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Congratulations to the 2013 Arkansas National Merit Scholars!

In The View from the OEP on June 4, 2013 at 12:01 pm


Each year, a select group of students are selected by the National Merit Corporation for the prestigious title of National Merit Scholars.

This year, about 2,500 students across the nation received this honor, and 45 were selected in the state of Arkansas.

We thought we would share a quick profile of where these students are from, where they are going to college, and what types of majors they will pursue.

The school that is graduating the most scholars this year is Bentonville HS (8), and tied for the second most were Cabot and those classified as home-schooled (4).  Other high schools include: ASMSA (3), Fayetteville (2), Fort Smith Southside (2), Alma, Batesville, Central Arkansas Christian School, Conway, Conway Christian, Gentry, Greenbrier, Haas Hall, Harding Academy, J.D. Leftwich, Lake Hamilton, Little Rock Baylor Academy, Little Rock Central, Little Rock Christian Academy, Little Rock, Nettleton, Perryville, Pulaski Academy, Rogers Heritage, Searcy, Springdale Har-Ber, and Booneville.  Congratulations to all of these schools!

college ranksThese 45 students enrolled in colleges across the country, but the majority will attend college in the state of Arkansas.  The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville leads the way with 21 Scholars coming this fall.  Next on the list is a tie between Harding University and Hendrix College (5), two private Arkansas schools of higher education.  Other colleges include: Oklahoma State (2), SMU (2), Washington University St. Louis (2), Baylor (2), Northwestern, Oklahoma, Rochester (N.Y.), Tulsa, USC, and Vanderbilt.

These students plan on studying subjects from almost every discipline.  Just to name a few, students will study engineering (8), medicine and related majors (9), law and related majors (5), and various other majors including archaeology, meteorology, music,  and theater.

Good luck to these students and all 2013 graduates across the state and the nation!

You can read the full story here (subscription required) or check Monday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

PSAT day! Are your students benefiting?

In The View from the OEP on October 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm
Throughout Arkansas today, many high school students are spending a few hours taking the PSAT.  Here at OEP, we are big on everyone understanding the purpose behind assessments, who is going to make what decisions based on the results, and how students can benefit from the assessment, so we wanted to review what the PSAT is, how it is being used in Arkansas, how it benefits (or doesn’t) Arkansas students, and what OEP recommends moving forward.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is an assessment developed for high school students that measures skills in Reading, Writing, Language, and Math.  The paper/pencil test takes about 3 hours to complete.

How the PSAT is being used in Arkansas:

Arkansas school districts are not required to administer the PSAT, but if a district agrees to administer the test to all 10th graders, they can do so at no cost to students or to the district. The PSAT typically costs $16 per student, but the Arkansas State Board of Education approved covering the costs using at-risk funding as allowed by Act 989.
Districts do not have to offer the test to any student. Districts that want to test only select students on the PSAT can do so, but the district/student must cover the associated cost.
All 11th grade test fees are always the responsibility of the school district/student.

Some states (Deleware, Colorado, and Michigan) are requiring students to take the PSAT, and are planning on using the results in their state accountability system.

The PSAT is not required for Arkansas students, the results are not used in any aspect of the accountability system.  The PSAT administration does not replace the required 10th grade ACT Aspire administration in the spring, which is used as a measure in school accountability.

How the PSAT benefits Arkansas students:

Students can benefit from taking the PSAT in 10th grade in several ways.  The test serves as a practice for the voluntary 11th grade PSAT, which score qualifies you for National Merit Scholarship consideration. In addition, the PSAT is good practice for the SAT, a college entrance exam similar to the ACT, and required by some out-of-state colleges.
Participating in the 10th grade PSAT provides students and their schools with the opportunity to find out if students have the potential to be successful in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  This can help identify students who may have been ‘flying under the radar’ for academic success in AP- and can serve as a particularly helpful tool for encouraging AP participation and enrollment of underrepresented academically prepared students. Schools and students receive AP Potential information in January, allowing time for students to discuss academic plans with counselors , teacher, and parents before selecting classes for their junior year.

A final bonus of PSAT participation in 10th grade is the opportunity to participate in Student Search Service, which connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from nearly 1,700 colleges, universities, scholarship programs, and educational organizations.

When taken in 11th grade, the PSAT automatically enters students for consideration in the National Merit Scholarship competition.  From an initial pool of over 1.6 million students, this well-known program annually identifies 7,500 Merit Scholars to receive college scholarships.

What type of 10th graders are benefiting?

According to information provided by ADE, eighty-one (81) school districts elected to provide their 10th grade students the opportunity to complete the PSAT for free in 10th grade. This is less than one-third of the 262 school districts in Arkansas.

