University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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

In The View from the OEP on December 5, 2018 at 11:36 am

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2018!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are demonstrating high academic growth 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.  Schools serving such student populations often struggle to demonstrate high academic achievement, and subsequently receive lower letter grades.

Academic growth, however, is less correlated with school poverty rates and we think it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students. Growth is calculated at the student level, and essentially reflects how much a student has improved his or her score from the prior year compared to what was predicted based on prior achievement history.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.

The OEP Awards highlight schools in Arkansas based on student growth on the ACT Aspire exams in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). We choose to give OEP Awards based on student growth because we think it is the best indicator of how the school is impacting students’ learning.

Although school-level growth scores are much less related to the percentage of students at a school who are participating in Free/Reduced Lunch than achievement scores, a negative correlation does exist (-0.24).  This means that students at schools serving higher poverty populations are more likely than their peers at more affluent schools to demonstrate less academic growth than predicted. As can be seen in the scatter plot below, schools with higher FRL rates are more likely to receive lower growth scores.

Figure 1. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, Arkansas Public Schools, 2018


If we limit the plot to only those schools with at least 66% of students participating in FRL, as presented in Figure 2, the relationship between poverty and growth essentially disappears. Although all of these schools are serving high poverty populations, there is wide variation in the amount of academic growth that students at the schools are demonstrating.

Figure 2. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, High-Poverty Arkansas Public Schools, 2018


We celebrate the state using this student-level growth model, and are pleased to be able to highlight how students are growing academically in schools across the state.  We hope that drawing attention to this growth information will spark discussions among stakeholders about the ways to ensure that all schools are growing the knowledge of Arkansas’ students.

“Beating the Odds” Elementary Level Schools

The top “Beating the Odds” elementary school overall is Crawford Elementary from Russellville School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 89% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Crawford Elementary students are among the top 5 schools that have demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire. Many of these top 10 Beating the Odds schools were also among the high growth elementary schools in the state, regardless of student demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Crawford Elementary, Russellville SD (89% FRL)
  2. Bismarck Elementary, Bismarck SD (71% FRL)
  3. Oscar Hamilton Elementary, Foreman SD (75% FRL)
  4. Parson Hills Elementary, Springdale SD (96% FRL)
  5. John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (78% FRL)
  6. Cross County Elementary Tech Academy, Cross County SD (73% FRL)
  7. Des Arc Elementary, Des Arc SD (69% FRL)
  8. Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (85% FRL)
  9. Sonora Elementary, Springdale SD (74% FRL)
  10. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (85% FRL)

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

“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Oak Grove Middle from Paragould School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Oak Grove Middle serves a 5th-6th grade student population where 76% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and was among the high growth middle schools in the state, regardless of student demographics.  The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Oak Grove Middle, Paragould SD (76% FRL)
  2. Paragould Junior High, Paragould SD (71% FRL)
  3. Cedarville Middle, Cedarville SD (74% FRL)
  4. Pleasant View Campus, Mulberry/Pleasant View Bi-County Schools SD (77% FRL)
  5. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (76% FRL)
  6. Butterfield Trail Middle, Van Buren SD (71% FRL)
  7. Beryl Henry Upper Elementary, Hope SD (89% FRL)
  8. O. Kelly Middle, Springdale SD (90% FRL)
  9. Little Rock Prep Academy Middle, Little Rock Preparatory Academy (76% FRL)
  10. Mansfield Middle, Mansfield SD (69% FRL)

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

“Beating the Odds” High Schools

The top high school beating the odds is Danville High in Danville School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 70% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, it is also among OEP’s top 20 high growth high schools throughout the state.  Danville 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. Danville High, Danville SD (70% FRL)
  2. Western Yell Co. High, Western Yell County SD (85% FRL)
  3. Cross County High A New Tech, Cross County SD (73% FRL)
  4. Trumann High, Trumann SD (70% FRL)
  5. Shirley High, Shirley SD (81% FRL)
  6. Gosnell High, Gosnell SD (74% FRL)
  7. Des Arc High, Des Arc SD (67% FRL)
  8. Izard Co. Cons. High, Izard County Consolidated SD (70% FRL)
  9. Cave City High Career & Collegiate Preparatory, Cave City SD (79% FRL)
  10. Maynard High, Maynard SD (70% FRL)
  11. Southwest Junior High, Springdale SD (71% FRL)

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 focus on student growth.  We examine growth specifically by content area because we think it is important to examine each subject separately and without including the English Proficiency progress for English Language Learners (which should also be examined separately).  Another difference is that unlike the state performance awards that were given out a few weeks ago, OEP awards are grouped by school level (Elementary, Middle, and High) and by Region (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest, and Southeast).

We celebrate two types of schools this year: “High-Growth” and “Beating the Odds”.  High Growth schools are those whose students demonstrated the highest growth on the ACT Aspire tests, and “Beating the Odds” are the highest growth schools serving low-income communities.

Today’s awards for schools “Beating the Odds” are based on the growth of students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.



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