University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Let’s Reward Growth!

In The View from the OEP on October 31, 2018 at 11:39 am

This week, Arkansas schools received nearly $7 million in reward money from the Arkansas’ School Recognition Program. This program provides funds for “outstanding schools”.  Schools are rewarded for being in the top 10 percent of schools in the state for academic achievement and/or academic growth.

Here at OEP, we are glad that schools are being rewarded, but think the program could be improved in three ways:

  1. Award all the funds to schools where students are showing high academic growth,
  2. Remove graduation rate from the calculations, and
  3. Reward schools for highest growth ranking within school level (Elementary, Middle, or High) instead of across all schools.

Put the Money Where the Growth is

We wish that all the reward and recognition funds were given to those schools where students are demonstrating high academic growth! Of course we think academic achievement is important, but suggest that it is not the best indicator of how well a school is educating students. We have talked before about the clear relationship between academic achievement and poverty, because students from homes with greater resources are likely to perform better on the annual assessments in in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Academic growth, on the other hand, reflects how much improvement the students are making from year to year, which is what school personnel can impact directly through high-quality instruction. Recognizing and rewarding schools where teachers are growing students’ academic performance is critical to ensure that our teachers feel supported in their work to help every student learn every day.

It is important we all understand that high academic achievement and high growth are not mutually exclusive! There are 10 schools (listed below) that were in the top 5% for both academic achievement and growth.

Table 1: Schools Identified in the top 5% of schools in the state for both Growth and Achievement, 2017-18.

top 5%Notice that among these 10 schools recognized for top-tier growth and achievement, there are schools with very small percentages of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch (a proxy for poverty), as well as schools with FRL rates above the state average of 63%. We are excited to see high growth and at all types of schools!  Salem Elementary and Bismark Elementary serve populations that are 65% and 71% FRL respectively, but are in the top 5% of schools in the state for both achievement and growth. We are excited to see that these top-tier schools serve different types of student populations, but are all serving their students so well!

In fact, half of the schools in the top 5% for growth serve a higher than average percentage of students eligible for FRL – topping out with Parson Hills in Springdale and Tilles in Forth Smith which both serve over 90% of students eligible for FRL.

When it comes to high-ranking in achievement, however, schools serving more disadvantaged populations are harder to find. Only five of the schools that made the top tier in achievement were above the state average %FRL (including Salem and Bismarck- that we already mentioned).

This means we have a bunch of high-achieving schools getting reward money that aren’t showing top tier student growth. Most of the schools recognized for high achievement demonstrate above average growth, ten rewarded schools had growth below the state average.  In fact, 4 schools rewarded for high achievement were in the bottom quartile for growth among all schools in the state. We aren’t going to name those schools here- but recommend that you check out how well your school performed in growth in these easy to interpret school info one-pagers. Just select your school see the percentile rank for achievement, growth, and SQSS indicators.

What’s The Deal with Graduation Rate?

For high schools, the current law requires that graduation rate be included in the ‘growth’ calculation. It’s odd, and likely a leftover from the old days when we didn’t have growth indicators for high school, but at least it isn’t biased against schools serving more at-risk students since graduation rates aren’t really correlated with poverty rates! (r=-0.17). This year, both the 4- and 5- year graduation rates were included, which we think is an improvement because it at least benefits schools that are going the extra mile to help all kids graduate, even if it takes extra time.  Overall though, we think the recognition program should remove graduation rate from the calculations, because they just inflate growth scores for high schools, and makes the system misaligned with ESSA.

Reward Within School Level

The legislation for the reward program clearly states that schools will be rewarded for being in the top tier “of all public schools”, but here at OEP, we would love to see schools awarded recognition and reward money based on their ranking WITHIN their school level.  Making this change would be more equitable for all schools, and would align more closely with the state’s ESSA plan. If we want to incentivize schools to show growth, we have to make sure schools in all levels have a chance for rewards and recognition.

We Do It Our Way

We give OEP awards according to our preferences: only for growth, without graduation rate consideration for high schools, and within school level. In addition, we separate out growth in math and growth in ELA, because we think schools should be rewarded for their successes.

Tune in next week to find out which Elementary level schools receive OEP Awards for 2018!

Grade 11 ACT Scores

In The View from the OEP on October 25, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Last week, we shared that the grade 11 ACT scores from last spring were essentially the same as the ACT scores from the prior year.  When we examined the school-level, however, there were some schools that had serious increases from prior ACT scores!

