University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

These Schools are ‘Super Growers’!

In The View from the OEP on October 20, 2021 at 11:48 am

Last Friday, the Arkansas Department of Education released one of the most important pieces of data related to student learning: the value-added growth scores for schools.

The value-added growth scores are, in our opinion, the best evidence of how well a school is educating its students.  These scores measure how well a student performed based on how well they were expected to perform given their prior achievement on the ACT Aspire. You can check out the growth scores for your community on our database.

We love value-added growth because unlike achievement, growth scores are relatively uncorrelated with student demographic characteristics like gender, race/ethnicity, or, perhaps most importantly, poverty (as you can see in the figure below).

The especially great thing about the Value-Added growth score THIS year, is that it is immune to the statewide academic declines in student achievement from pre-COVID testing.  This is because students are compared to the typical statewide growth of students with similar prior academic achievement. In this case, even though most all students declined in achievement, average growth is still assigned 80 points, even if it was a decline from prior year performance.  So if students declined, but not as much as other similar students, the school is rewarded with a high growth score for that student.  This helps us because we can compare growth scores across time to determine which school are making significant progress in student learning.

The student-level growth scores are averaged at the school level, with a statewide average of 80. About half of the schools in the state showed above average student growth (not surprising, given that it is based on average growth for the state- that’s how math works….).

Value-added scores range from 60 to 90 with a standard deviation of 3.4, which makes it cumbersome to correctly interpret the magnitude of the differences between schools. A school value added score of 80 is average, while a score of 85.5 is in the top 10% in the state for Elementary schools even though it seems like just a few points higher. To make it easier to interpret differences in growth between schools, we assign statewide percentile ranks for growth on our database.

We are proponents of stakeholders using growth to examine how well students are learning. Here at OEP, we were interested in schools that have been in the top 10% of growth for multiple years because we recognize that persistent high academic growth is an indicator of a highly effective school.

There are twelve ‘super growers’: schools that have been on the top 10% of growth scores for their school types (Elementary, Middle, High) for the past five years. There were 7 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 4 high schools (about 1% of all schools).

Schools in the Top 10th Percentile of Growth since 2015-16

These ‘super growers’ are a diverse group of schools! In terms of the percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, they range from 5% to 90%. The race/ethnicity of their student populations range from 4% to 89% non-white, up to 12% are English learners, and up to 15% receive special education services. Between 2 and 14% of students are identified as Gifted and Talented. Average teacher experience ranges from less than 2 to more than 15 years, and the student: teacher ratio ranges from 5 to 16 students per teacher. Average teacher salary ranges from $42,724 to $61,864. The majority of these ‘super growers’ are in northwest Arkansas, and represent 1% of all traditional public schools and 7% of all public charter schools in the state.

We also checked out the academic growth of students in specific populations for these schools and were delighted to find that for 2020-21, these schools had above-average growth for all groups in 98% of the cases where the subgroup included at least 10 students.

2020-21 Subgroup Growth for ‘Super Grower’ Schools *=<10 students

Why are these schools more likely to demonstrate fantastic student academic growth every year? Unfortunately, there likely isn’t a magic bullet. Haas Hall teachers are doing something for the students that is likely very different from what Linda Childers Knapp teachers are doing, but they are both helping their students grow academically. Likely it is a combination of things. We should be researching these ‘super growth’ schools, understand what makes them unique, and leads to these outcomes.

Even though they serve very different populations, these ‘super growers’ show all kids can grow! Check out how the students in your community are growing academically on our database.

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