on May 3, 2017 at 12:56 pm



While many of us laugh at Bart’s chalkboard trials, discipline in schools has been raising concerns nationally.  Today’s Policy Brief examines trends in school discipline in Arkansas. In response to concerns about disparities in discipline outcomes and the impact school discipline has on student achievement, Arkansas passed Act 1329 in 2013. State policymakers recognized that lost instructional time contributes to poor student performance and that disciplinary measures that keep students engaged in the education process support student learning and academic achievement. The goal of the law is to evaluate and to track the progress of school districts in reducing disciplinary rates and disciplinary disparities. The law provides for annual district-level reporting of school disciplinary data.

The Office for Education Policy assists with the analyses required under ACT 1329, and posts the research on our website. The consistent collection of data permits evaluation of disciplinary practices and aids in the identification of state, district, and student-level disparities in Arkansas schools.

A disciplinary incident has two parts– the infraction and the consequence. We examine both sides of the incident statewide, by student characteristics and by school characteristics.

A quick summary of key points:

  • Reported disciplinary incidents have increased since Act 1329 was enacted.
  • 82% of reported infractions were minor and non-violent (insubordination and disorderly conduct).
  • In-school suspension rates have risen, and out-of-school suspension rates have increased slightly since 2004-05.
  • Corporal punishment is occurring less frequently, although is still used by over 80% of districts in 2015-16.
  • Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for disciplinary infractions.
  • Schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior.
  • Differences in disciplinary severity reflect differences in practices between schools, not within a school.

Unlike academic performance data, where higher scores are better, interpretation of discipline rates is unclear. Is more discipline reporting the sign of a school where student behavior is out of control, or of a school where behavior expectations for students are high and enforced consistently? If we aim for lowering discipline rates, how to we avoid the unintended consequence that only the reporting of disciplinary incidents will decrease? Although we may not yet know the answers to these questions, meaningful conversations can only begin when the data are available and transparent. By raising awareness of potential discrepancies, school leaders may seek solutions to address such issues.

The main point is that these data are available and should be discussed.

One thing we do know is that there are real disparities in school discipline for certain types of students and schools. Students who are Black are more likely to be cited for infractions, and schools that enroll the highest percentage of Black students are the most likely to exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Research into Arkansas discipline data, however, has determined that these differences in the frequency and severity of consequences are due to differences between school practices. This means that within a school, students receive similar consequences for infractions regardless of race, but that there are significant differences in practices between schools.

We find that Black students are more likely to attend schools that exclude students from school as a consequence for misbehavior. Black students attend schools that adhere to stricter disciplinary policies, so they are disproportionately missing school. Being excluded from school leads to lost instructional time and has been associated with disengagement in school and negative life outcomes. Policymakers and school leaders may want to focus on these schools to identify possibilities for ensuring students are not being excessively excluded from the learning environment.

Policymakers and educators alike should be concerned with the long-term consequences of denying children access to the educational process. Arkansas took a necessary first step by adopting AR 1329 which aims to reduce disciplinary rates and disparities. To that end, decreasing suspensions overall will require a transformation in disciplinary practices, and particularly in schools that administer more severe consequences for minor non-violent infractions.

School-level discipline data, current discipline reports and future research can be found on OEP’s website at


A Student’s Bill of Assessment Rights

In The View from the OEP on April 26, 2017 at 11:39 am

Ahhh, testing season.  Throughout the state, students are completing their annual state assessments.  Participation in Arkansas’ assessment is required for all public school students, and most are completing the ACT Aspire.  This is the second year for this assessment, and here’s the main facts about the test:

  • Each student will be assessed in English, reading, math, science and writing
  • 4 to 4 ½ hours total testing time per grade
  • Accessibility features available for all students, and
  • Accommodations available for qualifying students
  • Students in grades 9 and 10 will receive a predicted score for the ACTⓇ
  • Computer-based administration with hardship waivers available for paper/pencil administration
  • Schools set their own schedules within the following windows:
    • Computer-based administration: April 10-May 12

But what else do students and their parents need to know about these assessments?  Here at the OEP, we think they should know

  • when the results will be back,
  • how the results will be used and by whom,
  • how to interpret the results when they get them, and
  • what is the next step if the student didn’t meet grade-level expectations.

We were discussing these issues last week at the National Task Force on Assessment Education, and we like Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights that clearly identifies the rights of students and their families when it comes to assessments.



Certifying Learning

Annual standardized statewide assessments like the ACT Aspire ‘certify‘ learning by identifying if a student has (or has not) met the performance expectation set by the state.  State and district leadership examine the results to determine if ‘enough’ students met the performance expectation.  Over the past 15 years, Arkansas used the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations to ‘rate’ schools.

The annual ‘snapshot’ of student performance provided by the statewide assessments is intended to provide a benchmark for how Arkansas students are performing.  Over the past several years, this has been difficult to determine because the assessments have been changing each year- from Benchmark (2013-14) to PARCC (2014-15) to ACT Aspire (2015-16).  The results from this year’s ACT Aspire assessments will be the first directly comparable results since 2013, and will allow us to more easily determine if we are doing a better job helping our students learn.

More recently, Arkansas has developed a way to use these annual assessments to measure if students have made enough ‘growth’ from the prior year.  This measure examines how students score compared to how well we thought they would score based on prior assessments.  Schools where the majority of students score better than expected receive a high “Value-Added” score. Here at the OEP, we really like the idea of examining student growth, because it should be less related to the economic status of the students at the schools than the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations.  You can read more about this new measure and what the data show here.

Supporting Learning

Whether measuring performance or growth, however, annual standardized assessments like the ACT Aspire are not good tools for SUPPORTING student learning.  The once-a-year snapshot isn’t detailed enough to dig down into the specific skills that students do and do not know, and by the time the results are back, students have moved into the next grade.

Information that SUPPORTS student learning are often gathered in the classroom through observation, questioning, or other checks for understanding are called formative assessments.  Teachers and students use formative assessments to gather evidence of where students are in their learning and of any problems that they are having. In the hands of a knowledgeable teacher and informed student,  these assessments can move students learning forward.