Although less than a third of Arkansas’ school districts are participating, nearly half of 10th graders in the state attend a participating district.  More than 17,000 10th grade students are getting access to a free PSAT, representing over $270,000 in test fees that are being covered by the state.

We were wondering about the characteristics of districts who chose to offer the PSAT to all 10th graders.  Overall, the districts seem representative of state demographics.  As a group the PSAT participating districts serve students whole are slightly more likely to be a minority than the state (47% of participating district students are minority compared to 36% of the state as a whole).   Participating districts also serve students who are about as likely to be participating in FRL as the state (60% of participating district students are FRL compared to 63% of the state as a whole).

Although the PSAT-participating districts look similar to the state as a whole, the program is not reaching some students.  Regional differences are presented below.



District participation in the 10th grade free PSAT program is highest in the Southeast Arkansas, where over 50% of districts are participating, compared to the lowest participation of 21% in the Northeast region. In terms of overall 10th grade enrollment participation, Northwest Arkansas is providing free access to the PSAT to over 60% of 10th graders, but only 1 in 5 10th graders in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.

When examined by student demographics, we find stark differences in access by region.   Over 70% of African-American students will take the test for free in the Northwest and Central regions, but only 1 in 5 African American students in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.  Over 80% of Hispanic students in Northwest Arkansas will take the test for free, as will over half of the Hispanic students in Central and Southeast. Less than 15% of Hispanic students in Northeast and Southwest Arkansas will get the opportunity.

What does OEP recommend?

Here at OEP, we like how the state is willing to support all 10th graders taking the PSAT for free, but wonder about how meaningful an opportunity it is for students.

It is certainly a meaningful opportunity for students who are going to re-take the PSAT in 11th grade and may be one of the 3% of students who get selected to participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition. It seems prudent to note that although finalists are eligible for scholarships from colleges or corporations, only 2,500 students nationally win scholarships from National Merit, and these are a one-time payment of $2,500.

So, for most Arkansas students, the benefit will come if districts actively USE THE DATA to identify students for possible enrollment in AP.  Enrollment in AP is particularly helpful if students are on the college-bound track, and if instruction in the course is high-quality. Due to the ACT Aspire testing, which is required in the spring of 3rd through 10th grades, teachers and counselors should ALREADY have good data about students and their academic performance.  ACT Aspire for 9th and 10 graders gives students a predicted ACT score, which is likely a much more relevant indicator of success for Arkansas students than if they are ready to take an AP class.

We think the state should continue to promote the free 10th grade PSAT opportunity to districts, particularly those in the Northeast and Southwest regions, where African-American and Hispanic students are unlikely to get access to the test and subsequent information.  We also recommend that the state examine how many students are being identified for AP potential who are not already enrolled in AP courses.  Perhaps the schools are doing a good job of placing students in appropriate courses!

Most importantly, we need to be sure we are using our resources effectively to provide the best quality college and career counseling to all Arkansas students.

We would love to hear your thoughts…


FYI: Less than 50% of AR high school grads head to college, and less than half of those that do will get a degree

In The View from the OEP on August 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Students throughout the state are preparing for a new school year, and some students are experiencing two of the biggest changes: entering kindergarten or entering the first year of college!

Students entering Arkansas public school kindergarten classrooms this fall become the Graduating Class of 2030.  The parents of these young students will be dropping them off or loading them on buses in a few weeks and will be filled with tears and worries and hopes and dreams. Some parents might see this as the first step toward college, but given Arkansas’ current educational pipeline, it is unlikely that their student will receive a college degree.



Similar students entered kindergarten in the fall of 2003 becoming the Class of 2016, and a new report from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education allows us to consider the longer-term outcomes for these recent graduates. Last fall, 49.7% of the Class of 2016 entered a two- or four- year college in Arkansas.

Let’s follow the progress of the Class of 2016, given what we know about the educational pipeline in Arkansas.  Average class size in Arkansas is 16 students K-12, but kindergarten classes are limited to 20 students with one teacher.  This is a lower ratio than some surrounding states; Texas has a limit of 22 and Missouri is 25.

K class

In 2016, 87% of the expected Class of 2016 graduated from high school! Over 30,000 students received their high school diploma within four years of entering high school. For our illustrative kindergarten class- that means 17 of the initial 20 graduated!


This is great! Graduation rates differ somewhat by student demographics, but even if all the kindergarten students were academically at risk, 17 would still graduate on time given current rates.

According to the new report, 49.7% of those students enrolled in a two- or four-year college the following fall. Most go to a four-year college, but 1/3 go to two-year colleges.

For our kindergarten class- that is 8 students.

College Going

But these 8 students who have successfully graduated high school AND applied AND been accepted into college are not yet home free! According to data from Arkansas Department of Education, 57% of the college-going graduates needed to take a remedial course once they arrived at college because they did not meet the minimum score of 19 on the ACT math and/or reading.

