University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Author Archive

OEP is Listening to Parents’ Perspectives

In The View from the OEP on November 11, 2020 at 12:52 pm

OEP is excited to share a new survey for parents and guardians of Arkansas students. Through our Research Practice Partnership, OEP and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) developed a Parent/Guardian Survey for soliciting family input on what is working now for their students and what they are considering for the future.

We encourage you to share the survey link with your families and ask them to complete the survey before November 20th.  A Spanish version of the survey is available here. The survey takes an average of ten minutes to complete. It is important to include the perspectives of parents across the state- so please share this information widely with parents and guardians in your community.

The survey seeks to involve families in an organized, ongoing, and timely way in planning, review, and improvement. The survey will provide feedback regarding:

  *   family concerns
  *   how families are making decisions
  *   family awareness of options and resources available
  *   family considerations for the future

The anonymous survey does not connect responses to individual schools or districts, but rather establishes an understanding of the state as a whole. The information will be aggregated by geographic region only, based on respondent identification of the region of the state in which they live.

OEP will present initial results at the December State Board meeting, and look forward to sharing the valuable perspectives of Arkansas’s parents and guardians. Stay tuned!

30% of Highest Achievers not Identified as Gifted and Talented

In The View from the OEP on November 4, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Did you know that 30% of Arkansas’ highest achieving elementary students are not identified as Gifted and Talented? It’s true. And the bad news is that if a high achieving student is economically disadvantaged, they are 11 percentage points less likely than their more affluent peers to be provided G/T services despite similar academic achievement.

New research out today from OEP examines the likelihood that the highest achieving 3rd grade students are identified G/T by 4th grade. Our sample includes of five cohorts of 3rd graders that scored in the top 5% statewide in both reading and math (N=4,330). This rigorous definition of high achieving identifies students that are the most likely to benefit from G/T services.

The figure below shows the relationship for the students in 4th grade in 2019. The yellow circle represents all 4,067 G/T students, while the blue circle identifies the 1,011 that scores in the top 5% on the 3rd grade state assessments. The area where the circles overlap reflects that 70% of these highest achieving students were identified G/T, but there are 30% of top 5% students that were not. The pattern in consistent across the most recent five years of 3rd to 4th grade cohorts.

Venn Diagram for 2019 4th Grade G/T Students and Top 5% Students on 2018 3rd Grade Reading and Mathematics Assessments

How are students identified as G/T?

In Arkansas, students are identified as G/T at the school district level. While the process varies by district, it typically begins with a nomination from a teacher, counselor, parent, or peer. Arkansas law requires G/T identification include two objective and two subjective measures, with at least one being a measure of creativity. Districts select their own assessments and process for identification. Unlike SPED or ELL identification that is sustained when students transfer districts, the G/T label may or may not still apply.

Are there differences by student demographics?

Examining trends in G/T identification by student demographics reveals that students from different populations are more or less likely to score in the top 5% on the 3rd grade state assessment, as well as differences by student demographic characteristics in the percentage of those high achievers being identified as G/T. The summary descriptives for all five cohorts examined is presented in the table below. You can see that 12% of our sample was identified G/T, while only 2.5% of the sample scored in the top 5% in both reading and mathematics on 3rd grade state assessments. Of those highest achieving students, 70% were identified G/T by 4th grade. When we further examine our sample, we see that although 65% of students participate in the federal Free/Reduced Lunch program (FRL), only 8% of them are identified G/T. Just over 1% of FRL students scored in the top 5% on 3rd grade assessments, but only 64% of those highest achieving FRL students were identified G/T. We also see evidence of lower rates of G/T identification for high achieving students that are Hispanic (67%) or receive Special Education (SPED) services (60%).

Summary descriptive statistics by G/T and Top 5% Achievers, 3rd to 4th grade cohorts

These descriptive summaries give us a sense that there may be certain types of students that are less likely to be identified as G/T, even though they are high achieving. Because many of the variables of interest are interrelated, we ran a multivariate regression including the listed student demographic characteristics. We also included district characteristics (district size, %FRL, urbanicity, and geographic region) in our model because identification occurs at the district level and we wondered if specific district types were related to the likelihood of high achieving students being identified as G/T.

You can read the policy brief or full paper if you want more details, but we find that after controlling for student and district characteristics, high achieving FRL students are 11 percentage points less likely to be identified as G/T. We found no significant differences in G/T identification rates of high achievers by student gender or race- which is great! While there was some significant variation in the likelihood of G/T identification by geographic region and district size, the main district findings were that high achieving students from lower poverty districts (<52% FRL) were 8 percentage points less likely to be identified as G/T and that students in larger districts (>2,500 students) were much more likely to be identified for G/T services.

Why are students being missed?

Perhaps these high achieving students were tested for G/T and failed to meet the district criteria, but we don’t have the data to determine that since it is not collected by the state. Another option is that these high achieving students were never nominated for G/T testing. Some students, particularly those from low-income households, may be less likely to have a parent that is comfortable with or informed about the process for nominating a student for G/T consideration. This is one reason that we suggest using state standardized tests as universal screeners could be a move toward greater equity in G/T identification.

There was wide variation at the district level the percentage of students in the top 5% of achievers on 3rd grade assessments that were identified as G/T. When we limit our sample to districts that had at least ten 3rd grade students in the top 5% over the five years examined, the G/T identification rates for these high achievers ranges from 0 to 100%. When we similarly examine high achieving FRL students, the district-level G/T identification rates range from 22 to 78%.