Unfortunately, classroom assessments are not always used effectively to support learning. A primary cause is when assessments are being used (like annual state assessments) to ‘certify’ learning. Many students complete an assignment or classroom test, fail to demonstrate that they understand the material, and receive a ‘bad grade’. In most classrooms, the student will be presented with new content the next day, and is never given the opportunity to fully understand the previous material.  When students are not provided the opportunity to master content, they can face poor foundational skills and begin to feel that they cannot be successful in school.

In some cases, students may receive ‘good grades’ from their teachers, but fail to demonstrate their understanding on standardized assessments.  According to the State Report Card, more than 1 in 3 Arkansas high school students are ‘Grade Inflated’. This means they have a GPA of “B” or above, but scored less than “19” on the ACT math or reading. Students who score less that 19 on these sections of the ACT  have to take remedial courses in college which do not count toward their degree.  Poor assessment practices at their high schools are providing students the wrong information about their learning and leading them to encounter barriers in continuing their education.  PAS

Some teachers ARE using formative assessments to adjust their instruction but often they do not have access to high-quality tools.  As Rick Stiggins points out in his new book, The Perfect Assessment System, we have invested in the quality of an annual standardized assessment but not in the quality of classroom and interim assessments.


Focusing on Learning

Unfortunately, many teachers and students do not understand how to use assessment data in the learning process.  This feedback loop is essential to improving student learning and should be occurring regularly throughout the school year.

Arkansas can use the flexibility inherent in ESSA to ensure that students, parents, teachers, school leaders, and school districts develop a better understanding of the principles and practices of sound assessment that ultimately support student learning.  We can leverage ESSA funds to do some of the important work to develop sound assessment practices and the ESSA guiding document on assessment literacy provides concrete suggestions for using ESSA funding to address this critical need.

While schools may make a ‘big deal’ out of the ACT Aspire testing, it isn’t the most important time of the school year.  We would like to see as much focus on each day of the learning in the classroom, with students and teachers using high-quality formative assessment practices to help students understand where they are in their learning and what they need to do to grow their understanding.


Arkansas’ Best High Schools

In The View from the OEP on April 19, 2017 at 12:10 pm

UPDATED: 4/26 (the initial post used the 2016 rankings- our apologies!)

This week, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best High Schools” rankings, and we want to clarify what the rankings do (and do not) mean.

First, congratulations to those Arkansas high schools that made the Best High School list!  Below are the Top 10 in Arkansas:

#1: Haas Hall Academy

#2: Arkansas Arts Academy High

#3: Parkview Magnet High School

#4: Rogers High School

#5: Bentonville High School

#6: Central High School

#7: Prairie Grove High School

#8: Fayetteville High School

#9: Southside High School (Ft. Smith)

#10: Rogers Heritage High School

Here at the OEP, we are big advocates for assessment literacy, which essentially means understanding different types of assessment information, having the skills to determine if the information is dependable,  and knowing how to use it productively to support or certify achievement.

The first thing you need to know about the U.S. News rankings is that they are based on state assessment data from the 2014-15 school year, so the ranking is reflecting student performance from nearly 2 years ago.

US News compares the performance of students in each Arkansas high schools to the performance of students in other Arkansas high schools. In addition, it is not a simple ‘direct’ comparison of how the students performed, but includes information about how the students would be EXPECTED to perform given the percentage of students enrolled that are economically disadvantaged.

There are four aspects to the ranking: 1) the performance of students on state assessments in literacy and mathematics; 2) the performance of disadvantaged student subgroups; 3) graduation rate and 4) the degree to which high schools prepare students for college by offering a college-level curriculum.

Schools must pass the first step by performing better than expected based on their student population in order to continue in the ranking process.

STEP 1: Identify High Schools Performing Better than Expected

To determine if schools are performing better than expected, U.S. News created a Performance Index for each high school by examining student performance on state assessments, and compared it to the percentage of students participating in Free/Reduced Lunch Programs (which are an indicator of low socioeconomic status). This model reflects the understanding that students who face economic challenges outside of school are typically less likely to achieve at the same levels at their peers who do not face economic hardships.  We are going to skip the details, but you can read more about it here.

The figure below represents Arkansas high schools’ school-level Performance Index scores plotted against the school percentage of students participating in Free/Reduced Lunch Programs. The figure below present the information used in Step 1 of the Best High School rankings. You can see the relationship between Performance and the percentage of students who are identified as economically disadvantaged. The red line represents the ‘typical performance’ of schools in Arkansas given the percentage of students in the school that are disadvantaged. Yellow markers represent schools where students performed BETTER than expected, and light blue markers represent schools where students performed AS expected. Dark green markers indicate schools where students performed BELOW what is typical for schools with the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students.




The yellow dot on the far left side is easily identified as Haas Hall because they are the only high school in the state that reports 0% of students participating in FRLP. The Performance Index for Haas Hall is more than 120, which is 50 points above the expected performance. As you move to the right side of the graph, the percentage of students participating in FRLP increases. At the far right hand side of the graph are dots representing schools with 100% of students participating in FRLP. The highest yellow dot on the right hand side shows a school whose enrollment is entirely low-income, but whose Performance Index is also 20 points higher than expected!


Only schools whose Performance Index is ABOVE the gray performance zone and represented by yellow dots and passed on to the next step. This is the critical step for Arkansas high schools. A majority of Arkansas’ high schools do not pass this step, and are therefore unranked. This year, 91 (33%) of Arkansas high school were performing above expectations and move on to Step 2 of the ranking.

STEP 2: Identify High Schools Performing Better than State Average for Their Least Advantaged Students

For this step, the performance of African American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students on the state assessments are compared to state averages.  Schools where these disadvantaged students are performing as well or better than state averages are automatically considered bronze-medal high schools and move on to Step 3 of the ranking to determine silver or gold medal.