For our kindergarten class – that is 4.6 out the 8 college-going students that would require remediation.

Remediation  rem2

Having to complete a remedial course is associated with decreased chances of graduating. Maybe because they are not free and no credit is awarded. Five of our 8 students are facing these increased challenges because they did not demonstrate being ‘college ready’ before leaving high school. Given current trends, half of remediated students will not return for a second year.

We see this when we apply the graduation rates from Arkansas colleges:  41% of incoming freshman graduate in 6 years from 4-year institutions and 27% of those who enter 2-year colleges graduates within 3 years.


These numbers indicate that  ONE in TEN Arkansas’ kindergarteners will successfully complete a four-year university in six years.

Essentially, 3 kids from each kindergarten classroom of 20 students (14.5% of our kindergarteners) will complete a college degree by the time they are 24.


That is depressing…. Are these data accurate?

Looking over the lists of Arkansas’ National Merit Scholars or Academic All Stars, we see that  many of out “best and brightest” high school graduates are headed out-of–state for college.  These students are not included in the ADHE college-going rate which only tracks graduates who attend in-state institutions.   Many other graduates may be going to school out-of-state as well, especially those from areas close to a bordering state. How many do that?  WE HAVE NO IDEA! 

But there is a way to find out!  National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is a non-profit that partners with colleges and universities that enroll over 98% of all higher education students in the country. Using this information, we could find out the ACTUAL percentage of Arkansas graduates attending college- including those who attend school outside of our borders. In addition, we can learn where our students are going and if they are graduating successfully.  While better data won’t directly help students graduate from college, they can help identify problem areas.

Something that MAY help Arkansas students graduate from college is the new method for funding colleges and universities. The change will start next July, and will be based on a school’s “productivity index”, which will reward schools for the number of degrees/credentials awarded.  In addition, high demand and STEM degrees earn more points for an institution, and additional points are earned for at-risk students such as those who are enrolled in a remedial course or are Hispanic or Black, or received federal student aid due to financial need.   While some are concerned that this change in funding might lead to a lowering of the bar for degrees, we are optimistic that it will help institutions become more student-focused and remove unnecessary barriers to success.

The K-12 system needs to focus on student success as well.  High school graduation rates in Arkansas are above the national average, but many of our students are still not prepared for success in post-secondary education. Over 57% of Arkansas students will need remediation to be successful in college English or math courses.  Hopefully the ACT Aspire assessments and statewide ACT exams for high school juniors will provide more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to identify the level of readiness for college and careers, and enough information to provide needed instruction prior to college entrance.

Arkansas is nearly last in the nation in the percentage of adults with college degrees.  Arkansas’ 20.8% of adults with an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree is lower than that of all other states except West Virginia.  We need to do more to ensure that the Class of 2030 who are entering kindergarten this month will have a greater likelihood of obtaining a degree.

#9 Good News for Arkansas Students and Teachers

In The View from the OEP on December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm


“Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”

~Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

In a year that has seen many changes for Arkansas education, there has also been positive news. Educational leaders have stepped up, students have excelled and individual schools have received national honors. We at the OEP also hope to give out some credit where credit is due, by recognizing top performing schools around the state based on benchmark and end-of-course exam scores.

Here are some of the AR educational leaders recognized this year:

Jonathan Crossley Named 2014 Arkansas Teacher of the Year

jonathan crossley

Crossley is an English teacher at Palestine-Wheatley High School. You can view video of the announcement from Governor Beebe here.

Kim Wilbanks Named 2014 Superintendent of the Year


Dr. Kim Wilbanks, Superintendent of Jonesboro School District, received 2014 Superintendent of the Year.

Josh Baker Named Top Ag Educator in Arkansas

josh baker

Many AR students and schools have also excelled this past year. Here are a few highlights:

Congratulations to the educators, students and schools that were honored this year for their accomplishments in the Natural State and to anyone that we may have forgotten. Well done.

April 7, 2011

In OWL-OEP Weekly Links on April 7, 2011 at 8:07 am

This week, we are proud to release the OEP’s 2010 Report Card.Released annually; the Report Card highlights the condition of Arkansas education in several areas of interest to parents, educators, and policymakers. In past years (click here to see last year’s report card), we’ve examined not only test scores, but also such topics as graduation rates, school accountability, and teacher pay. This year, we update some areas we’ve examined previously and introduce a few new topics. We highlight the most recent state benchmark results, as well as updating results for end-of-course exams and state ACT results.

New to this year’s Report Card, we examine achievement gaps between various subgroups on the reading portion of the NAEP, levels of educational attainment for Arkansans as a whole, patterns of education spending for Arkansas and surrounding areas, and changes in the demographics of Arkansas students over the last ten-plus years.