We’ve posted the data on our website and included change in scores so you can dig into it yourself.

Three high schools really caught our eye, and we want to celebrate Scranton High, Shirley High, and Eureka Springs High for the improvement made by their students since Grade 11 ACT testing began in the 2015-16 school year. We present the ACT data from these schools below.

School Name Percent Met All Four ACT Readiness Benchmarks School % FRL Number of Students Tested 2017-18
2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Scranton High 11 7 39 44% 28
Eureka Springs High 18 14 30 46% 43
Shirley High 3 4 20 77% 25
        State Average 14 14 14 54% 110

These schools have demonstrated large increases in the percentage of students meeting ACT college readiness benchmarks in all four subject areas (Math, English, Reading, and Science).  A student who meets the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks has at least a 50% chance of getting a “B” or better in the corresponding college course. Statewide, 14% of students meet this criteria, and the rates in these three districts are higher than in similar districts.

Scranton High, Shirley High, and Eureka Springs High Schools haven’t only shown improvements in the percentage of students meeting all four ACT readiness benchmarks, however.  Students from these schools also increased the average ACT score in each content area over prior performance and are outscoring districts serving similar populations.

You may notice that these schools serve a small number of students- meaning that the scores are more likely to fluctuate than those in larger districts. We agree, but many small schools have had big decreases in scores over time, and we think the three-year trend is a good start.

Scranton High, Shirley High, and Eureka Springs High schools also had strong ESSA growth scores last year, and were in the top 10% for growth overall, and the top 5% of high school for growth in ELA.  This got us to wondering about how ESSA growth (which doesn’t involve 11th graders at all) is related to ACT score improvement?  We were also wondering how 11th grade ACT scores are related to school poverty rates, and to the 10th grade ACT Aspire scores from the prior year.

ACT improvement and ESSA growth:

We might anticipate that ESSA growth values and ACT improvement would be related, because if a school is seeing growth from the students who complete the ACT Aspire (given in grades 3-10), then it would make sense that students who complete the ACT would also demonstrate growth. As you can see in the scatter plot below, however, there is essentially no relationship between the values at the school level (r=0.09).

ACT and Growth

While we presented English scores, the relationship was consistent for math growth as well. We thought maybe it was because some of the schools we are considering as ‘high schools’ serve a wider grade range than just 9-12, and so maybe the growth values was based on growth in lower grades, but when we limited the sample to only schools serving grades 9-12 the correlation remained as low as with the whole sample. We think this lack of relationship highlights the difference between the longitudinal growth model and a simple change value. The ESSA growth score includes more sensitive information about how students are performing longitudinally, while the ACT information which is just snapshots of the scores of two different groups of students in subsequent years.

ACT scores and 10th grade ACT Aspire scores:

This got us wondering about how correlated were these schools’ 10th grade ACT Aspire scores from 2016-17 with the 11th grade ACT  scores from 2017-18.  We would expect they would be correlated, since the ACT Aspire is meant to predict performance on the ACT!  Although the state-level values didn’t change for either assessment, we wanted to examine the relationship at a school level.  We use the OEP’s weighted GPA to examine the relationship between the scores, and find the values are strongly correlated (r=0.84).  Math scores were more correlated (r=0.92), while ACT science scores were less correlated with the 10th grade performance (r=0.70).


Given that the ACT scores are so correlated with ACT Aspire scores, students, parents, teachers, and other education stakeholders should take action on ACT Aspire results in earlier grades to address any areas of academic weakness well before the ACT.

ACT scores school poverty rates:

As we would expect with assessments measuring academic performance, we find that the ACT is negatively correlated with school poverty rates (r=-0.58), so it is important to compare your school’s performance to those serving similar student populations.

ACT- Poverty

We are so glad that the state is investing in our students and providing them with all the opportunity to take the ACT in 11th grade, but just testing students doesn’t help them learn.  We need to work hard to effectively use information from both formative and summative assessments to support students in their learning.

Play It Again Sam… Letter Grades and ACT Scores

In The View from the OEP on October 17, 2018 at 12:20 pm

It’s been a big week in Arkansas education, with A-F Letter Grades and ACT scores being released, but both scores are generally a repeat of last year’s results.