STEP 3: Ensure Graduates Rates Are Above 68%

This step of the of the U.S. News ranking process is new for 2016 and requires that high schools have graduated at least 75% of students. Arkansas’ graduation rate is 85% overall, so this is an EXTREMELY low bar for Arkansas, and only a couple of high schools fall below this bar.


STEP 4: Identify High Schools That Performed Best in Providing Students with Access to Challenging College-Level Coursework

For this final step, the participation of 12th grade students in AP or IB examinations was used to determine which high schools passed Step 4 to become silver-medal high schools, and also was used to rank high schools across states to distinguish the gold-medal high schools from silver medalists.

So, is the “Best” really the best?

We like the U.S. News rankings because it provides information that can be helpful! We want to know which high schools are performing better than expected, serving their most disadvantaged students and preparing kids for college. We also like being able to compare to other high schools across the country.  It is a somewhat clumsy comparison, however, since each state currently uses a different test to measure performance, and we look forward to the day when cross- state comparisons are facilitated by common assessments. We DON’T like that the data used by U.S. News are nearly two years old and hope that stakeholders will keep that in mind as they search for their school on the “Best” list.

The final stage of the rankings is focused on College- Level coursework. Here at OEP, we would like to see them including more indices of career readiness, because not everyone wants to go to college. Just like ‘the best’ colleges, just because it is ‘the best’ doesn’t mean it is the best for your student.




A few notes:

Towards the low and high ends of the economically disadvantaged distribution, however, it can be difficult to predict where a ‘typical’ school should be. For example, there is only one high school in Arkansas with less than 20% economically disadvantaged (Haas Hall), so the ‘prediction’ of how the students should be performing may not be as accurate as it is for the schools in the range of 40-70% economically disadvantaged where the majority of the high schools are identified.

A high school’s low performance may be the result of the entire school system that the students attended BEFORE the high school. However, many of the significantly under-performing schools are small rural high schools that serve grades 7-12.

2016 Arkansas Education Report Card

In The View from the OEP on April 19, 2017 at 10:35 am

2016 ARRC

Today, OEP is pleased to release our annual Arkansas Education Report Card.  Also this week, the Arkansas Department of Education released the annual School Performance Reports.  Although both reports provide information about student performance on state and national assessments, the reports have different perspectives;  OEP’s Report Card compiles the information to inform a state and regional analysis, while ADE reports district- and school-level information.

OEP’s Report Card includes summary information and analysis of student performance, high school graduation rate, college readiness, student growth, school discipline, National Board Certified teachers,  and education spending in one easy-to-access report.

Highlights from this year’s report card include:

  • ACT Aspire:  Arkansas students in grades 3-10 completed ACT Aspire assessments in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science in Spring 2015, and performed the highest in ELA, with 48% meeting readiness benchmarks. In math, 43% of students statewide met the benchmarks, but in science only 38% of students met the readiness benchmark. Students in 6th grade were most likely to meet the benchmarks in all three subjects.


  • ITBS: In 2015-16, Arkansas’ 1st and 2nd grade reading scores held steady, and math scores rebounded to previous levels after a sharp decline in 2014-15.


  • ACT: For the first time, all 11th graders in the state completed the ACT in Spring 2015, and the results, similar to the results for the graduating class of 2016, show that Arkansas students are more likely to meet college-readiness benchmarks in English and reading than in math and science.


  • High School Graduation Rate: Arkansas’ 2014-15 graduation rate of 85% is above the national average but declined slight;y from the prior year.   continued an upward trend.  The 2015-16 graduation rate released this week, however, bounced back to 87%. In addition, we find that the gap between graduation rates for at-risk students and their more advantaged peers has been reduced by more than half in the past six years.


  • Value-Added Student Growth: The new student growth model examines how students are growing academically. Measuring individual student growth
    over time provides a different perspective than the percentage of students meeting readiness benchmarks. The current two years of growth information are based
    on a variety of assessments but we are optimistic that future years based on consistent assessments may inform educators and policy makers about which schools are providing students high-quality learning experiences.


  • School Discipline: During the 2015-16 school year, school districts reported 59 disciplinary incidents per 100 students. Over 80% of the reported infractions are minor and non-violent. The majority of consequences received by students for misbehavior exclude students from their learning environment, with 57% of the consequences reported as in-school suspension or out-of-school suspension.


  • National Board Certified Teachers: Arkansas is a leader in the percentage of teachers that have received National Board Certification, but we find that they are more likely to work in low-poverty schools.


  • Education funding: Arkansas ranks 11th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. with respect to the percentage of taxable resources that are spent on education.  Education is consistently supported in the state budget, and progressive for regions in need of support.


We hope the 2016 Arkansas Education Report Card can inform parents, teachers and policy makers as they work to ensure all Arkansas students are on track for success.


Superintendent Salaries in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on April 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm


Last month, a bill limiting superintendent salaries to 250% of the lowest teacher salary in the district passed out of the House education committee. HB1917, sponsored by Representative Walker, didn’t go any further before the end of the session, but it got us thinking.

Representative Walker’s stated intention was to use the bill as a level to increase teacher salaries in the state.  As we’ve discussed before, teacher salaries are determined by local school boards, so perhaps the proposed Superintendent salary limitation would  incentivize school boards to increase teacher salaries to be able to pay more for a quality superintendent, or perhaps the Superintendent would pressure an increase in teacher salaries to ensure his/her own.

Comparing Superintendent and Teacher Salaries

Here at the OEP, we decided to take a look at the salary data, and hope these short analyses will help you learn more about superintendent salaries in Arkansas, how HB1917 would work in practice, and some modifications that could make the salary comparisons more equitable.

First, we had to find how much each district paid the “lowest paid classroom teacher”.  Teacher salary varies by experience and education, but we used the public salary scales to determine how much each district paid teachers with a BA and no experience- the lowest point on the salary scale.  Beginning teachers in Arkansas have an average of salary of $33,645.