As it might be helpful for districts to examine their G/T identification rates of the highest achieving 3rd graders, district identification rates are available to district Superintendents and G/T coordinators upon request to

Here at OEP, we value the services that G/T programs provide for students, and are not proposing that state standardized test scores should be the sole consideration in G/T identification. Rather, we suggest that examining these universally administrated state assessments could be a time and cost effective way for districts to find students that may not have been considered for G/T, but would likely benefit from receiving services.

Got Teachers?

In The View from the OEP on April 29, 2020 at 12:12 pm

AR Teachers Logo_horiz PNG

We don’t know yet what school will look like in the fall, but we do know that Arkansas students will need great teachers.  We may see more teachers choose not to return to the classroom due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19 or the challenges of online instruction, and schools will need to be prepared to support students’ social emotional and academic needs more than ever.

NOW is the time to start recruiting great teachers and our new system can help!  Research from TNTP shows that early, springtime hiring is critical, and that urban districts can lose up to 60 percent of their applicants by not extending job offers until mid- to late summer. Traditional recruitment methods aren’t available as job fairs and other events are cancelled, in-person interviews aren’t possible, and staffing teams are adjusting to remote working. Districts need to quickly shift to virtual recruitment to avoid a shortage of teachers at a time when students can least afford one. is a free site we developed where any public school district in Arkansas can post a job.  The centralized job posting/ teacher application site is enhanced as teachers complete a ‘common application’ and can apply for jobs with just one click.  Teachers are matched to jobs that meet their licensure, and they can select to make their ‘common application’  with all districts.  This provides districts looking for teachers a pool of applicants to recruit from instead of waiting for teachers to apply. Districts can search this teacher pool by licensure type or specific keywords to find the teachers that they need.

We know you have a process for hiring, but adding is easy and free.  It gives you access to teachers who might not know about your district or who might not know you are looking for teachers like them!

Tips for posting jobs on

Posting is easy.  All you need is to get someone approved to post for the district. That person goes to and signs up.  Then, the superintendent of record for the school district gets an email to approve that person to post the jobs for the district. Once approved, the poster can login, click on the button labeled “Start new job posting”, and fill out the required information. Once completed, click “Submit new job” and the post is ready for teachers to apply!

Make your job inviting and interesting! Teachers are going to be more interesting in a posting that shares some information about what makes your school district unique and a great place to work.  Compare the job descriptions below to see how context can make a job posting reflect the passion your district has for teachers.

Posting 1: We are looking for an outstanding biology teacher who is passionate about developing students’ love for learning. We are a small district in a tight knit community and we love our teachers! Benefits include: Discounts from local businesses (including massages and yoga) and free gym membership!

Posting 2: Opening for a biology teacher for the 2020-21 school year. Candidate must hold a valid Arkansas Teacher License.

Check out what the teacher experience is. This short video explains how teachers sign up.  Connecting Arkansas teachers and districts is our goal!

Don’t just link to your HR application.  Teachers want to get the benefit of the ‘common app’.  When you require them go to your website to apply, they have to enter all the same information in again!  Use as an initial screener, and request the candidates that you are interested in to apply through your site if it is important to your processes.

Find out more in the District FAQs or email


Arkansas’ College Degree Reality Gap

In The View from the OEP on March 4, 2020 at 1:00 pm

Lately, we have been thinking about Arkansas students that are nearing the end of high school. Many students across Arkansas are taking the ACT exam, deciding on which college they will attend, working through financial aid documents, and looking forward to heading out into the rest of their life.  According data reported by ACT, 70% of Arkansas students from the class of 2019 indicated that they wanted to obtain a bachelor’s (BA) degree or higher. This high rate of post-secondary aspiration is actually a decline from the class of 2017, in which 75% of students intended to get a BA or higher degree.

But the reality is, based on current data and prior trends, only 11% of Arkansas high school graduates will obtain a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of their high school graduation.

And, although Hispanic and African American students also report high levels of post-secondary aspirations, the likelihood of getting a degree decreases for these students. Hispanic students from the class of 2017 reported a 72% aspiration rate for a BA or higher, but only 6% are projected to meet that goal.  African American students are the least likely to get a BA, with only 5% of students obtaining one, although 70% of African America students reported that aspiration.

Figure 1 represents the number of students in the class of 2017 progressing through stages from high school to a 4-year college.  All calculations are based on a kindergarten “class” of 20 to ease interpretation.