News from Around the Natural State

State Switching to New Graduation Rate System

Arkansas is moving to a new system for calculating high school graduation rates that will require better tracking of students, as well as reporting students by race, ethnicity, family income and special needs. The more rigorous graduation-rate calculations will play a greater role in determining whether high schools are identified by the state as needing improvement. Arkansas will get a first look at the new calculations for its schools and school districts when the “preliminary” rates appear on the 2010 Arkansas School Performance Report that is soon to be posted on the state Department of Education website.

Anti-Consolidation Bill Fails by One Vote

A bill that would end mandatory school consolidation based solely on student population failed by one vote in the House. House Bill 2010 by Rep. Jon Hubbard, R-Jonesboro, failed in a 50-33 vote. The bill would change the state’s school consolidation law, which dictates mandatory consolidation or annexation of a district that has fewer than 350 students for two straight years. Act 60 of 2003, which includes this provision on school consolidation, was adopted as part of wide-ranging school reforms in response to a court order declaring the state’s public school funding system unconstitutional. Hubbard’s bill would shield districts that fall below the consolidation threshold if they are academically, fiscally and structurally sound.

10 Students from Arkansas Awarded Merit Scholarships

Ten Arkansas high school seniors are among 700 students nationally who have won National Achievement Scholarships for scholastically talented black students. The $2,500 individual awards are financed by the National Merit Scholarship Corp., a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance. More than 160,000 students entered the 2011 National Achievement Scholarship Program by requesting consideration when they took the 2009 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as high school juniors. The Arkansas students, their high schools, and their probable fields of study are:

Keiara L. Turner, Forrest City High School, accounting.

Destiny L. Hemphill, Conway High, education (African/African American studies).

Autumn L. Henderson, Forrest City High, law.

Johannah C. Walker, Fort Smith Southside High, physical therapy.

Miriam L. Pearsall, Little Rock Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High, chemical engineering.

Taylor D. Stevens, Little Rock Central High, industrial engineering.

Nicole A. Barnes, Marion High, accounting.

Sheridan M. McKisick of Sherwood, Little Rock Hall High,international relations.

Cicely A. Shannon of Texarkana, AR, and a student at Texas High School in Texarkana, biology/English.

Dustin L. Walter of West Memphis, Marion High, medicine.


September Happenings!

In The View from the OEP on September 5, 2018 at 11:31 am


This week, we wanted to give you a heads up about a bunch of education-related events happening in September!

ESSA School Index reports will be open for Private Viewing on My School Info. from September 18 through 24, 2018.  School and district leaders should take advantage of this time before the public release to get prepared to explain to their stakeholders

  • what the ESSA School Index says about their school(s),
  • what the plans are to continue to improve, and
  • how stakeholders can support the work.

Remember that A-F school grades and rewards and recognition money will also be based on the ESSA school index, so a clear understanding and pro-active communication plan seems like a good idea to us!

Thanks to the hard work and planning of ADE staff, we have this information early in the school year so you can use it to inform your practices!  If you have questions about your report, or how to communicate the results, we are happy to help – just email us at

National Merit lists should be released soon as the PSAT selection criteria for 2019 graduates were just released. Arkansas students need a score of 214 to be selected as a Commended Student.

We also wanted to be sure you were aware of several interesting conferences scheduled for September:

Education Innovation Summit: September 27th and 28th in Rogers, $300

This is the fourth year for this conference and they have a great lineup of international, national and local speakers! The conference is a partnership between Office of Innovation for Education (OIE) and ADE and the speakers include Derek Wenmoth, from New Zealand, Susan Patrick from iNACOL and  Stephen Spaloss with City Year.

There are a bunch of breakout sessions from practitioners implementing the work of innovation, along with policy sessions, design sessions, and opportunities to work in small groups with experts in mentor sessions.  If you haven’t been before, you can check out videos of past conferences here.

Data and Policy Symposium: September 27th 8am-1pm in Little Rock, FREE

ForwARd Arkansas, in partnership with the Institute for Chief Data Officers at UA Little Rock are bringing together national experts to discuss the importance of creating a longitudinal data system to track educational outcomes in the state of Arkansas. The keynote will be provided by John Easton, former director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.   Access to quality, integrated longitudinal data to track outcomes between Pre-K, K-12, post-secondary education/training and workforce participation is essential to inform future planning and resource allocation.

Arkansas Association of Gifted Educators: September 27th in North Little Rock, $105 for Members. Topics include: How GT fits with the Science of Reading Act, Strategies to Identify and Service Students of Low Income, and Closing the Identification Gap.