Next, we had to find how much each superintendent is currently paid.  This information was more difficult to locate.  While each district is required to post the salaries of all employees on their website, it often takes some digging to find.  Like teachers, superintendents vary in their experience and education which impacts their salary.  In addition, some superintendents receive additional benefits like a car, a phone allowance, or a housing allowance. For the purposes of this analysis, we just consider the most recently available annual salary. The average superintendent in Arkansas makes $113,801 annually.

The HB1917 Ratio would apply at the district level, with each superintendent’s salary compared to the salary of the teachers employed by his/her district.  We’ve developed a handy spreadsheet so you can find all the data here. A quick note about charter schools: Charters were excluded from these analysis because many have waivers for salary scales and other requirements, but we included what data we would locate in the spreadsheet.

HB1917 Ratio: Superintendent Salary Compared to Base Teacher Salary

The table below examines the district-level comparison, and the proposed HB1917 Ratio.  Statewide, superintendents are paid 338% of beginning teacher salaries. The lowest HB1917 Ratio is 218%, while the highest is 639%.  Note that the district with the lowest ratio pays beginning teachers more than the state average, and pays the superintendent less than the state average.

In fact only 5 districts (2% of the traditional districts in the state) currently have a HB1917 Ratio less than 250%. Although the intention of the cap seems to be to incentivize districts to raise teacher salaries, two of the districts with low ratios, below 250%,  pay starting teachers less than the state average, and the reason why the ratio is low is due not to better teacher salaries but rather to the relatively low superintendent salaries.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Base Teacher Salary        (BA+0 years experience) $33,656 $33,750 $35,232
Superintendent Salary $113,647 $73,494 $225,000
HB1917 Ratio   Superintendent Salary / Teacher Salary 338% 218% 639%

HB1917 Ratio v2: Superintendent Salary Compared to Average Teacher Salary

Given how few districts would meet the 250% threshold under the proposed bill,  we think it might be more meaningful to compare superintendent salaries to the average teacher salary in each district.  The average teacher in Arkansas has 12 years experience and 41% have a Master’s degree. District average teacher salary is a more equitable comparison because superintendents have more education and experience than the brand-new teachers in their districts. We call this ratio HB1917 Ratio v2

When examining average teacher salary under HB1917 Ratio v2, 60% of districts (139 of the traditional districts in the state) have a HB1917 Ratio v2 of less than 250%.  The table below examines the district-level comparison of the modified ratio.  Over all districts, the average HB1917 Ratio v2 is 232%, while the lowest is 168% and the highest is 416%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Average Classroom Teacher Salary $48,976 $55,819 $51,740
Superintendent Salary $113,801 $94,000 $215,000
HB1917 Ratio v2 Superintendent Salary / Average Teacher Salary 232% 168% 416%

HB1917 Ratio v3: Adjusting for Contract Length

One more thought: Superintendents generally are contracted to work 25% more days than teachers. Teachers typically have 190-day contracts, while Superintendent contracts are usually for 240 days. It makes sense to calculate a daily salary based on the number of days contracted to work and compare that rate between Superintendents and teachers.
HB1917 Ratio v3– the ratio of the daily superintendent salary to the daily average teacher salary, has an average of 183% over all districts. Under this model which is adjusted for days worked, 88% of the districts in the state have a HB1917 Ratio v3 less than  250%.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily Average Classroom Teacher Salary $258 $294 $272
Daily Superintendent Salary $474 $392 $896
HB1917 Ratio v3 Daily Superintendent Salary / Daily Average Teacher Salary 184% 133% 329%

HB1917 Ratio v4: Adjusting for Number of Students Served

A teacher in Arkansas is responsible for, on average, 12 students, but the average superintendent is responsible for over 1,800.  Some superintendents oversee around 350 students, while Little Rock’s superintendent supports over 20,000.  District size and superintendent salary are correlated at +.84 , meaning that superintendents in larger districts generally get paid more than superintendents in smaller districts. Examining salary on a per pupil basis provides further insight into the relationship between superintendent and teacher salaries in the state.

HB1917 Ratio v4– the ratio of the daily per pupil superintendent salary to the daily per pupil average teacher salary, has an average of 1.23% over all districts. As you would expect, teachers make much more per student than superintendents, with the average teacher earning $21 per pupil per day, and the average superintendent earning $0.25 per pupil per day.  Under this student enrollment-adjusted model, the largest districts have the lowest superintendent cost per pupil, and smaller districts have higher superintendent costs per pupil.

Statewide Average Lowest Ratio Highest Ratio
Daily per pupil Average Classroom Teacher Salary $20.78 $24.96 $15.18
Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary $0.25 $0.04 $1.03
HB1917 Ratio v4               Daily per pupil Superintendent Salary /    Daily per pupil Average Teacher Salary 1.23% 0.17% 6.8%

There are issues with this ratio, however, because examining only the superintendent’s salary likely provides a distorted view of the per pupil cost.  In larger districts there are typically additional administrators supporting the superintendent whose salaries we are not including, while in small districts Central Administration staff is limited.

Summary and recommendations:

Here at OEP, we like the idea of examining teacher salaries, superintendent salaries, and how schools are using their resources to support student learning.  It is interesting to note that neither superintendent salary or average teacher salaries were correlated with district performance in 2015-16 (values were .09 and .24 respectively). While we like the idea of examining school spending, we like it best when it makes sense and compares apples to apples as much as possible.

By using average teacher salary instead of base teacher salary, and adjusting for the difference in the number of days contracted, the ratio of superintendent salary and average teacher salary shows that superintendents are typically making 184% of the average teacher in their district.  Given that 88% of the districts in the state have a ratio below  the proposed 250%, we suggest that this is the more reasonable ratio to use to examine the relationship between Superintendent and teacher salaries.

For smaller districts, it might be helpful to examine the per pupil cost of superintendent and teacher salaries to ensure that resources are being allocated appropriately.  Teacher-student ratios are below the funded level in every district throughout the state, but particularly in small districts.  Current teacher-student ratio is one teacher per twelve students, while the state standards and the funding matrix allow a for a ratio of more than double the current teacher-student ratio of one teacher per twelve students.  Increasing the number of students per teacher to nearer the funded ratio allows for greater resources to be allocated to teacher salaries or other district needs.