Figure 1. College Completion Pipeline for the Class of 2017, for All Students, Hispanic Students, and African American Students (4-year institutions)


Step 1. High school graduation: A high percentage of students graduate from Arkansas’ high schools, with 17.6 of a typical kindergarten class of 20 graduating high school in four years (88%).  High school graduation rates are somewhat lower for Hispanic and African American students, with 17.1 and 16.7 of 20 students graduating, respectively (85.7 and 83.4%). Source: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Step 2. Post-Secondary Aspirations: Between 15 and 14 of 20 high school students report aspiring to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher. Source: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Step 3. College-Going: Four-year college-going rates differ for the groups examined.  Out of the initial 20 student “class”, 5.6 students attend overall (48.2% of high school graduates).  Hispanic students had the lowest percentage of students attending a 4-year college with only 3.6 of the initial 20 students (39.5% of high school graduates).  African American students attended 4-year schools at a rate of 4.7 (40.3% of high school graduates). Source: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Step 4. Persistence: The percentage of college-going students that return for the second year of college is isn’t reported by student population, so we use the overall value reported in the recently released ACT report.  85% of students from the Class of 2017 persisted in year 2 at the in-state 4-year institutions.  Source: ACT High School to College Success Report – class of 2017-18 Freshman

Step 5. Completion: While many of us think of “4-year institutions” as taking 4 years to graduate from, colleges generally report a 150% (6 year) completion rate. The class of 2017 hasn’t had time to complete their degree, so we use the most recent data available to project their completion rates. The overall rate of 6 year completion was 45.8% for most recent cohort (started in 2013). The Hispanic student rate was 39.5% and African American completion rate was 25.6% (both for the cohort that started in 2012). Source: ADHE Comprehensive Reports.

As presented in Figure 1, a high percentage of students graduate from high school, with 17.6 of a typical kindergarten class of 20 graduating high school in four years.  High school graduation rates are somewhat lower for Hispanic and African American students, with 17.1 and 16.7 of 20 students graduating, respectively.  Between 15 and 14 high school students report aspiring to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher, but 4-year college-going rates differ for the groups.  Out of the initial 20 student “class”, 5.6 students attend overall, Hispanic students had the lowest percentage of students attending a 4-year college with only 3.6 of the initial 20 students.  African American students attended 4-year schools at a rate of 4.7 students.  The majority of students return for the second year of school, but then fail to complete their degree within six years.  Out of the initial 20 students in the “class”, just 2.2 students in the overall population, 1.2 Hispanic students, and 1 African American student are projected to obtain their degree in 6 years.

We know that 4-year college isn’t everyone’s goal, but there are A LOT of students that report wanting to get a degree.  We highlight the gap between the aspirations and the (projected) reality of getting a degree. For the Class of 2017, the difference between students that aspired to obtain a BA degree and those that actually do would be over 22,000 students.

Figure 2.  Four-Year College Completion Pipeline for the Class of 2017, for All Students, Hispanic Students, and African American Students, difference between aspirations and projected degree completion highlighted

4year gap

We also examined the trends in 2-year college enrollment, based on the same 20 student kindergarten “class”.  High school graduation rates remain, but we can see that a much smaller percentage of students report aspiring to an associate’s degree or Voc/Tech training.  In fact, overall and for Hispanic and African American students, more students attend a 2-year school than had indicated that they wanted to, but the rates are very low. Note that Hispanic students are more likely to attend a two-year college than their peers, and are more likely to persist and obtain a 2-year degree in 3 years.

Figure 2.  Two-Year College Completion Pipeline for the Class of 2017, for All Students, Hispanic Students, and African American Students


We have previously raised this issue of low college completion for Arkansas students (in 2016,  2017, and  2019), and increasing the percentage of Arkansas residents with a BA is an important driver for economic development in the state.  Over three years ago we wrote about the Closing the Gap 2020 strategic plan from Arkansas Department of Higher Education.  There have been increases in credentials awarded since the plan was implemented, but the increases are only about 1/10th of the targets identified in the report.  The new funding formula for higher education institutions rewards completion (instead of just enrollment), and early reports indicate that the funding formula may be contributing to increasing the 4-year completion rate. Hooray!

Arkansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is providing additional resources to support students’ success while still in high school. The ADE is providing a College and Career Readiness Tool (CCR Tool) for Arkansas students in grades 8-12. Schools can select a provider from the approved list. We recommend that schools use these resources and that the state evaluate their effectiveness.  We need to know if the tools DESE is providing are helping students develop and achieve their goals.

We look forward to greater collaboration and communication between higher education and K-12.  We think that the more information a school has about its students, the better it can serve them. We think more integration between of these systems will lead to better outcomes for Arkansas students.

As students are looking toward to their next steps, we feel like they need to understand the obstacles that they may face in pursuit of a degree.  Parents and school personnel should discuss these challenges, but it would likely be more instructive to have students from the community who went to college (and did/ didn’t complete) share about their experience, challenges, and successes.  As shown by KIPP, Arkansas high schools can do more to support their students through college transition. Education doesn’t stop at graduation. We should do all we can to help students meet their aspirations!

K-2 Assessment? Take your pick…

In The View from the OEP on February 19, 2020 at 3:40 pm


Districts are again being given the opportunity to select an assessment to administer to their students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Districts initially selected a K-2 assessment in the spring of 2016, and have been using their selection for three years. This spring, districts are again being given the opportunity to choose a K-2 assessment that they will administer for the next four years.

We know that district leaders and teachers want to make the best choice to support student learning, so we did some digging into the relationship between student outcomes and which assessment was selected by each district.

We needed to use 3rd grade assessments to try to understand any relationship between the selected assessments and student outcomes, because we do not have a consistent assessment in earlier grades. Third grade data include two years of Pre- K-2 assessment and two years of Post-K-2 assessment. We use the terms “Pre” and “Post” terms relative to 3rd graders’ experience. Students who were 3rd graders in 2015-16 and 2016-17 were not exposed to the selected K-2 vendor. In 2015-16 the vendor had not been selected, and in 2016-17, the assessments were implemented in K-2 but the 3rd grade students had not used the assessment in 2nd grade the prior year.  Students who were in 3rd grade in 2017-18, however, had participated in the K-2 vendor assessment when they were in 2nd grade, and 3rd graders in 2018-19 had participated in both first and second grades.