Arkansas Association of Federal Coordinators: September 19th-21st in Hot Springs $225 for Members. Topics include: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Programs and Budgeting, Utilizing School Index Reports to Analyze Effectiveness of Title Schools, and ADE and Legislative updates.


State Board of Education: September 13th and 14th*

*OEP will be presenting the latest schools discipline research on the 14th at 9

Education Caucus: September 24th at noon

Topic: Student transportation -or- teacher salaries

House and Senate Interim Committees on Education: September 24th and 25th

Topic: 2018 Adequacy Report and issues related to Educational Adequacy

        A draft of the 2018 Adequacy Report can be found here

Are Arkansas Teachers Too White?

In The View from the OEP on March 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Okay- that’s a provocative question, but here at OEP we have been thinking a lot about the diversity of the educator workforce in Arkansas (and will be digging into many aspects of the teacher pipeline in our upcoming conference– be sure to register).

Did you know that nearly all of Arkansas’ teachers are white? It’s true! In the 2016-17 school year, over 91% of teachers in Arkansas schools indicated that they considered themselves white.

And we are concerned because over a third of Arkansas students are non-white, and research shows that minority students can benefit from having a teacher of their same race, particularly economically disadvantaged black students.  Long-run impacts of having a demographically-matched teacher in grades 3, 4, or 5 include a significant reduction in the probability that the students drops out of high school, and an increase in aspirations to attend a four-year college.

So while we hope Arkansas teachers look like this picture on the ADE website …

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 9.55.28 AM

… almost all Arkansas teachers are white, like our Teacher of the Year Courtney Cochran!  courtney

While Courtney is a great and culturally responsive teacher (who will be speaking at the OEP conference), it is concerning that Arkansas’ minority students are unlikely to encounter teachers that are racial role models. Figure 1, below, highlights the racial imbalance between Arkansas students and their teachers.

Figure 1: Arkansas students and teachers by race, 2016-17.


As can be seen in the figure, 13% of Arkansas students are Hispanic, but less than 1% of our teachers are.  Twenty percent of students are black, but black teachers comprise only 7% of the teaching workforce.  Although only 62% of students are white, over 91% of Arkansas teachers are white.

Looking at the diversity gap as the difference between student and teacher population percentages is one method for quantifying the problem, but a recent article used alternative approaches.  Because we know that student populations are typically more diverse than the adult population, the researchers suggest that comparing demographic representation between teacher and student populations is unfair, and a better comparison for appropriate representation among teachers would be the adult population in the state.  Figure 2 expands on the prior figure by include the racial breakdown of Arkansas’ adult working population (ages 21-61).

Figure 2: Arkansas students, teachers, and adults by race, 2016-17.


As represented in the figure, Arkansas teachers are far less likely to be Hispanic and black than the adult working population as a whole.  Although 6% of the adult population identified as Hispanic, less than one percent of teachers do so, and while 16% of adults in the state are black, only 7% of our teachers are.

Since teachers are not representative of students or adults, we definitely need to attract and retain more diverse teachers!

Arkansas isn’t the only state facing a lack of teacher diversity while also facing concerns about a shortage of qualified teachers overall. Some states have been attempting to solve both problems simultaneously, by creating incentives for recruitment and retention of teachers of color, but a recent report indicates that the lack of minority representation among the teacher workforce and teacher shortages do not seem to be closely related, so we should not assume that addressing one problem would implicitly fix the other.

What Can Districts Do?

While the state is working to address the issues from a broader perspective, districts can take specific actions that may help diversify their teacher workforce.  A new analysis found a strong association between workforce diversity and incentive policies that may be particularly attractive for minority teachers.

The researchers considered a variety of incentives including recruitment tools and those intended to reward specific types of teachers.

  • Recruitment incentives included: signing bonuses, student loan forgiveness, funds to assist with relocation expenses, and finder’s fees to existing district staff for referring those hired as new teachers.
  • Reward incentives included: bonuses for obtaining National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification, demonstrating excellence in teaching (aka Merit Pay), teaching in schools in “less desirable” locations, or filling positions in fields or subject areas experiencing shortage.

Specific incentives do seem to make a difference in attracting minority teachers. Offering relocation assistance appeared to be the strongest predictor of a more diverse teacher workforce, followed closely by loan forgiveness, bonuses for excellence in teaching, and teaching in less desirable locations. The researchers suggest that these incentives are motivating to minority teachers because they are significantly more likely to have higher balances on student loans, and so are more cost constrained.

Nearly half of Arkansas districts offer some type of teacher incentive, according to an OEP survey conducted last spring. Compared to the national data, Arkansas districts were less likely to offer relocation assistance or Merit Pay, but much more likely to offer loan forgiveness as an incentive.  An interesting finding, however, was that although many districts were offering incentives to teachers, fewer than half advertised the incentives to prospective teachers. Getting the information to prospective teachers would be a great way to leverage the incentives being offered.