How much SHOULD districts be spending?

Every district receives the same funding per student for teacher and administrative salaries and benefits. Funding for teacher salaries and benefits is set at $4,290 per student for the 2015-16 school year, and about 75% of school districts are allocating that amount or more.

The only central office position required by the state accreditation standards is the superintendent.  In the funding matrix, central administration is indirectly funded at $376 per student, and includes the salaries and benefits of the superintendent as well as administration personnel (legal, fiscal, human resources, communications, etc.), district instructional and pupil support directors, and clerical staff.  Only one district was spending more than $376 per pupil on the superintendent salary, and the HB1917 Ratio v4 captures the difference between the relatively high superintendent salary and the low teacher salary.

Examining the relationship between per pupil funding and spending on salaries and benfits, as well as comparing to ‘similar districts’ can help schools ensure that their resources are being allocated appropriately.

Growth versus Proficiency in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on April 5, 2017 at 12:55 pm

One of our favorite topics came up recently during the confirmation hearing for the Federal Secretary of Education when the question about “Growth- versus- Proficiency” as the best method for measuring schools was raised. This is an important question for students, parents, educators and policymakers and we think it is important for all to understand how these measures of school quality are being used in Arkansas, the difference between using growth and proficiency to evaluate school performance, and how these measures relate to school-level characteristics.

Tall to Ride.pngProficiency measures if students met the criteria set by the state to measure ‘grade level’ performance on the state test. We like to think of it as the “You Must Be This Tall To Ride” signs like they have at amusement parks.

Wall Growth.png

Growth measures if students grew academically from one year to the next as much as we expected them to grow based on what we know about them. This is similar to marks on a wall that parents use to track their child’s increasing height over time.

In today’s blog we examine Arkansas’ use of growth measures and how they relate to other school characteristics.

Proficiency rates have been the main measure of Arkansas school quality since No Child Left Behind, but Growth has been included in the state’s A-F school letter grades since 2014. Arkansas is currently developing a new plan to evaluate and report school quality and to identify schools in need of additional support under the federal requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In addition to these applications of proficiency and growth rates, under the Arkansas School Recognition Program, schools in the top 10% of the state in proficiency and those in the top 10% of the state in growth are provided monetary rewards (you can find the list of top schools here: and read our prior blog about it.

Success is more than “Proficiency”

Over the past 15 years since No Child Left Behind, students, parents, educators and policymakers have realized that proficiency rates have serious limitations when describing the quality of a school.

  • Certain types students are more likely to be proficient on the state test. Those who come into kindergarten already reading vs. those who may not have been exposed to books often in the home. Students who were well fed, both before and after birth, as opposed to those suffering from food insecurity. In Arkansas, as elsewhere, non-minority, non- disadvantaged students tend to be more likely to meet state “Proficiency” standards. When we use proficiency to evaluate schools, like we did under NCLB, it is very difficult for schools serving minority and disadvantaged students to be successful. Even if the schools are doing an excellent job educating the students, it is difficult to get students who started school behind to meet grade level expectations.
  • Can lead to focus on improving the skills of students who are ‘close’ to meeting proficiency targets, and neglecting high-performing students who are definitely going to exceed the proficiency target or struggling students who are very unlikely to meet the proficiency target at the end of the year.
  • States created their own assessments and set their own ‘proficiency’ criteria, meaning that a student ‘proficient’ in one state may not be ‘proficient’ in another.

How Can We Measure Student Growth?

To try to quantify how effective a school is at increasing the knowledge of its students, many states, including Arkansas, are measuring changes in individual student achievement over time. There are many different models for measuring growth, but Arkansas’ model uses a student’s prior academic performance on state assessments to predict where the student will likely score, then compares the actual score to the predicted score.

The process is illustrated in Figure 1. The dark blue dots represent an individual student’s score history on state assessments from third to seventh grade. Using these prior scores, researchers generate a trajectory (represented by the dotted line) that predicts what the student would be likely to score on the 8th grade test. If the student scores at the light blue dot, which is on the trajectory, then the student grew as expected. If the student scored at the level of the green dot, the student grew more than expected, and if the student scored at the level of the red dot, the student grew less than expected. It is important to note that student “Proficiency” is not indicated in the figure. This student may be well below, well above, or right at ‘grade level’, but this standard is not considered in relation to the student’s academic growth over time. You can learn more about the process here.

Figure 1: Example of Arkansas’ Longitudinal Growth Model

Growth Model

Students included in Arkansas’ growth model were tested on the state assessment in English Language Arts and Math, in grades 2 through 10, and had prior state assessment scores.  When predicting student scores, we should use as many years of a student’s score history as are available. Although two students scored similarly on state assessments in the year immediately prior to the prediction, they could have had very different score histories; perhaps one was declining but the other was increasing.

This student-level growth model becomes a “Value-Added” model when the growth is attributed to the school. The student-level growth scores are averaged at the school–level, and this is a measure of how “effective” the school has been at educating students, or, in other words how much “Value” the school has “Added” to its students’ learning.

Interpreting Value-Added scores

Schools that receive a growth score close to 0 enroll students who grew academically at the expected rate. Positive values indicate that the school had students, on average, grew more than expected, while negative values indicate the average student at the school grew less than predicted. These value-added scores have a mean value of 0, and the standard deviation at the school level is about 0.07.

What do we know about school-level growth scores?

Arkansas has reported school level values from the current growth model for two years. The results can help inform educators, parents, and policymakers about schools that are making greater than predicted academic improvements, and which schools might need additional support to ensure that all students are growing academically.

So, quick question…

Given what you know about Arkansas’ growth model- do you think the scores will be related to other school characteristics such as school size, the percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch, or proficiency rates? 

School size:

Do you think school size would be related to its students’ academic growth? We have no reason to think that smaller schools or larger schools would produce better growth rates, but want to use it as an introduction to interpreting school-level value-added scores.

We examined the relationship between 2015-16 school value-added scores and the number of students included in the model. Students included were tested on ACT Aspire English Language Arts and Math in grades 3-10, or the ITBS in grade 2, and had prior state assessment scores.