You can read all about it in the policy brief, but here’s a quick summary of what we found:

  • The three K-2 assessments (Istation, NWEA, and Renaissance) were relatively equally selected by districts throughout the state.
  • The geographic and demographic characteristics of the districts that selected each assessment were similar.
  • Academic proficiency in 3rd grade is similar between the districts that selected different K-2 assessments.
  • There is no statistically significant difference in ACT Aspire 3rd grade growth scores between districts that selected different K-2 assessments.
  • Schools using NWEA: MAP evidenced significantly greater growth scores in ELA, although the effect was not present in the district-level analyses.
  • There are very high growth schools and districts using each of the K-2 assessments.

Although this is not a causal analysis, we can detect no relationship between district-level academic growth of 3rd grade students in Math and ELA, and the K-2 assessment selected by the districts. Interestingly, we do find a positive relationship at the school level between ELA growth and districts that selected NWEA: MAP.  This is likely due to the fact that large districts with multiple elementary schools all use the same assessment but some schools have more positive growth than others.  The difference in growth may be capturing the fact that schools which are more effective at ELA instruction are choosing to use NWEA, or that school implementation of NWEA is positively benefitting students in some ELA classes.

Given the variation in growth scores among districts and schools that selected the same assessment, it is important to point out that which assessment that is selected does not seem to be related to student outcomes.  Likely, it is how students and teachers act on the information gathered from the assessments, and what learning opportunities are present in the classroom daily, that results in better learning outcomes for students.


Year-Round Schools in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on February 12, 2020 at 10:07 am

Continuous learning schools in the Fayetteville Public School District have drawn media attention as they consider returning to a traditional school calendar. Asbell Elementary and Owl Creek currently operate on continuous calendars but, pending a school board vote later this month, may switch back to traditional calendars for the next school year. Today we explore the history of these alternative school calendars, and the pros and cons for students, teachers, and families.

Continuous learning schools, also known as year-round schools, incorporate several shorter breaks throughout the school year and a shorter break during the summer. Despite the ‘year-round’ title, students in these schools typically attend the same number of school days as students in schools on a traditional calendar. In Fayetteville, all schools start the same week in August, but continuous calendar schools end two weeks later than other schools in June. The continuous learning schools have two week-long breaks that are different from the traditional calendar – one the first week of October and another during April. As parents and the superintendent push for a return to the traditional calendar it is important to consider why year-round calendars came to exist and what they contribute to the educational landscape.

Brief History of Year-Round Schools

First attempted in the 1980s, year-round schools were created to push back on what was considered an antiquated school calendar based on economic, rather than educational, considerations. Although there is some debate, consensus says the traditional school calendar originated as a result of the need for students in rural areas to return to the fields for work during the summer months. Continuous learning calendars may be implemented to reduce over-crowding in schools or to improve student outcomes. Continuous learning schools can alleviate crowding in large schools where multi-track calendars allow different student groups to attend school at different times, alleviating space constraints. Advocates of continuous schooling suggest the shorter, more frequent breaks in learning could reduce learning loss between school years. They cited evidence from studies, which demonstrated that students experience a “summer slide” in which they lose knowledge and skills during the long break in schooling from June to September. This loss is especially pronounced for children from low-income backgrounds.

The increased frequency of breaks on a continuous learning calendar was also thought to provide non-academic benefits for students, teachers, and parents. Student-learning fatigue and teacher burnout could be reduced though the alternative calendar. Families may enjoy taking vacations when fewer families are traveling, and may avoid some childcare expenses if the school offers a no-cost intersession opportunity for students to participate in learning opportunities at the school over the breaks.

As a result of these hypothesized benefits, states around the country have implemented continuous-learning schools at varying scales. Research, however, demonstrates that switching to a year-round calendar has little effect on student achievement and may even be harmful in certain circumstances (McMullen & Rouse, 2012; Graves, 2010). Despite intersession programming designed to provide remediation and enrichment to students, the hoped-for benefit of continuous schooling to student-learning outcomes has proved insubstantial. The benefit to teachers is questionable as well, as some report enjoying the more frequent breaks while others are nostalgic for a longer respite from the demands of the classroom.

Parents who have multiple children of different ages generate the greatest pushback against the continuous learning calendar. Year-round calendars are frequently implemented at the elementary school level as schools serving older students struggle to accommodate extracurricular practice and game schedules on the alternative calendar. Since continuous calendars aren’t offered comprehensively across districts, parents with students in varying grade levels must juggle multiple breaks and calendars that do not align. This negates potential benefits of shorter breaks and can leave families feeling frustrated.

In addition, year-round schools may increase costs for districts due to increased transportation and operational costs associated with longer calendars and the lack of overlap with other schools. Coupled with the lack of evidence that continuous learning benefits academic achievement, a calendar change can be a hard sell when not implemented district-wide.