Come Learn More!  We are looking forward to learning more about increasing diversity in our teacher pipeline at the OEP conference April 24th and hope you will join us to share your thoughts. District leaders, teacher preparation programs, Courtney Cochran (Arkansas Teacher of the Year), and ADE staff will join OEP and our national speakers to consider Arkansas’ Teacher Pipeline: What we know, what we are doing, and what more we could be doing.





Mind the Gap: Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on June 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm

In anticipation of tomorrow’s Bridging the Gap symposium (which you can read about in a previous blog post here), we are releasing a report describing achievement gaps in Arkansas entitled Performance of All Student Subgroups in Arkansas: Moving Beyond Achievement Gaps.

imgresWhen discussing achievement gaps, we often hear some familiar and disheartening themes; minority students underperform white students, low-income students underperform non-low-income students, and much of the discussion revolves around the question of “How do we close the gap?”  While it is necessary to look at disparities between groups and to work toward lessening these disparities, having the sole goal of “narrowing the gap” can sometimes oversimplify the situation. As can be seen in the figure below, there are several different ways gaps can narrow, some of which are optimal, like when the scores of both groups increase while the score of the lower performing group increases even more, and some of which are perverse, like when the average scores of both groups decline but the score of the higher performing group declines even more. As we can see, looking at the change in the gap alone does not necessarily tell us whether progress has been made.

achievement gap

Therefore, in this analysis, we examine subgroup performance and achievement gaps over time using three different measures, all of which have their merits. First, we look at the difference between groups on scale scores, which allows us to measure student growth over time. Second, we look at the gaps between different groups on proficiency rates, which allows us to know if students have reached a threshold that experts have considered to be meaningful. Finally, we examine percentile rankings, which situate Arkansas students in translatable measures. Only by looking at performance and growth with all three of these measures do we begin to see the full picture. For this particular analysis, we used NAEP scores, a national test that is administered to all states and known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” We also use grade 3 – 8 math and literacy scores on the Arkansas Benchmark to examine performance and achievement gaps over time.

The analysis reveals nuanced results, depending on the measure that is examined (proficiency levels, scale scores, or percentile points); however, on whole the analysis confirms the following patterns:

Within Arkansas

When we compare within the state, we find that, while most groups have experienced growth over time, the gaps still remain and in many cases have widened.

  • While all subgroups experience positive growth over time, black and Hispanic students performed less well than white students on math and literacy national and state assessments. The gap between black and white students is greater than the gap between Hispanic and white students.
  • The gap between black and white students slightly decreased in respect to average scale score points on math and literacy national and state assessments; however, with respect to the percentage of students reaching proficiency cutoffs, the gap slightly increased on three national assessments (grade 4 math and grade 8 math and literacy).
  • While low-income and non-low-income subgroups experience positive growth over time on math and literacy national and state assessments, the gap between low-income and non-low-income students widened over time on the NAEP assessment and widened or remained unchanged in respect to percentile rankings on the Arkansas Benchmark assessments.

Compared to the nation

However, when we compare Arkansas to the nation as a whole, we see a slightly rosier picture, with achievement gaps slightly smaller than national averages.

  • Arkansas’ gap between black and white students and Hispanic and white students were moderately smaller than the average gaps of the nation on grade 4 and 8 math and literacy as measured by average scale scores and proficiency levels.
  • Arkansas’ gap between low-income and non-low-income students were moderately smaller than the average gap of the nation on grade 4 and 8 math and literacy as measured by average scale scores and proficiency levels.

Compared to surrounding states

When comparing to surrounding states (OK, MO, TN, MS, LA, TX), we find more mixed results. While the gaps are smaller in the 4th grade, the achievement gaps are wider in the 8th grade.

  • Arkansas’ gaps between black and white students and Hispanic and white students were moderately smaller than the gaps of the surrounding states on grade 4 math and literacy; however, on grade 8 math and literacy, Arkansas’ racial gaps were equal to slightly larger than the racial gaps of the surrounding states
  • Arkansas’ gap between low-income and non-low-income students was moderately smaller than the gaps of the surrounding states on grade 4 math and literacy; however, on grade 8 math and literacy, Arkansas’ racial gaps were equal or slightly larger than the racial gaps of the surrounding states

It’s important to remember that this report is descriptive but not prescriptive. That is, we present several ways (WITH LOTS OF GRAPHS) to visualize exactly what the disparities in performance are, but we are not setting forth any particular prescriptions for how to remedy these gaps. Lucky for you and for Arkansas’ students, if you are interested in strategies aimed at closing the achievement gap, you can attend the Achievement Gap Symposium tomorrow.

