University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Let’s Reward Growth!

In The View from the OEP on October 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

This week, Arkansas schools received nearly $7 million in reward money from the Arkansas’ School Recognition Program. This program provides funds for “outstanding schools”.  Schools are rewarded for being in the top 10 percent of schools in the state for academic achievement and/or academic growth.

Here at OEP, we are glad that schools are being rewarded, but think the program could be improved in three ways:

  1. Award all the funds to schools where students are showing high academic growth,
  2. Remove graduation rate from the calculations, and
  3. Reward schools for highest growth ranking within school level (Elementary, Middle, or High) instead of across all schools.

Put the Money Where the Growth is

We wish that all the reward and recognition funds were given to those schools where students are demonstrating high academic growth! Of course we think academic achievement is important, but suggest that it is not the best indicator of how well a school is educating students. We have talked before about the clear relationship between academic achievement and poverty, because students from homes with greater resources are likely to perform better on the annual assessments in in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Academic growth, on the other hand, reflects how much improvement the students are making from year to year, which is what school personnel can impact directly through high-quality instruction. Recognizing and rewarding schools where teachers are growing students’ academic performance is critical to ensure that our teachers feel supported in their work to help every student learn every day.

It is important we all understand that high academic achievement and high growth are not mutually exclusive! There are 10 schools (listed below) that were in the top 5% for both academic achievement and growth.

Table 1: Schools Identified in the top 5% of schools in the state for both Growth and Achievement, 2017-18.

top 5%Notice that among these 10 schools recognized for top-tier growth and achievement, there are schools with very small percentages of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch (a proxy for poverty), as well as schools with FRL rates above the state average of 63%. We are excited to see high growth and at all types of schools!  Salem Elementary and Bismark Elementary serve populations that are 65% and 71% FRL respectively, but are in the top 5% of schools in the state for both achievement and growth. We are excited to see that these top-tier schools serve different types of student populations, but are all serving their students so well!

In fact, half of the schools in the top 5% for growth serve a higher than average percentage of students eligible for FRL – topping out with Parson Hills in Springdale and Tilles in Forth Smith which both serve over 90% of students eligible for FRL.

When it comes to high-ranking in achievement, however, schools serving more disadvantaged populations are harder to find. Only five of the schools that made the top tier in achievement were above the state average %FRL (including Salem and Bismarck- that we already mentioned).

This means we have a bunch of high-achieving schools getting reward money that aren’t showing top tier student growth. Most of the schools recognized for high achievement demonstrate above average growth, ten rewarded schools had growth below the state average.  In fact, 4 schools rewarded for high achievement were in the bottom quartile for growth among all schools in the state. We aren’t going to name those schools here- but recommend that you check out how well your school performed in growth in these easy to interpret school info one-pagers. Just select your school see the percentile rank for achievement, growth, and SQSS indicators.


What’s The Deal with Graduation Rate?

For high schools, the current law requires that graduation rate be included in the ‘growth’ calculation. It’s odd, and likely a leftover from the old days when we didn’t have growth indicators for high school, but at least it isn’t biased against schools serving more at-risk students since graduation rates aren’t really correlated with poverty rates! (r=-0.17). This year, both the 4- and 5- year graduation rates were included, which we think is an improvement because it at least benefits schools that are going the extra mile to help all kids graduate, even if it takes extra time.  Overall though, we think the recognition program should remove graduation rate from the calculations, because they just inflate growth scores for high schools, and makes the system misaligned with ESSA.


Reward Within School Level

The legislation for the reward program clearly states that schools will be rewarded for being in the top tier “of all public schools”, but here at OEP, we would love to see schools awarded recognition and reward money based on their ranking WITHIN their school level.  Making this change would be more equitable for all schools, and would align more closely with the state’s ESSA plan. If we want to incentivize schools to show growth, we have to make sure schools in all levels have a chance for rewards and recognition.


We Do It Our Way

We give OEP awards according to our preferences: only for growth, without graduation rate consideration for high schools, and within school level. In addition, we separate out growth in math and growth in ELA, because we think schools should be rewarded for their successes.

Tune in next week to find out which Elementary level schools receive OEP Awards for 2018!

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