Year-Round Schools in Arkansas

Arkansas has had year-round schools since 1993 when Texarkana converted to a continuous calendar (Fritts-Scott, 2005). Data from the Arkansas Department of Education dating back to 2004-05 shows a decline in the number of year-round schools across the state since the early 2000s when as many as ten schools in nine different districts operated on continuous calendars. Between 2005 and 2008, Little Rock and Pulaski Special School Districts led the state in the number of alternative-calendar schools, but they have not operated one since the 2007-08 school year.

The mid-2000s saw an increase in the number of year-round schools that operated in Northwest Arkansas districts, but the number is now declining. Rogers and Bentonville each operated two continuous learning schools but have since returned them to a traditional calendar. Bentonville converted its schools to a traditional calendar in 2016 and Rogers switched the one remaining school in 2019-20. Fayetteville is unique as it is the only district in Northwest Arkansas that increased the number of schools offering year-round calendars in the last five years. Happy Hollow became a continuous learning school in 1996, and was joined by Asbell in 2008-09 and Owl Creek in 2014-15.

Asbell and Owl Creek may return to a traditional calendar next year, pending the vote by the school board next week. Attendance issues and low turnout to intersession activities are cited as impetus for the change. Upon investigation however, the average daily attendance of both Happy Hollow and Owl Creek has increased and shows no variation across quarters, and while Asbell’s attendance declined between 2013 and 2016 it has been increasing again since 2017. These changes in attendance rates, however, are likely due to a variety of factors and may not necessarily be due to the year-round calendar. Surveys from Owl Creek and Asbell reflect that 66% of school staff and 50-55% of parents support returning the schools to the traditional calendar.

Some Arkansas schools, however, are switching to a continuous learning calendar. Arkansas Arts Academy, an open-enrollment charter school in Northwest Arkansas, switched to a continuous calendar in 2017-18. In addition, Magazine School District converted both its high school and elementary school to a continuous calendar in the 2018-19 school year. As opposed to the Fayetteville calendar, which has the continuous learning schools ending later, the Magazine school calendar will start two weeks earlier in August and end at the same time as previous years. Magazine will provide an interesting case study for continual schooling in Arkansas since the change was district- wide. Due to the comprehensive nature of the change, the results in terms of attendance, student achievement, and parent and teacher satisfaction will be easier to gauge and might provide more insights into the value of year-round schooling for Arkansas students.

Since the quantifiable effect of continuous schooling is ambiguous at best, it is up to the stakeholders in each district to make decisions about what calendar meets the needs of their students.

Examining NWA Charter Schools Enrollment Trends

In The View from the OEP on February 5, 2020 at 2:04 pm

This month, open-enrollment charter schools throughout the state will hold public, random lotteries for students hoping to attend the schools in the 2020-21 school year.  Open-enrollment charter schools are public schools that are open to students regardless of their residentially-assigned traditional school district. Charter schools receive their charter from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which holds these schools accountable to certain standards in order to stay open. They are publicly-funded and free of tuition.

Northwest Arkansas is currently home to nine public open-enrollment charter schools, with plans to open a new charter school for the 2020-21 school year. These schools, which serve unique missions, are some of the most highly ranked schools in the State of Arkansas. While critics argue that public charter schools segregate based on race or academic ability, national evidence finds that these claims are highly context specific. In today’s blog (and associated Policy Brief and Arkansas Education Report) we present what conclusions can we draw about Northwest Arkansas charter schools based on enrollment trends in recent years.

Similar to our previous work examining charter school enrollment trends in Little Rock, we begin by examining traditional and charter enrollment trends by student demographics and end with analyzing the academic performance of students that switch between traditional and charter sectors.

Arkansas Arts Academy schools provide an arts-based approach to learning. Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy schools have a classical focus, including the Socratic method and instruction in Latin. Each of the four Haas Hall campuses emphasize preparation for higher education with a semester block schedule. LISA Academy offers a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum. Finally, Hope Academy, which will open for the 2020-21 school year, will focus on serving children who have experienced trauma.

Charter schools in Northwest Arkansas enrolled 2,581 students in 2017-18, which was just under 3% of the nearly 90,000 public school students in Benton and Washington counties. Figure 1 presents Northwest Arkansas charter school enrollment from 2007-08 through the 2017-18 school year.


The 2017-18 enrollment data presented in Table 1, shows that charter schools in Northwest Arkansas enroll a larger proportion of White, Asian, and multi-racial students, than the traditional public districts.  The charter schools enroll a smaller proportion of other ethnic groups, students eligible for free– and reduced-priced lunch, English learners, and students eligible for special education services.

NWA Charter 2

When we examine ten years of enrollment data, we see that all Northwest Arkansas schools are becoming increasingly racially/ ethnically diverse and that charter schools are growing more similar to district public schools in their race/ ethnicity demographic composition. In 2007-08, less than 35% of students enrolled in NWA traditional public schools and around 10% enrolled in NWA charter schools identified with a minority group. In 2017-18, over 40% of the traditional public school population and 30% of the charter school population identified as a minority race or ethnicity. The district-charter minority enrollment gap was nearly 25 percentage points in 2007-08, but had shrunk to just over 10 percentage points ten years later.

Between 2009-10 and 2016-17, approximately 50% of students enrolled in traditional public schools were FRL-eligible. In contrast, approximately 20% of students enrolled in public charter schools were FRL-eligible. Similar disparities persisted for EL students (around 20% of traditional public school students and 3% of charter students) and SPED students (around 6% traditional public school and 3% charter). These trends raise the question of why NWA charter schools have become more integrated based on race, but not for FRL, EL, and SPED students?