As expected, the majority of schools (67%) received the same letter grade as last year.  There was some movement up a level (16% of schools) or down a level (17%) of schools, but these were generally more reflective of schools crossing over a classification threshold than significant changes in performance.  ACT scores for Arkansas’ 2018 graduates were just the same as they were for the Class of 2017. The average composite score of 19.4 and the determination that 17% of Arkansas graduates met the readiness benchmarks in all four tested areas are both below the national average and exactly the same as last year’s results.

How are school leaders, parents, and policy makers to interpret the static results?  Here at the OEP, we hope to share some tools for interpreting the new data. We also want to get into the weeds about how the Achievement and Growth scores interact in the ESSA model.

Before we jump into the details, we have some good news to highlight!

First- we congratulate ADE on getting the school performance information out so quickly this year. This helps schools evaluate how their school is serving students and make changes in a timely manner to address areas where the numbers are low.

Second- we celebrate the transparency that ADE has built into the system, and we fully support Arkansas’ decision to provide all students the opportunity to take the ACT for free.  These are positive decisions for students!  We love the public availability of the school performance reports through– especially the option to compare achievement and growth performance with similar schools.  This option is available within the Reports tab by selecting similar schools based on %FRL, racial percentages and/or geographic proximity (see images below). If you haven’t checked this out, you should!

School filter

apply filter



The data is a lot to take in, and it can be tough to try to figure out what’s important and what the patterns are. We have posted this interactive data viz of the Letter Grades and associated scores to help you see a statewide picture.  You can find your school, and filter by academic growth score and poverty rate to see how schools that are similar to yours have scored.

OEP’s Interactive 2017-18 ESSA Data Visualization


Even with all the data out there, however, we are concerned that it may be difficult for many stakeholders to understand how their school is performing. In addition, we think each indicator provides insight independently, and so we made these simple one-pagers for easy reference.  To ease interpretation for stakeholders, we assigned each school a percentile rank (within their assigned grade span) for the Achievement, Growth, and School Quality indicators.  While this is too superficial for school personnel to act upon, we hope you find it a helpful communication tool. You can get them from our website officeforeducation, or here:

OEP’s One-Page School Summary of 2017-18 ESSA Data

One Pager

Now we are going to dig into the school performance data, and consider the new letter grades. Don’t worry – there are pictures, and you can download the data we used here!

As expected, the majority of schools (67%) received the same letter grade as last year.  There was some movement up a level (16% of schools) or down a level (17%) of schools, but these were generally more reflective of schools crossing over a classification threshold than significant changes in performance. Overall, the percentage of schools receiving each letter grade was similar to last year.

Figure 1: School Letter Grade Percentages, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

2017-18 LetterGrade Chart

Certain types of schools are more likely to get A’s and B’s.

Once again this year, we find that schools serving a lower percentage of students who participate in Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL) generally get better grades than schools who serve a more disadvantaged population.  As you can see in Figure 2 below, there is a strong negative relationship between FRL and ESSA scores (r=-0.69) although schools with the same %FRL have a range of about 20 ESSA points. Take note that there are a lot of schools reporting 100% FRL, which is the result of districts participating in the community eligibility provision.  We like the CEP, but some of these schools reported much lower FRL rates in years past, so we should use caution when considering the performance of these schools since it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison.

Figure 2: School ESSA Index Score and %FRL, 2017-18.


As we’ve said before, the ESSA index is mainly driven by achievement, and two scores are almost perfectly correlated at r=.97.  This is frustrating because the model was supposed to consider growth more heavily than achievement, but in reality achievement scores overwhelm growth. In addition, you can see in Figure 3 that this year’s achievement is almost perfectly correlated with prior year achievement (r=.94). So high achieving schools (generally lower FRL schools) tend to get better grades both years.

Figure 3: Weighted Achievement, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Achievement 2 year

What about GROWTH?

The good news is that academic growth (our favorite) is less associated with school FRL rates than achievement (see in Figure 4 (r=-.25)). Growth is the indicator that measures how students scored compared to how well we predicted they would score based on prior achievement.  We feel it is very important to examine this indicator carefully, as it is the best reflection of the learning occurring in our classrooms.

Figure 4: Academic Growth and %FRL, 2017-18.

growth FRL

Interestingly, as you can see in Figure 5, academic growth is strongly correlated with prior year growth (r=.80).  This means that schools with high growth in 2016-17 also had high growth in 2017-18. The reverse is also true, unfortunately, as schools where students performed lower than predicted in 2016-17 demonstrated the same pattern in 2017-18.