The scatter plot of the values for all for Arkansas schools is presented in Figure 2. The vertical axis presents the school value-added score, and ranges from -0.5 to +0.5. The horizontal axis represents the number of students included in the growth model for the school and ranges from 0 to 3,000 (we trimmed a few extremely large schools from the graph for illustrative purposes).

As you can see from the scatter plot, there is essentially no relationship between the number of student tested at a school and the value–added score that the school received. The correlation is essentially zero at +0.08.

Figure 2: Arkansas’ School-level Value-Added Scores and Number of Students Assessed/Included in Growth Model, 2015-16.


Free/Reduced Lunch:

Do you think schools serving more economically-advantaged students would have higher growth rates? Or would you expect a school with high enrollment of disadvantaged students would have “more room to grow” and that this would be reflected in higher growth scores? We examined the relationship between 2015-16 growth values and rates of FRL eligibility for all for Arkansas schools.

The scatter plot of the values for all for Arkansas schools is presented in Figure 3. The vertical axis presents the school value-added score, and ranges from -0.5 to +0.5.  The horizontal axis represents the school-level percent of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch, a proxy measure for low socio-economic status, and the values range from 100% to 0%.

As you can see from Figure 3 below, there is some relationship between the number of student tested at a school and the value –added score that the school received. While at the majority of Free/ Reduced Lunch rates there are schools that received higher value added and lower value-added scores, almost all school with fewer than 30% of students eligible for FRL received positive growth values. The correlation is between value-added and school- level FRL is and moderately negative at -0.48.

Figure 3: Arkansas’ School-level Value-Added Scores and Percentage of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch Program, 2015-16.


Proficiency Rate:

Would you expect schools with students who are higher achieving to have higher growth rates? Or would you expect that school with more low-performing students would have higher value-added scores because the students have “more room to grow”. We examined the relationship between 2015-16 growth values and proficiency rates for all for Arkansas schools. Because 2015-16 proficiency rates would be directly impacted by student growth (higher growth would lead to higher proficiency), we used the 2014-15 school proficiency rates to examine the relationship between proficiency and growth.

The scatter plot of the values is presented in Figure 4. The vertical axis represents the school value-added score, and ranges from -0.5 to +0.5. The horizontal axis represents the percent of students meeting or exceeding benchmarks on the 2015 PARCC Math and ELA assessments in grades 3-10, and the values range from 0% to 100%.

As you can see from Figure 4, there is a moderate relationship between the number of students scoring proficient at a school and the value –added score that the school received: schools that had proficiency rates over 50% in 2015 also had higher value-added scores in 2016. School with lower proficiency rates had greater variability in the value-added scores but were more likely to receive low value-added in 2016. The correlation between value-added and prior year proficiency is moderately positive at +0.57.

Figure 4: Arkansas’ School-level Value-Added Scores (2015-16) and Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient, 2014-15.


In Figure 5, we overlay the scatte rplot presented in Figure 4 with colored zones to facilitate visualizing the patterns in the data.  In Figure 5, the upper-left quadrant represents schools where students were below the state average in proficiency rates, but demonstrated greater than expected growth (note schools in the white band are representing expected growth). The upper-right quadrant represents schools where students were above the state average in proficiency rates, and demonstrated greater than expected growth. The lower-left quadrant represents schools where students were below the state average in proficiency rates, and demonstrated lower than expected growth, and the lower-right quadrant represents schools where students were above the state average in proficiency rates, but demonstrated lower than expected growth.

While no one would argue that we should celebrate the schools with high proficiency and high growth, and support the schools with low proficiency and low growth, many disagree about whether we should be more concerned about schools with low proficiency and high growth or schools with schools with high proficiency and low growth.

Figure 5: Arkansas’ School-level Value-Added Scores (2015-16) and Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient, 2014-15 with Highlighted Quadrants.


How Consistent are Value Added Scores?

A common concern regarding value-added scores is that they are inconsistent – fluctuating up and down over time. Arkansas only has two years of Value-added data, but we looked to see how consistent the values were. The scatter plot of the values in presented in Figure 6. The vertical axis represents the 2016 value-added score while the horizontal axis represents 2015 value-added score. The axes both range from -0.5 to +0.5.

As you can see from Figure 6, there is a weak relationship between the school-level value–added scores from 2015 and 2016. Some schools that scored positively in 2015 had negative value-added for 2016 and vice versa. The correlation between school-level value-added from 2015 and 2016 is weak at 0.35.

Figure 6: Arkansas’ School-level Value-Added Scores,  2014-15 and 2015-16.


What does all this this mean?

Arkansas’ longitudinal student growth model measures the academic improvement of students over time and attributes that “Value-Added” to the school that they attend. When we examine the value-added information for the two years for which data are available, we find that the values are moderately correlated with FRL and the percent of students proficient at the school in the previous year, and that the school-level value–added scores from 2015 and 2016 are only weakly related.

We strongly support measuring student level growth, and think it is definitely the right thing to do.

That said, we were surprised that the value-added scores were so correlated with prior year proficiency and FRL rates. We were hoping they would be more independent, like school size, because when they aren’t it makes us wonder why individual student growth would be related to these school characteristics.

We must remember, however, that we are just examining the correlations, and ‘correlation is not causation’. Perhaps high-achieving schools are presenting students with more rigorous material that promotes student growth? Maybe some low performing schools have ineffective practices, or feeling defeated after years of “not meeting proficiency”. The goal of using student growth is to isolate the impact of the school as much as possible, excluding external factors from our measurements of school quality.  When we see the relationship between proficiency, poverty, and growth we are concerned that we may not yet have achieved success.

We are also somewhat concerned that the value-added score for the two available years are only weakly related at 0.35. On the one hand, we can see that things may change within a school that might have a positive or negative impact on school growth (teachers, principal, curriculum, etc.), and we may not WANT consistency but some variability to reflect the impact of changes in the school on student growth. On the other hand, we are somewhat surprised that the two years are so weakly correlated while proficiency is strongly correlated across the two years at 0.81.