In the News

In OWL-OEP Weekly Links on April 12, 2012 at 8:00 am

April 12, 2012

From the OEP

Good morning to you all!

It is benchmark week for many across the state so we want to extend our best wishes to all. In the spirit of benchmark week, we decided to get your mind off math and science a little with a post on arts education. A report published by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that arts education programs are not in decline, as many feared would be the result of an increased focus on math and science scores through accountability policies, such as No Child Left Behind. Though the overall findings are encouraging, there are some discrepancies between the opportunities available to low-income students and their more advantaged peers that have caused concern. Furthermore, there are some, specifically in the arts community, that question whether the quality of arts programs is high enough. Check out our post for the full scoop.

Registration for our conference is now up. If you are interested in attending (and let us just say it’s going to be well-worth your time) please register. Registration is free, but we expect this conference to quickly fill up, so we encourage prompt registration!

News from Around the Natural State

State Board Adds 5, 10 Years to 2 Charters
The Arkansas Board of Education approved a 10-year renewal of its charter with Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville and a five-year charter extension–plus a 200-student increase–for LISA Academy in Little Rock, two of the state’s highest achieving public schools. The state board also approved a three-year renewal for both the Vilonia Academy of Technology and the Vilonia Academy of Service and Technology run by the Vilonia School District on Tuesday. On Monday, the board renewed 4 charters including Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle, Benton County School of the Arts in Rogers, Arkansas Virtual Academy, and Cabot School District’s Academic Center of Excellence.

Board Prepares the Way to Grade State Teachers

Arkansas is preparing to launch its first uniform statewide system for evaluating teacher performance. The Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS) was created when state lawmakers passed Act 1209 of 2011, which requires the Arkansas Board of Education to approve rules for the evaluations using a framework created by the law. The evaluations, which will apply to about 35,000 teachers in the state, will go into effect in the 2014-15 school year.

County Schools Seek State OK to Cut $6.8 Million in Benefits
The state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District is seeking state approval of a proposal to remove millions of dollars of benefits from teacher and support-service employee contracts as a way to cut expenses in the coming 2012-13 school year. Superintendent Jerry Guess and his staff have asked Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell–who serves as the district’s board in the absence of a locally elected board–to approve a revised financial-improvement plan that would reduce, eliminate or phase out assorted employee benefits totaling $6.8 million.

News from Around the Nation

Study Points to Drop in Per-Pupil Spending for Pre-K

Enrollment in state-funded preschool programs has more than doubled over the last decade–ticking upward even through the recession years-but an accompanying slide in per child spending in many states has caused concerns on the quality of early-childhood programs designed to serve poor children according to a new national report. In 2010-11, 26 of the 39 states with public prekindergarten programs, which serve mostly low-income 4-year-olds, cut funding for an overall decline of $60 million from the previous year.


The Common Core Math Standards

Ze’ev Wurman and W. Stephen Wilson assess the merits of the Common Core math standards in an article on Education Next.  Ze’ee Wurman is a former U.S. Department of Education official under George W. Bush. W. Stephen Wilson is a professor of Mathematics at John Hopkins University and author of Stars by Which to Navigate? Scanning National and International Education Standards in 2009: An Interim Report on Common Core, NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA, and also served on the National Governors Association-Council on Chief State School Officers “feedback group” for the Common Core Standards.

Click here to check out these news stories and more on the OEP Blog!!!

Don’t forget, you can always keep up with more education news on the In the News section of our website.

Site Seeing

A new report, Technology Counts 2012 covers the shift in the virtual education landscape. The report examines the growth of district-based programs designed with more local control in mind, and it tracks state legislative efforts to expand online education while also evaluating its effectiveness. Check it out: Technology Counts 2012: Virtual Shift.

Mark Your Calendar

May 7 & 8, 2012: Joint Commission on Education Committee Meetings, State Capitol, Room171

May 17, 2012: OEP Conference, Little Rock, 8 AM -12 PM

Save the Date: May 17th, 2012

Annual OEP Conference

Using Technology to Increase Student Achievement

Breakfast and Registration starting at 7:30 AM with Opening Sessions at 8 AM

Final Thought:

“There are plenty of legitimate debates about what works in education, but the importance of early-childhood education is not one of them. High-quality early-childhood programs help kids in school and in life.”
Andy Rotherham, TIME magazine

 Thanks for reading!  See you next week!

The Office for Education Policy
University of Arkansas

Director:  Gary W. Ritter Ph.D.