Public charter schools are often accused of “cream skimming” (enrolling higher proportions of high-performing students) and “cropping” (encouraging low-performing students to enroll elsewhere). Do we see evidence of this with Northwest Arkansas public charter schools? In an effort to answer this question, we examine the academic performance of students who switched between the traditional and charter school sectors.

Students who exit NWA traditional public schools to enroll in a NWA charter school are, on average, academically high performing.  They scored two-thirds of a standard deviation above the state average on state assessments, and one-third of a standard deviation above the school average of the school that they moved from. The traditional public schools that students are leaving to go to a charter are high performing schools as well. Almost 58% of students who exit NWA traditional public schools to enroll in a NWA charter school left a school with a Z score in the top third of all NWA public schools.

Students leaving NWA charter schools to enroll in a NWA traditional school are also academically high performing on average. They scored on third of a standard deviation above the state average on state assessments. They were average performers, however, for the charter school that they exited.  About 40% of the students exiting charters left a school in the top third of all NWA public schools in terms of student achievement.

Taken together, this evidence suggests that higher performing students are leaving traditional schools to attend charter schools.  We have no evidence WHY higher performing students are leaving traditional schools, but possible reasons might be that they are attached to curricular options, changes in peer groups, or smaller classes. On the other hand, we do not see evidence that the students exiting charter schools are being ‘pushed out’ for low academic performance as they are average academic performers compared to their peers at the charter school that they are exiting.

The charter sector in NWA has grown rapidly over the past ten years, but continues to serve a small proportion (3%) of all public school students in the area. The region has grown more racially and ethnically diverse in that time. Public charter schools have also grown more diverse, though they continue to enroll a smaller proportion of certain student populations. Here’s what we think are important steps moving forward:

  1. Continue to monitor differences in demographic enrollment trends by sector.  Charter schools should be reaching out to all communities to communicate the opportunity to enroll, and if particular groups are not expressing interest we should try to learn more about why.  Do they feel that they are not ‘the right kind of applicant’ or do they prefer the opportunities that they are given in the traditional public sector?
  2. Gain a better understanding of why FRL, EL, and SPED students enroll in charter schools at such low rates. These enrollment trends may be related to problems with practical solutions, such as transportation. It may be that the families of these students are satisfied with services provided at their residentially-assigned district public school. It may be that students are interested in attending but are not being selected in the random lotteries that charters must hold if oversubscribed. Understanding the reasons for these enrollment trends is essential to crafting policy-relevant solutions.
  3. Respond to market demands. NWA charter schools enroll only 3% of all public school students in Benton and Washington counties. However, many of the charter schools are oversubscribed with waiting lists of students not selected through random lotteries.  The interest in charters suggests many more students may be interested in enrolling in these schools. Traditional public schools should communicate with students and parents to determine if their needs are being met, and, if not, how they can better support their educational experience.





District Funding Equity

In The View from the OEP on January 29, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Over the past few months we’ve written several posts about school spending. Most recently, we showed that there appears to be essentially no relationship between spending and test score growth. Of course the aim of education is broader than just test score growth, but increasing knowledge and skills in core subjects, as demonstrated on tests, is certainly an important outcome. However, given the broader purpose of education and people’s general desire for fairness, funding equity has also been a longstanding education policy issue.

For Arkansas, funding equity has had particular importance since the Lake View school district filed its original court case in 1992 alleging that the state’s funding system was inequitable and inadequate. The Lake View case eventually made its way to the Arkansas Supreme Court and has since had a profound impact on the state’s approach to school funding. This post looks at school funding equity post-Lake View to see where things stand today.

We used the Arkansas Department of Education’s Annual Statistical Reports to analyze property wealth and school district revenue between 2004 and 2018. All of the dollar amounts presented below are per pupil, meaning we divide property wealth and district revenue figures by the number of students the district serves. Using per pupil figures provides an apples-to-apples comparison for districts of varying sizes.

A key concern in the Lake View case was that affluent districts had significantly more property wealth than poor districts, and could, therefore, generate significantly more funding with the same tax effort. Lake View argued that state and federal dollars were not sufficient to make up for local funding deficits in poorer communities around the state. Below we look at (1) how property wealth and revenue have changed over time, (2) the relationship between revenue per pupil and property wealth, and (3) the relationship between local funding share and property wealth.

Both property values and school district revenue have increased significantly. Between 2004 and 2018, the median assessed property value per pupil for Arkansas school districts increased from $49,803 to $93,301, an 87 percent increase over 14 years. The median is the value where half of districts have higher values and half have lower values. Over the same period, median revenue per pupil increased from $7,191 to $12,112 (a 68 percent increase), and the locally generated share of total district revenue increased from 24 percent to 32 percent. Property values and funding per pupil have both grown at healthy rates, and on average, a greater share of school districts revenue is coming from local property taxes. Next we investigate the relationship between property wealth and revenue.

School district revenue has a weak, positive relationship with property wealth, but overall appears to be relatively equitable. Figure 1 below shows the relationship between property wealth and school district revenue for 2005 (blue dots), 2008 (orange dots), and 2018 (grey dots). Each dot in the figure represents a school district. The data show a weak, positive relationship between revenue and property wealth that has not changed much over time – the dots get slightly higher as property wealth increases from left to right and the different colored dots are similarly distributed. It does not appear from this graph that there are large, systematic inequities built into Arkansas’ school district funding system – the dots are somewhat evenly scattered with only a slight upward tilt from left to right.

