University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

“Beating the Odds” even through COVID

In The View from the OEP on December 1, 2021 at 11:40 am

Today we share our final OEP awards for 2021, and discuss how (and why) our awards are different from the rewards given by the state.

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2021!  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 obtain high academic achievement, but schools with high growth scores are helping students reach grade level goals.

Academic growth is less correlated with school poverty rates than achievement 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. In the case of 2021 awards, student growth is calculated from the 2019 assessments. Especially this year, with the widespread decline in student achievement scores, growth helps us identify schools where students were learning more than expected, even through COVID. 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 (-0.39).  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, 2021

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 decreases. 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, 2021

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 Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 67% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Weiner Elementary students demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire out of all schools. 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. Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (67% FRL)++
  2. George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)++
  3. John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)+++
  4. Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)++
  5. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)++++
  6. Wickes Elementary, Cossatot River SD (81% FRL)
  7. King Elementary, Van Buren SD (77% FRL)
  8. Linda Childers Knapp Elementary, Springdale SD (90% FRL)
  9. Salem Elementary, Salem SD (69% FRL)+++
  10. Harp Elementary, Springdale SD (77% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

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


“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Helen Tyson Middle from Springdale School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Helen Tyson Middle serves a 6th-7th grade student population where 81% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 35% are English Learners. Helen Tyson Middle was eighth 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. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)+++
  2. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (71% FRL)++
  3. Cave City Middle, Cave City SD (78% FRL)
  4. Jessieville Middle, Jessieville SD (71% FRL)
  5. Decatur Middle, Decatur SD (81% FRL)
  6. Butterfield Trail Middle, Van Buren SD (68% FRL)++
  7. Nemo Vista Middle, Nemo Vista SD (71% FRL)
  8. Clarksville Middle, Clarksville SD (76% FRL)
  9. Atkins Middle, Atkins SD (68% FRL)++
  10. Star City Middle, Star City SD (72% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

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 Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg run by the Division of Youth Services School System. Despite serving a student population that is 100% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and working to educate students in the juvenile justice system, it is also OEP’s top high growth high school in the state.  Arkansas Consolidated High School students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities and traditional school settings. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  2. Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)+++
  3. Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  4. Arkansas Consolidated High- Dermott, DYS (100% FRL)
  5. Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  6. Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)++
  7. Decatur High, Decatur SD (71% FRL)++
  8. Oark High, Jasper SD (89% FRL)
  9. Highland High, Highland SD (71% FRL)
  10. KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High, KIPP Delta Public Schools (86% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

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 from the state rewards that were announced in November?

1) Part of the state rewards go to high-achieving schools, where a lot of students scored well on the state tests. These schools tend to serve a lower population of students facing academic risk factors poverty or second language acquisition.

  • OEP only awards schools for growth, because we think that it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students.

2) The part of the state rewards that are awarded for growth use a different measure than the OEP awards.  The rewards program uses the growth value that also includes the progress being made in English language proficiency, a value called the combined value-added growth score. The difference between the values is inconsistent, with the content growth value higher for some schools and the combined value-added value higher for other schools.

  • OEP awards are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

3) The state rewards program for growth includes graduation rate for high schools.

  • OEP awards do not include graduation rate, and are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. We agree that graduation is important, but we don’t want to conflate student academic growth with obtaining high school credits.

4) The state rewards program rewards the top 10% of schools overall.

  • OEP awards are grouped by ESSA school level (Elementary, Middle, and High). We know that achievement and growth vary by school level and are concerned that middle schools demonstrating relatively high growth are not being rewarded by the state. In fact, in 2021, no middle schools were recognized in the top 5% growth/grad awards by the state.  See a further discussion here.

The differences between the state rewards program and OEP awards are due to the fact that the state rewards are legislatively mandated, while here at OEP, we created an awards system that supports our passion for highlighting schools where students demonstrate Outstanding Educational Progress!  Oh, and we don’t send money- just paper certificates!

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