Figure 5: Academic Growth 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Growth 2 year

This is great news for Arkansas educators!  We have an indicator of student learning that is not very correlated with school poverty, but seems to be consistently identifying schools as high, average, or low growth. Keep an eye out for the OEP awards, which will celebrate the high growth school!

But does increased growth relate to increased achievement, as we would think it should? The figure below represents the change in growth score from 2016-17 to 2017-18 and the change in achievement score over those same two years. Although increased growth does not always correlate with positive changes in achievement (because students can be achieving at a higher level than predicted but not necessarily making it into another proficiency category), there are few schools in the lower right quadrant where growth decreased and achievement increased. Of greatest concern are the schools in the lower left quadrant, where growth and proficiency both decreased since the prior year.

Figure 6: Change in Academic Growth and Achievement, from 2016-17 to 2017-18.

Growth Achievement

So what should school leaders, parents, and policy makers do?

  1.  Get into the data!  Understand and communicate how your school is performing on each indicator compared to similar schools.  If there is an indicator where scores are relatively high, build on that success.  If there is an indicator where scores are relatively low, consider what might be contributing to that score and work to change students’ school experiences. Stakeholders and policy makers should celebrate school successes, and work to support development in low-performing indicators.
  2. Focus on the learning every day! The ESSA Index, the ACT Aspire, and the ACT tests are once-a-year snapshots of performance.  Teachers should be using high quality ongoing formative assessments to understand where their students are and work to help them move them forward in their learning. Stakeholders and policy makers should support schools as they work to make an opportunity for growth for their students.
  3. Stay the course! Change takes time. To move the needle on student achievement and success in Arkansas, we need to put in the work and give the work time.  Changing assessments or backing away from rigorous and high-quality school performance analyses will only add instability into the system.

Arkansas education is on the right track, so let’s keep playing that tune.




Arkansas’ Struggling Readers

In The View from the OEP on October 10, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Today we are excited to release new research about Arkansas’ struggling readers. We thought since school performance reports are being released this Friday, it is a good time to remember that actual kids are behind the test scores used to generate the reports.  We hope you take a moment to reflect on who Arkansas’ struggling readers are, and how their reading skills develop through early high school.

We think this research is particularly important in light of all the effort that Arkansas educators are putting into improving early reading ability. By better understanding the historical improvement patterns of students who demonstrate low reading ability in third grade, we can better evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts to improve outcomes for struggling readers.

We examined the reading achievement of nearly 77,000 Arkansas students who were continuously enrolled in Arkansas public schools from 3rd grade through early high school. We hope you read the policy brief and more in-depth Arkansas Education Report, but we briefly summarize our findings here:

Who isn’t reading ‘on grade level’ in 3rd grade?

  • Students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches were twice as likely to be low-achieving readers in 3rd grade, compared to their more economically advantaged peers.
  • Students who are Black or Hispanic were twice as likely to be low-achieving readers in 3rd grade, compared to their White peers.

We know- you’re like “Duh” any teacher could have told you that, but it is important to have the data, the facts, about out struggling readers.

  • Males are somewhat more likely than females to be identified as low-achieving readers but the difference is not as large as it is between economic and racial groups.
  • ELLs are somewhat more likely than non-ELLs to be identified as low-achieving readers but the difference is not as large as it is between economic and racial groups.

Do the students who demonstrate low reading achievement in 3rd grade ‘catch up’ to their peers over time and what are the characteristics of students who do?  Note- we use standardized scores (z-scores) to examine student achievement over time due to changes in assessment.  You can read more about the methodology in the full report.

  • Of students who were initially low-achieving in 3rd grade, 12% ‘caught up’ to average state reading performance by early high school.
  • Students who were economically advantaged, White, Hispanic and/or female students were more likely to reach average reading achievement by early high school than their Black, male, and economically disadvantaged peers.
  • Among over 6,000 Black students who were identified as low-achieving in 3rd grade, only 6% demonstrated average reading achievement by early high school.
  • All types of low-achieving students demonstrated large improvements between 3rd and 4th grades, although rates of improvement after 4th grade is very different for different types of students.


Presented below are the standardized scores of initially low-achieving students from 3rd through 10th grade.  Results are presented by FRL participation and by race.