Figure 1: The relationship between Arkansas school district revenue per pupil and property wealth between 2005 and 2018

State and Federal funding is being used to equalize school district funding between wealthy and poor communities. Figure 2 shows the relationship between the locally generated share of school district revenue and property wealth. There is a strong positive relationship between locally generated share and property wealth, meaning that wealthier school districts’ taxpayers contribute a greater percentage of school district revenue than do taxpayers in less well-off districts. In other words, state and federal dollars are being heavily allocated toward poorer communities, allowing those school districts to be funded with less reliance on local property wealth.

Figure 2: The relationship between the locally generated share of school district revenue and property wealth between 2005 and 2018

Since Lake View, Arkansas has made many changes to its school funding formula in an effort to improve both adequacy and equity. Our analysis shows that even as property values have grown significantly and a greater share of overall district revenue is coming from local property taxes, Arkansas current funding formula appears to be relatively equitable. There is only a weak, positive relationship between property wealth and revenue, but there is a strong positive relationship between local revenue share and property wealth –  state and federal dollars are being used to mitigate wealth differences across districts. While we still might want to do more to support our poorer communities, it is good news that the equity concerns raised in Lake View seem less apparent today.

Examining Arkansas’ Graduation Rates

In The View from the OEP on January 22, 2020 at 11:06 am


Take a minute to think about what drives graduation rates for a high school.

  • Is it student characteristics, such as their academic achievement or their socio-economic status?
  • Is it school characteristics, like how large it is or the community in which it is located?
  • Is it some mixture of both student and school characteristics?
  • Which are related to higher graduation rates and which are related to lower graduation rates?

Here at the OEP, we have taken a deep dive into what student and school characteristics  account for variation in high school graduation rates and are pleased to release our report today! This report examines trends in high school graduation rates for the state of Arkansas across the five-year period of 2013-14 through 2017-18. We consider the relationship between graduation rate and variables of interest including school-level indicators of geographic region, achievement in literacy and math, proportion of racial minority and economically disadvantaged students, graduating class size, and the configuration of the school’s grade levels. Graduation rates are evaluated at the school level for students overall and for students who face economic disadvantages.

Here’s the short summary of what we found:

  • Larger graduating classes are associated with lower graduation rates. Graduating class size is the only consistently significant predictor of high school graduation rates across all five years examined. Larger graduating class size is highly significantly associated with lower graduation rates for students overall as well as for students who face economic disadvantages. See below for why we selected this variable.
  • High schools that begin in 10th or 11th grade are associated with higher overall graduation rates. School grade configuration is a significant predictor of graduation rate in 70% of our multivariate analyses. High schools that begin in 10th or 11th grade are associated with higher overall graduation rates, relative to being in a school with only grades 9-12. Although not consistently statistically significant like class size, positive coefficients across all years for both overall and economically disadvantaged students indicate that high schools that begin in 10th or 11th grade are either positively or neutrally related to graduation rates. See below for why we selected this variable.
  • Demographic characteristics of students enrolled in the school are not consistently significantly related to graduation rates when controlling for all variables in our model. The percentage of students participating in the free/reduced lunch program are significantly negatively related to overall graduation rates in only the most recent three years studied, while the percentage of students of minority status is not significantly related to student graduation rate in any of the years examined.
  • Student achievement indicators are not consistently significantly related to graduation rates when controlling for all variables in our model. The relationship between 8th grade (pre-high school) literacy achievement and graduation rates is significant in the first three years studied, but 8th grade math achievement is significantly related to graduation rates only in 2014-15.

High school graduation rates are important for both students and schools.  Graduating from high school opens a door to increased career opportunities and greater lifetime earnings for students. Arkansas education leaders realize that graduating high school is an important milestone for students, so the state includes graduation rate as 15% of a high school’s ESSA accountability score. Developing a better understanding of the relationships between high school graduation rates and student and/or school characteristics may help us think differently about what really drives high school graduation rates.

Although school leaders cannot easily reduce the size of the graduating class or the number of grades enrolled in a high school building, reflection on how they could re-create the benefit of smaller class size experiences through policies like creating smaller pseudo-cohorts of graduates (through ‘houses’, ‘tribes’, ‘teams’, or ‘families’, for example) might lead to increased graduation rates for their students.

This research can help school leaders, policy makers and education stakeholders to examine ways to further increase school graduation rates. The only variable that is consistently associated with graduation rate change is the number of students in the graduating class, although indications of a positive relationship between high schools serving only grades 10-12 or 11-12 and higher graduation rates appear worthy of further study.

Why just study Arkansas?

State-level is the best way to examine graduation rates. Although all states now calculate high school graduation rates the same way (using the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate), there can be differences between states in the requirements for graduation.  In addition, school funding can vary across states as well as the profile of a ‘typical’ high school.

Why consider Graduating Class Size?

Earlier research by the Office for Education Policy (2014) found that larger high schools and schools serving more economically-disadvantaged students had lower graduation rates. There has been quite a bit of research into the benefits of smaller schools, but the definition is not uniform, generally using enrollment between 400 and 1200 students as the indicator of “small”. Benefits of small schools are generally ascribed to the fact that students are more likely to be known by school staff and other students, reducing the chances for them to be overlooked when displaying behaviors that might lead to academic difficulties and dropping out.

