University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Middle-Level Schools with Outstanding Educational Performance

In The View from the OEP on October 23, 2019 at 1:53 pm

This week, OEP recognizes middle schools demonstrating Outstanding Educational Performance. OEP awards are different than other awards because we focus solely on student academic growth.

Earlier this month, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education released school letter grades for public schools in the state.  We created a statewide data visualization for you to explore the relationships between letter grades, school poverty, and academic growth.

We think school letter grades can be helpful in communicating with stakeholders about school performance, but are concerned that Arkansas’ letter grades send the wrong message because they are driven primarily by student achievement, which is generally reflective of the demographics of the students in the school.  As we discussed last week when we were awarding elementary schools, the overall score on which the letter grades are based, are strongly correlated with the percentage of students in the school who are participating in the Free/Reduced Lunch program (an indicator of low-income). For Middle Schools, as illustrated in Figure 1, we find that the negative correlation is even stronger than it was for elementary schools (R= -0.74).

Figure 1: 2019 ESSA Score Index and % FRL, Middle Schools



Figure 2 overlays the Middle Level letter grade categories on top of Figure 1 to further illustrate the relationship between letter grades and middle school poverty rates.  No Middle School that serves more than 80% FRL students received an A, and only one received a B. Conversely, among schools serving a student population where fewer than 60% of students are eligible for FRL, only two received a D grade.

Figure 2: 2019 ESSA Score Index and % FRL, Middle Schools with Letter Grade Overlay


Here at OEP, we choose to highlight student academic growth because we believe that it is the best reflection of the impact that a school is having on students’ academic success.  The relationship between the percentage of students in a school that are eligible for FRL and the students’ academic growth is presented in Figure 3.  At the middle level, these values are correlated with demographics about the same as they were at the elementary level (R=-0.36). Improvement in growth scores is positively correlated with improved academic achievement at the school level (R=+0.66), so a good indicator of improvement overall.

Figure 3: 2019 Growth Score and % FRL, Middle Schools

Growth FRL MS

For OEP awards, we use the purest measure of academic growth (referred to as Combined Content Growth Score) which includes growth for Math and English Language Arts only.  We chose this growth value, that excludes English Learner Progress because, on average, including the ELP progress slightly depresses the growth score for schools. We give OEP awards for high growth overall as well as for Math and ELA growth individually.  We recognize the highest growth schools by school level (elementary, middle and high) and by region of the state.

Today’s awards for High Growth Middle schools are based on the growth of middle level students on the ACT Aspire Math and English Language Arts assessments.

Highest Growth: Middle Level

The top Middle school for overall student growth is Flightline Upper Academy, a Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter, with a growth score of 86.6.  Flightline also had the highest Math growth with a score of 90.12, while Beryl Henry Upper Elementary in Hope obtained the highest growth score in ELA at 85.97.

The 20 middle level schools with the highest overall content growth are:

1.   Flightline Upper Academy, Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter (30% FRL)
2.   Heber Springs Middle, Heber Springs SD (58% FRL)*
3.   Paragould Junior High, Paragould SD (71% FRL)*
4.   LISA Academy North Middle Charter, LISA Academy (57% FRL)**
5.   Ray/Phyllis Simon Middle, Conway SD (58% FRL)
6.   Ruth Doyle Middle, Conway SD (41% FRL)
7.   Eureka Springs Middle, Eureka Springs SD (59% FRL)*
8.   Northridge Middle, Van Buren SD (49% FRL)
9.   Oak Grove Middle, Paragould SD (76% FRL)*
10. Cabot Junior High North, Cabot SD (38% FRL)*
11. Gravette Middle, Gravette SD (51% FRL)**
12. Lincoln Junior High, Bentonville SD (27% FRL)*
12. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (66% FRL)*
14. Greenbrier Middle, Greenbrier SD (39% FRL)*
15. Glen Rose Middle, Glen Rose SD (50% FRL)
15. Beebe Junior High, Beebe SD (51% FRL)
17. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (77% FRL)*
18. Bergman Middle, Bergman SD (63% FRL)
19. Woodland Junior High, Fayetteville SD (26% FRL)
20. Pinkston Middle, Mountain Home SD (19% FRL)
20. McNair Middle, Fayetteville SD (47% FRL)

Here at OEP we like that more than half of the middle level schools on our top 20 list demonstrate that high growth can be achieved year after year.  Asterisks indicate schools that have been in the top 20 for growth in prior years. The two schools with two asterisks were included in the top 20 list for the last two years, while the nine schools with a single asterisk were on the list one of the last two years.  We also like how nearly half of the schools on the list are newcomers- showing that growth scores can change over time. These schools, and others included in the full report, are growing student’s academic performance more than would be expected. Way to go!

Similarly to last year’s list, a variety of middle schools have shown high growth when observed through the lens of the percentage of students served Free/Reduced Lunch. The proportion of students eligible for FRL among these high-growth schools ranges from a low of 19% to a high of 77%, reflecting that students can demonstrate high growth in all types of schools!

You can find the middle schools with the greatest student growth by subject and region in the full report.  You can also download the datafile to check out the growth ranking for all middle schools.

—————Stay tuned to learn about more OEP Award Winners!————–

You can check out the elementary winners here, and next week we will share “High Growth” High Schools.  Then, we will release the list of high-growth schools serving high poverty populations, those who are “Beating the Odds!”

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