Figure 1: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by Economic Disadvantage (FRL) Status g3 reading frl

Figure 2: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by Race

g3 reading race

None of these initially low-performing student groups, even White or economically advantaged students, caught back up to the state average as a group by early high school.

  • Hispanic and economically advantaged students are achieving almost a half standard deviation increase in achievement as a group, and White students are making approximately 0.4 standard deviation increase, while Black and low-income students are making closer to a quarter of a standard deviation increase in achievement.
  • Even though low-achieving Hispanic students initially have very low average scores, they make advancements comparable to those of White students, the most advantaged group. This is an exciting trend to observe because it indicates potential for a narrowing achievement gap between White and Hispanic students.

You might be thinking that there are differences in reading score improvement between Hispanic students who are identified as ELL and Hispanic students who are not. We were pleased to find that both ELL and Non-ELL students made large gains in reading achievement over time as presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by English Language Learner Status

g3 reading ELL


In summary, Arkansas students face large and persistent racial and socioeconomic disparities in third grade reading scores. Moreover, few of our students who are struggling readers in third grade ever catch up to the state average. And these are for relatively stable students, those who are continuously enrolled in our schools from grades 3-10.

Our hope is that Arkansas’ average reading scores will continue to increase and all students will grow to read proficiently, but it is evident that special attention needs to be given to low income and racial minority students and students who are struggling with basic reading skills in third grade.

Although some schools saw double-digit reading proficiency gains after RISE trainings in 2017, similar improvement was not reflected on 2018 assessments. Programs must be carefully monitored to determine what, if any, impact they are having on changing the long-terms outcomes for students who, as demonstrated in this research, are likely to continue to struggle to read proficiently throughout their educational experience.

Schools and districts should carefully examine the progress of their struggling readers and consider the effectiveness of any interventions or programs that are being implemented.  Although this analysis uses state assessments as the measure of student achievement, schools and districts should examine multiple measures, including high quality formative assessments, to evaluate progress in student’s reading.

We must continue to strive to ensure that all students are leaving elementary school as competent readers, equipped with the literacy foundation necessary for future academic success.

Unpacking School Performance Ratings

In The View from the OEP on October 3, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Arkansas school performance ratings and A-F letter grades will be released to the public on October 12th.

Here’s what we think you can expect:

1) Most schools will get the same Letter Grade as they did last year.

2) Schools serving a smaller percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch will be more likely to get an “A” or a “B” than schools serving a population where a greater percentage of students experience economic hardship.

3) Arkansas’ growth measure- a powerful indicator of students’ academic improvement over time- will still be over shadowed by single-year achievement and will still be challenging for educators and parents to understand.


In advance of the release, we wanted to review the purpose of a school performance report.

This is the true baseline year for Arkansas’ new accountability system.  The state has worked diligently to develop an accountability system that will support student learning, as presented in the theory of action presented below.


The idea is that if schools get good information about what is really happening in their schools, then they can make improvements that will improve outcomes for students.

The continuous cycles of inquiry will take time to develop and build, and will require some new feedback systems to support schools and districts as they work to identify needs within their systems.

But does a school performance report really give schools the tools that they need to improve?  It’s complicated, and not just for Arkansas! A report released yesterday provides some insight into how stakeholders feel about school accountability across the nation.

One of the big benefits of school accountability identified in the report has been the increased transparency and quality of information about what is going on in schools. The interpretation of the data and the ability of schools to interpret the data and develop a plan to improve learning and resource allocation is key to Arkansas’ plan, as presented below.


Arkansas’ school personnel have been able to preview the school performance report since September 21, and we can tell that they have because ADE has made some updates to the reports and extended the private review deadline.

We appreciate the state letting school personnel review the information, and fully support the pursuit of high quality data in the system.  But we worry that school personnel are spending a lot of time trying to check the scores, as opposed to interpreting it and developing a plan to support student learning.

One thing that we think will help school personnel re-direct their time from checking a bunch of data points to developing a plan to support student learning, is to really understand what is driving the school performance score.

The Biggie- Achievement

The majority of the school performance score is determined by student achievement on the 2017-18 ACT Aspire English Language Arts and Mathematics performance of students in grades 3-8.  Wealthier schools will generally have higher achievement.  We know that achievement on assessments is negatively correlated with student risk factors such as poverty.  You can check out the relationship in our data visualization.