During the 2017-18 school year in Arkansas, however, 78% of high schools would be considered “small” as they enrolled fewer than 600 students. Further, half of these “small” high schools could be termed “very small” as they enrolled fewer than 300 students.

When considering the root cause of possible benefits of school enrollment, we felt it was critical to consider the grade configuration of high schools in Arkansas.  About half (129) of the state’s high schools begin at a grade lower than 9th grade, with a 7th -12th grade configuration accounting for 85% of this group. The second largest grade configuration group contains the 109 high schools that enroll a traditional 9th -12th grade population. High schools that begin after 9th grade create the smallest grade configuration group, with only 37 schools.

Due to the variation in grades served by these high schools, we elect to use the size of the graduating class as our indicator of school size. High schools that begin prior to 9th grade have fewer students enrolled in the graduating class when compared to the other grade configurations. On average, there were 47 students in the graduating classes of the schools that begin prior to 9th grade, compared to 163 in the 9-12 schools and 238 in the included schools that begin after 9th grade.

Why consider Grade Configuration?

Arkansas has a variety of grade configurations serving high school students.  We felt that there might be a relationship between school grade configuration and high school graduation, particularly since the grade configurations are generally associated with graduating class size.  We also consider the placement of 9th grade, as it is the first year that a student’s academic performance counts toward graduation requirements. We suspect that placement of the 9th grade might make a difference in a student’s likelihood of graduating as attending 9th grade in a familiar school might reduce the stress load on students. In addition, transitioning to a new school for 9th grade might cause a disruption in the learning experience, while transitioning to a new school after 9th grade might result in organizational issues with credit tracking that could lead to students failing to meet graduation requirements.

More Money, More Growth?

In The View from the OEP on December 4, 2019 at 1:32 pm

We’ve been thinking a lot this week about school-level expenditures, and if the expenditures relate to student academic growth. We think that growth is the best reflection of the effect that a school is having on student learning. Spoiler Alert: there is essentially no relationship between how much a school is spending and how much growth is being made by the students enrolled.

As you may remember, last spring the state released school-level expenditures for the first time. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to examine the equity, efficiency, and efficacy of Arkansas’ public education spending.

We have examined school-level expenditures through a variety of lenses in previous posts, and have found that Arkansas’ schools spend more the higher a school’s poverty level, that overall traditional school and charter school expenditures per pupil are quite similar, and that Arkansas spends the most on high schools and the least on middle schools, with elementary school spending falling in between.

We also have posted a lot about growth!  You probably know by now that growth is much less correlated to poverty at the school level than achievement, students in schools with larger average class sizes demonstrated greater academic growth than their peers in smaller classes, and growth doesn’t have the intended impact on school level grades.

In this post we are digging into a big question- is more spending related to higher student growth?

In this analysis, we are considering 2017-18 school-level per pupil expenditures and the 2017-18 school content growth score. We are using 2017-18 data since the 2018-19 expenditure data haven’t been released yet. Please note that we exclude the high school level Alternative Learning Environments (ALEs) from this analysis due to the small and specialized populations that they serve.

School expenditures are reported in various categories.  We start with the personnel expenditures as the majority of school funds are used to pay for teacher salaries and benefits. The data presented in Figure 1 show that there is not a strong relationship between school instructional spending and the academic growth of students at the school.  Some schools are represented in the upper left quadrant, spending more than average per student on personnel, while students demonstrate lower than expected growth.  Other schools are represented in the lower right quadrant, where students demonstrate higher than expected growth, even though the school is spending less than average per student on personnel.

Figure 1: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Personnel Expenditures Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

Personnel CG

We also considered the relationship between student academic growth and instructional spending. As presented in Figure 2, we see the same lack of relationship between expenditures and student growth.

Figure 2: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Instructional Expenditures Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

Inst CG


Finally, we expanded our analysis to total school expenditure, because we think maybe all the dollars spent could have an impact on student learning. Once again, there is a lack of a relationship, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth

total CG


Does the relationship vary by school level?

We might think that greater expenditures in elementary schools lead to larger academic gains for students than investments in later grade levels. We previously found that expenditure varies between school levels (elementary, middle, and high). Content growth should not vary by school level, as average growth at each grade level is 80. Below, we present the figures for Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, respectively.

Figure 4: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, Elementary School Level

Elem CG

Figure 5: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, Middle School Level

Mid CG

Figure 6: Scatter Plot of 2017-18 School-Level Total Spending Per Pupil vs. Content Growth, High School Level

High CG

At all school levels we see essentially no relationship between the amount spent per pupil and the academic growth of students.

Does this mean that money doesn’t matter to student growth?

Nope! This analysis is descriptive, not causal, meaning that we are just describing the relationship between two variables, as opposed to claiming that changes in one will (or will not) lead to changes in the other. What our descriptive analyses do shed light on, however, is that schools spending the same amount per pupil can realize very different growth outcomes for students.  This lack of a direct relationship between expenditures and growth could indicate that it is more about HOW schools are using their resources (including time, money, and people) than how many resources they have. We look forward to seeing the 2018-19 school expenditure data and checking to see if the (lack of) relationship still exists. What do you think?