Although the student growth model is well suited for measuring change even over different assessments like Arkansas has experienced, perhaps all the changes have resulted in inconsistent growth data. Not because of the model itself, but because of the different test content/ format, different performance expectations, students getting used to taking the assessments on the computers, etc.

Next Steps:

It may take some time for parents, educators, and policymakers to better understand what the value-added scores mean and how to act on the information to support student learning, but there are some things we recommend doing right now in regards to value-added scores.

  • Learn more about Arkansas’ value-added Scores (you can check this one off already!)
  • Check out your school’s value-added from 2015 and 2016 (you can access it here)
  • See how your school’s value-added score compares with “similar schools”- remember to consider differences of 0.04 or less as being essentially the same as your school.
  • State department personnel are likely reviewing schools that have had very low value-added scores for the past two years to see if additional support is needed, while schools that have had very high value-added scores should be reviewed to see if they are implementing any unique practices that could transfer to other schools.
  • Don’t get TOO wrapped up in the value-added scores yet. We look forward to examining the 2016-17 value-added scores to see if the relationship between these key variables is changing.
  • Chime in on ESSA planning.  You now have a better understanding than Betsy DeVos of the proficiency-versus-growth issue, and particularly how it impacts schools in Arkansas.  Let your voice be heard on the new state plan!

Perhaps this was more than you wanted to know about the ins and outs of growth and proficiency, but here at OEP, we believe the more you know about the measures being used to measure student and school success, the better decisions we can make to support our schools.

SB 555: Changes to National Board Bonuses

In The View from the OEP on March 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Did you know that Arkansas has one of the highest percentages of National Board Certified teachers in the county?  With 2,901 Board-certified teachers making up about 7% of the public school teaching population we are in the top 10!

One of the reasons for such a relatively high rate of Board-certification may be the significant financial rewards provided by the state to teachers who achieve certification.  The state pays for certification fees and up to three days of substitute teachers for educators pursuing Board certification. In addition, teachers, counselors, library/media specialists, literacy specialists, math specialists, principals, assistant principals, and other instructional leaders can receive an annual bonus for Board certification. Currently, Board-certified teachers receive an annual bonus of $5,000 for a period of ten years. Given that about 100 Arkansas teachers get Board-certified each year, that’s $5 million in bonuses per cohort!

Changes may be in store for these bonuses, however.  The bonuses compile for each cohort and get pretty expensive, so it is important to ask if the bonuses for teachers are making a difference for students. It is also important to remember that many districts in the state provide additional financial incentives for Board certification.


Is it making a difference for Arkansas students?


There are no studies measuring the academic impact of Board-certified teachers on Arkansas students, but we can see what type of schools Board-certified teachers are working in. In 2013-14,  only 31% of the 2,172 NBC teachers in Arkansas were working with the most at-risk students in the state, those attending high-poverty schools in high-poverty districts (at least 70% of students on FRL). Conversely, 69% of NBC teachers were working in schools that were not high-poverty.

Even further, as we have addressed previously, NBC teachers in Arkansas are far more likely to work with the most-advantaged students: 22% of NBC serve students in the most advantaged 10% of Arkansas districts, while only 2% of NBC teachers work in the poorest 10% of districts.


Where Arkansas’ Board-certified teachers worked in 2013-14:


Differentiated Bonuses: SB 555


Many states offer additional bonuses to incentivize Board-certified teachers to work in high-need schools.   Under SB555, teachers receiving Board-certification after January 2018 will be eligible for differentiated bonuses depending upon where they teach.  Teachers teaching in more at-risk students will receive $10,000 per year for ten years, while those teaching less disadvantaged students will receive $2,500 annually for five years. You can find more about SB 555 in today’s policy brief.

School/ District where NBC is teaching High-poverty school in a high-poverty district High-poverty school in a non- high-poverty district Non-high-poverty school
Annual Bonus $10,000 $5,000 $2,500
Term 10 years 5 years 5 years

Teachers who are currently Board-certified will not be impacted by SB 555 and will continue to receive $5,000 per year for the remainder of the ten-year period. Board-certified teachers in high-poverty schools may, however, elect to receive the new bonus amounts.

Given the current distribution of NBC teachers in Arkasnas’ schools, these new bonus structure would save $1.6 million per cohort.

Good idea for kids and teachers!


Nearly half of Arkansas’ districts and over 40% of schools meet the definition of ‘high-poverty’ under SB 555. Over 40% of Arkansas’ students attend these schools that often experience low performance and student growth.

We believe that the significant increase in the annual bonus for Board-certified teachers working in high-poverty schools could create important learning opportunities for both students and staff. The $10,000 annual bonus is nearly a 25% increase in average teacher pay for high-poverty districts. This large bonus may incentivize current teachers to achieve Board certification and perhaps develop further expertise in their craft. The large bonus may also motivate those who are already Board-certified to remain in high-poverty schools, providing quality leadership increasing stability in the staff. In addition, teachers who are relatively new to the profession may elect to work in these districts for the incentive, and over the 10-year period adding to the economic and cultural development of the surrounding community.

While we don’t imagine many current NBC teachers will make major geographic moves due to the differentiated bonuses, in the future, board-certified teachers may elect to make a small change to receive the larger bonus. Instead of teaching in non-high poverty schools, Board-certified teachers may opt to teach in a local high-poverty school and that could provide increased opportunities and greater educational equity for students.

We are excited to see policymakers using existing funds to leverage human resources in a way that may increase educational opportunities for our state’s most at-risk students. SB 555 has passed through both the full House and Senate.  The amended bill was re-referred to the Senate Education committee on 3/28 and is anticipated to be approved.


For more information about this, please read the policy brief

What is National Board Certification?