Schools and the public have had information about achievement since scores were released early in the summer, which was much earlier than in previous years. Schools may have difficultly, however, calculating what their weighted achievement score would be because student ELA scores not reported by the full range of categories used in the school performance calculations.  Additional information about cut scores for the full range of performance categories is included in the Final ESSA Decision Rules, and could be applied to student scores but that would take quite a bit of time!

Note: As we mentioned in our earlier blog– achievement on the ACT Aspire pretty much stayed the same as last year, but the weighted achievement scores will be lower than last year for most schools because ACT Aspire modified the criteria for ELA readiness. Thankfully, because of the forward thinking actions taken by the ADE to equate the scores with prior years and adjust the cut points for the letter grade, the lower achievement scores should not result in lower school letter grades across the state.

The Most Important (to us!)- Academic Growth

Here at OEP we feel that this is the most important piece of information in the school performance report because it reflects how much students at the school increased their academic performance over time compared to how much the average student improved.  We feel growth is a much more informative indicator of how schools are educating students than achievement, and are pleased that it is much less correlated with school poverty rates.

Unfortunately, schools can’t verify this growth information because it is calculated at the state level- using the relationship between current and historical test scores of every student in the state to develop a ‘predicted score’.  This score is then compared to each student’s actual score to determine if the student’s academic achievement as measured by the ACT Aspire assessment was more than expected, as expected, or less than expected.  These student-level scores are averaged at the school-level and reported as a reported to the school as a transformed variable with a mean of 80 and a standard deviation of around 3. We are confident that the calculations are correct, and would advise schools to worry less about re-calcaulting the values themselves (which they can’t due to only having access to their school’s data) and more about understanding what this indicator means.

Many schools throughout the state are familiar with NWEA’s MAP Growth, where there is a target score required for students to meet annual growth.  This makes it easy for schools to identify if students met or exceed growth.  NWEA has information with 370 million test event records spanning more than 15 years, so they have a really good idea of how a typical student will increase their score over time.  ACT Aspire is a relatively new assessment however, so we want to make sure that we aren’t ‘guessing’ how much a typical student ‘should’ increase.   Instead, the state uses real data to inform how much a typical student DID increase from one year to the next and then compares that to the performance of students with similar test score histories.

Growth is really the most meaningful at the student level.  If students in program X are not meeting growth expectations, while students in program Y are, then careful consideration should be given to re-allocating resources so more students can benefit from program Y.  In discussions with the ESSA advisory team yesterday, we were thrilled to hear that the state may be able to provide student-level growth information in the future which would be super valuable to school leaders as they develop a plan to enhance student learning and resource allocation.

The Most Distracting- SQSS

The School Quality and Success (SQSS) indicator is a mouthful, but is really the smallest contributor to the overall school performance score. Since parts of SQSS reflects achievement, it is not surprising that SQSS scores are also negatively correlated with school poverty rates (r= -0.48).

As we have said before there are a lot of indicators included in this measure and school personnel may be spending a lot of time focusing on each indicator and wondering if the data are accurate. For some indicators, schools could verify the data through their own systems by applying the business rules, but for other indicators they cannot.  The first time schools saw the SQSS indicators was last spring, and the data included in the current school performance reports was pulled soon after.  Because SQSS indicators represent systems in place at schools, such as attendance reporting practices and course enrollment, and because these systems may require some time to adjust, we don’t expect to see large (or meaningful) changes in these scores yet.

We like how SQSS indicators can help schools get more accurate information about what is happening at their school, but are looking forward to when they are presented in a way that schools can really use them in their strategic planning to support student outcomes.

The continuous cycles of inquiry will take time to develop and build, and will require some new feedback systems to support schools and districts as they work to identify needs within their systems.

What’s in a Grade? 

The school performance report also supports Arkansas’ legislation that every school must receive an A-F letter grade. The letter grade was designed to create a method for parents to easily understand the quality of a school, but does an A-F letter grade really give parents the information that they need about how a school is doing? One stakeholder in yesterday’s report captured the challenge of assigning schools letter grades:

“How do you make something that is simple enough to be understood, like an A through F rating system, but also incorporate a number of different factors that are complex enough to capture all of the things we want schools to do? Everything from math and reading to also discipline data or enrollment data or attendance data or all these other sort of facets of that system. So how do you make something that is usable and understandable, but also nuanced?”

