University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Quality Counts 2017

In The View from the OEP on January 4, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Today Education Week released their annual Quality Counts report, which grades each state on their education performance.  This year Arkansas received an overall grade of C- and is ranked 43rd overall.  While receiving a C- is not new (Arkansas has received a C- for the last two years) our national ranking has slipped from 36th in 2015, to 41st in 2016, to the current 43rd.  As we have discussed in previous blog posts there are several issues with the grading system, and Arkansas’ scores have remained essentially stagnant.  We will dig into the report, but want to emphasize that we should not let this grade distract us from the work going on in the state.

This year’s report includes summative grades and rankings for states on education indicators as well as a special focus on transition to ESSA.

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.  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.

Below are the most recent three years of  Arkansas grades in each of the categories considered for 2017.  The full report highlighting Arkansas student achievement can be accessed here.

Quality Counts Categories AR Grade 2015 AR Grade 2016 AR Grade 2017
Chance for Success C- C-  C-
School Finance C C-  C-
K-12 Achievement D+ D  D*

* Note: K-12 Achievement values are unchanged from the 2016 Quality Counts report

We will dig into the report, but want to emphasize that we should not be too distracted by this grade, which reflects

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.”

  • High scores:  Arkansas ranks 9th nationally in steady adult employment- the percent of adults in labor force working full-time and year round. We rank 15th in the percentage of students attending preschool!
  • Low scores: Arkansas ranked 49th in annual income and in percent of adults with a two- or four-year degree- only 30.3% of Arkansas adults have a postsecondary degree. We also ranked low in other indicators: family income, parental education, parental employment, elementary reading, middle school math, and postsecondary enrollment.

School Finance: Examining school finance can provide insight into how well a state is supporting public education. This measure is one of the most problematic in our opinion, as Arkansas supports education well in our view.

  • High scores: Spending on education Arkansas ranked 11th nationally in the percent of taxable resources spent on education even higher than Massachusetts!
  • Low scores: Arkansas provides near the national average in per pupil spending when adjusted for variations in regional costs.  Because Arkansas’ funding is so equitable across the state, only 14.7% of students are in districts where the expenditures are above the national average.  Although we received low scores for this measure, here at the OEP we think the equity is a good thing!

K-12 Achievement:  The K-12 Achievement Index is unchanged from the 2016 report because it uses data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which is only administered every other year.  The Index examines 18 distinct state achievement measures related to reading and math performance, high school graduation rates, and the results of Advanced Placement exams.

  • High scores:  Arkansas ranked high in both 8th grade math gains and closing of the 4th grade reading achievement gap
  • Low scores: Arkansas ranked low compared to other states in math and reading achievement (2015 NAEP: 4th and 8th grade)

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 not what we would like to see, it is important to remember that these scores are old- from the 2015 NAEP administration and Arkansas’ students are making gains.

So what can we do?

This is EdWeek’s measure of educational quality, but here at OEP we don’t think it accurately captures all the strengths and areas for improvement.  ESSA is allowing states to develop measures of student achievement that are MEANINGFUL TO THEM.  Arkansas continues to gather input from stakeholders about what student success looks like for our state.  We recommend that you make your voice heard!

We believe that if policymakers and education leaders can focus on meaningful data, like student achievement AND growth, equity and efficiency in the face of disadvantage, and post-secondary transitions, students in Arkansas can continue to improve and reach greater levels of educational and lifelong success.

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