National Board Certification for teachers began over 25 years ago, and is modeled after the practice in the medical and legal fields, where Board certification identifies practitioners as having met an exceptional level of expertise. Arkansas’ teacher licensure system sets the basic requirements to teach, while completion of National Board Certification (NBC) is a voluntary professional certification process developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Proponents of National Board Certification for teachers cite research that indicates the students of NBC teachers show greater academic growth than other students, and that NBC teachers demonstrate higher quality teaching practices. It is not clear, however, if the process of becoming certified increases teacher effectiveness, or if more effective teachers are simply more likely to self-select to pursue certification.

Beating the Odds: High Achieving schools serving Low-Income Populations

In The View from the OEP on March 15, 2017 at 11:04 am

BTO 2016We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are achieving at a high level despite serving a population where at least 66% of the students participate in the Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, which is based on low household income.  While poverty can negatively impact student success, the schools awarded today demonstrate that their students are “Beating the Odds.”  The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.

Elementary Schools

The top elementary school beating the odds overall is Salem Elementary from Salem School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 69% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  75% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the ACT Aspire. Salem Elementary was also among OEP’s top 10 for elementary schools throughout the state, regardless of student demographics, demonstrating that achievement is not always tied to demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

1. Salem Elementary (Salem)
2. Clinton Elementary (Clinton)
3. (tie) Bismarck Elementary (Bismarck)
3. (tie) Forest Heights STEM Academy (Little Rock)
5. Nemo Vista Elementary (Nemo Vista)
6. (tie) College Station Elementary (Pulaski County Special)
6. (tie) Amanda Gist Elementary (Cotter)
8. (tie) Eagle heights Elementary (Harrison)
8. (tie) Des Arc Elementary (Des Arc)
10. Eastside Elementary (Rogers)

You can find the top BTO elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.

Middle Schools

Clinton Intermediate from Clinton School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Clinton Intermediate serves a student population where of students are 77% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 61% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the ACT Aspire. The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

1. Clinton Intermediate (Clinton)
2. Atkins Middle (Atkins)
3. Leslie Intermediate (Searcy County)
4. Mena Middle (Mena)
5. Mountain View Middle (Mountain View)
6. (tie) DeQueen Middle (DeQueen)
6. (tie) Lingle Middle (Rogers)
8. (tie) Southside Middle (Southside (Independence))
8. (tie) Oakdale Middle (Rogers)
9. Cave City Middle (Cave City)

You can find the top BTO middle schools by subject and region in the full report.

Junior High

Clinton Jr. High was the top junior high beating the odds.  Despite serving a student population that is 69% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  56% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the ACT Aspire. Clinton Jr. High ranked first among high-poverty junior high schools in every subject area, and is also among OEP’s top 20 high achieving junior high schools throughout the state.  Given the  regardless of student demographics, demonstrating that achievement is not always tied to demographics. The top 10 junior high schools that are beating the odds are:

1. Clinton Jr. High (Clinton)
2. DeQueen  Jr. High  (DeQueen)
3. Southwest  Jr. High (Springdale)
4. Morrilton  Jr. High (South Conway County)
5. (tie) Clarksville  Jr. High (Clarksville)
5. (tie) Nashville  Jr. High (Nashville)
7. Nettleton Jr. High (Nettleton)
8. Malvern Middle (Malvern)
9. Trumann Intermediate 7-8 (Trumann)
10. Magnolia Jr. High (Magnolia)

You can find the top BTO junior high schools by subject in the full report.

High School

The top high school beating the odds is Norfork High in Norfork.  Despite serving a student population that is 82% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  53% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the ACT Aspire. Norfork High ranked first among high-poverty high schools in math and science, and is also among OEP’s top 20 high achieving high schools throughout the state.  Norfork High students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

1. Norfork High (Norfork) 
2. Timbo High  (Mountain View)
3. Des Arc High (Des Arc)
4. County Line High (County Line)
5. Oark High (Jasper)
6. (tie) Omaha High (Omaha)
6. (tie) Bradley High (Emerson-Taylor-Bradley)
8. Cave City High (Cave City)
9. Hoxie High (Hoxie)
10. Gosnell High (Gosnell)

You can find the top BTO high schools by subject and region in the full report.

Congratulations to all the OEP “Beating the Odds” award winners!  Keep up the great work and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!


How are OEP awards different?

There are many lists of “Best Schools”, so why is the OEP’s list special?  It’s simple- we use the most recent assessment data and a methodology that is easy to understand, accounts for students at all performance levels, and doesn’t include self-reported (unverified) data. We have addressed our concerns with the Niche rankings before, Schooldigger uses a modification the old-school % proficient measure, and Greatschools uses assessment data from 2014!

Unlike the state performance awards that were given out a few months ago, OEP awards are grouped by school level (Elementary, Middle, Jr. High and High) and by Region (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast).  In addition, we include science as well as ELA and math in calculating overall achievement, and report high achieving schools by individual subjects as well.

The OEP calculates a GPA for schools in each subject based on the number of students that performed at each level on the most recent state exams.  Because of changes in the state assessment system, GPAs for 2016 are not directly comparable to prior years. For ACT Aspire performance, students scoring ‘Exceeded Expectations’ are assigned 4 points, those ‘Ready to Learn’ are assigned 3 points, students who are ‘Close to Meeting Expectations’ get 2 , and students ‘In Need of Support’ receive 1 point.  If all students in a school scored at the highest level, Exceeded Expectations, the school would get a 4.0, while if all scored at the lowest level the school would be assigned a GPA of 1.0.

OEP Awards for high schools are different from the US News Best High Schools in several ways:

  • OEP uses the most recent assessment data available, while US News is a year behind,
  • OEP includes all subject areas: US News doesn’t include science performance,
  • OEP Awards are only for high schools in Arkansas,
  • OEP and US News both use a weighted performance method, but US News now factors in school FRL rates to determine if a school is performing ‘better than expected’ given the student population,
  • OEP reports high-achievers by Region (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast) and high achieving schools by individual subjects, and
  • OEP limits our analysis to overall performance on state assessments, and does not consider the performance of disadvantaged student subgroups or the degree to which high schools prepare students for college by offering a college-level curriculum.

More information about the US News Best High Schools determination can be found in our blog post.