Chief of Staff: Misty Newcomb

Research Associates:

Caleb P. Rose

James L. Woodworth

Alexandra M. Boyd

Gregory F. Michel

Charlene A. Reid

If you would like to be added or removed from this list, please send an e-mail to

In the News…Ed News, that is

In OWL-OEP Weekly Links on April 22, 2011 at 7:38 am

Statewide, the ADE has released the Arkansas School Performance Report. The purpose of the report is to generally improve public school accountability, provide benchmarks for measuring school improvement, and to empower parents and guardians of children enrolled in Arkansas public Schools by providing them with the information to judge the quality of their schools. The ADE School Performance Report contains individual school performance reports, district-level performance reports, and a statewide performance report that, in conjunction with the 2010 OEP Report Card, can provide the reader with a very comprehensive look at statewide educational performance in Arkansas.

In national education news, the United States Congress passed a spending bill that would finance federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, through September 30th. In this bill, $700 million was allocated to the federal Race to the Top initiative where states (not districts) compete for grant money for education. So far, the U.S. Department of Education is keeping mum regarding how the Race to the Top competition will work this year, but the folks at Education Week have already begin speculating.

News from Around the Natural State

Little Rock School District Recommended for Accreditation After Study

The Little Rock School District is being recommended for accreditation by the international AdvancED accrediting organization after a three-day study of the district, its schools and leadership by a team of educators from both in and outside of the state. This is the first time the district has sought system wide accreditation, although individual schools in the district have long been accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. The accreditation team reviewed district-generated documents, visited 36 classrooms in 10 schools and interviewed 76 administrators, 115 teachers, 18 support staff members, 73 parents and community members, 75 students and six of the seven school board members this week to prepare an oral report to the school board. A written report will be delivered in 30 days.

School Projects’ Funding Wins OK

A new high school campus for ninth-graders in Cabot and new elementary schools in Conway, Bryant, Springdale and Rogers are among 219 school construction projects approved for $188.7 million in Arkansas Academic Facilities Partnership Program funds. The Commission for Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation approved potential construction projects for 2011-13 that include 14 new schools, 67 school building additions, 63 roof replacements and 33 new heating and air-conditioning systems on campuses across the state.

Four State School Districts got Wrong Test-Prep Materials

At least four Arkansas school districts, including the large districts of Cabot and Bentonville, received from a test vendor the wrong materials to prepare kindergartners for this month’s Iowa Test of Basic Skills. As a result, Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell must decide whether the reading comprehension section of the nationally standardized test will be scored. Besides the Bentonville and Cabot districts, the Atkins and Bearden districts also obtained and used the wrong preparation materials, and there may be other districts that did so as well.

UPDATE: We posted this story from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, but were informed shortly thereafter from our friends in the Bentonville School District that:

“Bentonville was not sent anything ‘wrong.’ We gave our K-2 students the appropriate ITBS as a formative assessment in November, 2010. Our Riverside representative recommended that we use level 5 for K, level 6, for 1st, and level 8 for 2nd.  The state-mandated ITBS administered earlier this month differed in that level 6 was given to K, level 7 to 1st, and level 8, again, to 2nd. We were well aware that the levels  were different and felt that no mistake was made here.”

Thanks for the clarification, Bentonville!

News from Around the Nation

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels Signs Collective Bargaining Restrictions Into Law

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is pushing an ambitious education agenda this year, has signed a measure that restricts teachers’ collective bargaining ability. The new Indiana law, of course, comes in the wake of similar laws approved in Ohio and Wisconsin, which drew protests in the streets and at state capitols. Those two states’ laws face challenges at the ballot box, and in the courts. The Indiana law limits bargaining between school corporations and teachers’ unions to salary and wage-related benefits. According to Daniels’ office, two provisions take effect immediately: Teacher contracts cannot extend past the budget biennium, and districts cannot collectively bargain teacher evaluation procedures or criteria—a provision that a number of school advocacy groups critical of teachers’ unions have sought.

Study: 8th Graders Learn More with Direct Instruction

A University of Munich study has finally tackled the long-running debate on which teaching approach performs best in the classrooms. After comparing the relative merits of “the sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” styles, study authors Guido Schwerdt and Amelie Wuppermann found that direct instruction was superior to discussion and problem solving in improving student achievement. The Munich researchers drew their data from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMMS) which tested a nationally representative sample of U.S. 8th graders in science and math. In addition, the survey asked teachers to indicate the percentage of class time they spent direct-teaching, versus the time students spent problem solving with and without assistance. According to TIMMS, teachers reported spending nearly twice as much classroom time on problem solving than direct instruction. For more information, check out the EducationNext coverage of this story here.

Mark Your Calendar

May 11: School Law Conferences sponsored by the AAEA and APSRC (two, one-day drive-in conferences) Click here for more info!

May 16: State Board of Education Meeting, 9:00 AM, Arch Ford Building, State Capitol Complex

May 17: Joint House and Senate Education Committee Meeting, TBA