Another stakeholder pointed out how the A-F grade represents what matters to the developers of the metrics:

“I sort of feel like the single rating of either A through F or on a number is sort of the worst impulses of accountability. Because not only are you saying what matters by its inclusion in that, but how much it matters, by how it’s weighted. So man, that takes a lot of faith in yourself that you can specify how much you should care about academics relative to attendance, relative to these other things.”

We agree- and have addressed before how although the intention was to make growth scores weight more heavily in the school performance reports and associated letter grade determination.  When schools where students make the largest improvements in achievement can still be saddled with a low grade due to the characteristics of the population they serve, we are sending the message that growth doesn’t really matter.   And as long as the performance index results in schools serving more advantaged students getting higher letter grades, we also send the message to parents that what makes a good school is not the learning that happens inside the building, but how large the houses are that surround the school.

We urge educators and parents to focus on the academic growth indicator, and view the purpose of a school performance report as the beginning of an ongoing conversation about how to continually increase student learning. 

Arkansas Discipline Update

In The View from the OEP on September 19, 2018 at 11:36 am

Last week, the Student Discipline Task Force submitted their report to the Arkansas State Board of Education, and OEP was pleased to present the annual report on student discipline.

OEP’s report examines student discipline in Arkansas public schools. We identify trends and a number of key student outcomes related to student discipline in the Arkansas public schools. While the data are only limited to what schools report, there are several meaningful findings from this work. While we recommend the full report and this introductory policy brief, today we wanted to share the highlights of what we found.

What are trends in reported student infractions and associated consequences?

  • There has been an 87% increase in reported discipline infractions since 2012-13, with over 270,000 discipline referrals in 2016-17. We believe the increase in referrals likely reflects greater focus on reporting discipline infractions as opposed to an increase in misbehavior in Arkansas schools.


  • Over 80% of discipline referrals are for insubordination, disorderly conduct, or “other” infractions.
  • The majority of the increase in infraction referrals has been for “other” infractions. In 2016-17, additional reporting categories were included, but over a third of infractions remained identified only as “other”.


  • Over 93% of discipline consequences are for out-of-school suspension (OSS), in-school suspension (ISS), or “other” action. There has been a decline in reported reliance on OSS, ISS, and corporal punishment over time.
  • The majority of the increase in consequences has been for “other” actions. In 2016-17, additional reporting categories were included, but about 19% of consequences remained identified only as “other”. While trends away from exclusionary discipline might indicate benefits for students, knowing more about what the “other” consequences are is important for understanding whether this represents a meaningful change for students.


Are schools complying with Act 1329, which bans the use of OSS as a consequence for truancy?

  • The use of OSS for truancy declined from about 14% of all truancy cases in 2012-13 to about 7% of cases in 2016-17.
  • In 2016-17, 76 schools reported at least five or more truancy infractions and reported using OSS in at least 10% of those cases. Many of these were concentrated in a few districts.


Are there racial or programmatic disproportionalities in school discipline?

  • Disproportionalities by race, free- and reduced- price lunch eligibility, and special education status exist both in terms of the number of referrals for infractions of various types, as well as in the likelihood of receiving exclusionary discipline, conditional on referral for a particular type of infraction. For example, black students receive 117.6 referrals per 100 students, relative to only about 37-40 for white students, Hispanic students, or students of other races. Then, conditional on being written up for any infraction, Black students receive OSS, expulsions, or referrals to ALE in about 25% of these cases, relative to only about 15% for students of other races.


Which types of schools are High-Exclusion schools?

  • Certain types of schools in the state are more likely to administer lengthy exclusionary punishments: schools with greater proportions of black students, high schools and middle schools (relative to elementary schools).
  • There also appears to have been a decline in the severity used, on average, between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

What is the relationship between student absenteeism and exclusionary discipline?

  • There is a moderate correlation between student absenteeism and OSS days received, with the strongest correlations between grades 7 and 10.
  • Students marked as chronically absent in those grades received 0.5 to 0.64 more days of OSS on average, compared to those not chronically absent.
  • This suggests that schools seeking to tackle absenteeism may consider discipline reforms as one possible solution.


What is the relationship between educational attainment and exclusionary discipline?

  • Exclusionary discipline in high school (and particularly ninth grade) is associated with lower likelihood of high school graduation and lower likelihood of enrolling in college, conditional on a variety of student characteristics as well as baseline achievement in eighth grade.
  • The magnitude of these relationships decline after controlling for the behaviors (types of infractions) reported, although there is still a small relationship detected in some cases.



Act 1329 has provided an opportunity to examine student discipline the the state.  The issue is complex, but one of the Student Discipline Task Force recommendations was that schools consider alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices when addressing student behaviors. The Board expressed concerns that OSS continues to be used as a consequence for truancy, and discussed the importance of continued effort to support schools and communities in reducing the use of exclusionary discipline for students. We look forward to continued discussion about improving learning environments for Arkansas students!


Chronic Absenteeism in Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on September 12, 2018 at 12:56 pm

September is Attendance Awareness Month, and this week we learned that Little Rock School District is aiming to cut chronic student absenteeism by partnering with The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, ArKids Read, Heart of Arkansas United Way, and Optimist Club of Greater Little Rock. The idea is that academic performance will improve if students come to school.

But what IS chronic absenteeism?

Chronic Absenteeism is when students are missing a lot of school.  How many absences are chronic? It depends on who you ask.

From a national perspective, schools were first required to submit information on chronic absence to the Office of Civil Rights in the 2013-14 school year.  The OCR defined chronic absence as missing 15 days or more of the school year.  Data from 2015-16 showed an increase in chronic absenteeism, but researchers believe it is due to improved reporting.  Unfortunately, chronic absence data will now be collected through the US Department of Education’s Ed Facts Division.  These data will not be comparable, because chronic absence is defined differently.  Ed Facts will define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school days.

Chronic Absenteeism Impacts Kids

Chronic absence links to poor academic performance, delayed graduation, and higher dropout rates, and it correlates strongly with school climate issues such as bullying and poor transportation.

According to the new report Data Matters; Using Chronic Absence to Accelerate Action for Student Success, Arkansas had a lower percentage of students chronically absent than in the nation as a whole. While the national rate of chronic absenteeism was 15.5%, only 14.1% of Arkansas students missed 15 days or more of school during the 2015-16 year.

Hedy N. Chang, one of the authors of the report, stated that attendance is strongly associated with academic success. Regular absences are an alert that students may need additional support and an investment of resources to have the opportunity to learn and thrive, Chang said. Barriers to good attendance include illness, trauma, unreliable transportation, negative school experiences such as bullying, lack of engagement and relevance to a child, poor discipline that pushes kids out and family failure to realize importance of school attendance. Although researchers have found a connection between poverty and absenteeism, there isn’t a strong correlation in Arkansas between school poverty rates and chronic absenteeism rates.

The map below shows the 2015-16 reported rates of chronic absenteeism in Arkansas school districts.  You can access an interactive map that drills down to the school level here.

Absence png

Chronic Absenteeism Impacts Schools

Chronic absenteeism has become a national education metric because the 2015 Every Student Success Act (ESSA) required states to include an indicator of School Quality and Student Success (SQSS).  This ‘fifth indicator’ indicator allowed states to place a value on elements of learning that are not typically measured on assessments. States had a substantial amount of freedom to decide which SQSS indicator(s) to include. Arkansas, like the majority of the states, selected chronic absenteeism as one of the measures of School Quality and Student Success used in the state accountability system.

Chronic absenteeism is one of several measures used to indicate SQSS in Arkansas.  Schools are awarded a point for each student who is present at least 95% of the school year, and a half a point for each student who missed between 6 and 9% of the school year.  Schools receive no points for students who are absent 10% of the year or more.  These attendance points are combined with the other SQSS indicators, so attendance doesn’t actually have a large impact on the overall score, but schools may feel incentivized to overlook reporting absences. When data are not valid and reliable, we can’t use them to support students.

As noted with the national attendance data collection, monitoring will be needed to ensure that good data are collected so we can reliably use it to determine relationships with student success in our schools. High rates of absenteeism signify the need to dig deeper to understand the underlying challenges.

Improving attendance rates requires an intentional shift away from punitive action and blame that have no evidence of yielding sustained improvements in attendance.  Arkansas has been working on moving away from such punitive action with Act 1329, banning Out of School Suspension as a consequence of truancy.  As OEP will report to the State Board on Friday, however, over 1,000 referrals for truancy resulted in OSS in the most recent school year.

Like Little Rock’s initiative, communication is key. Attendance Works provides a framework for improving student attendance in which educators starting with positive engagement and problem-solving to identify and address barriers to getting to school.

We celebrate all the schools that are examining the root causes of why students are missing school.  Let us know how we can help!


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

Does Arkansas Have a Teacher Shortage?

In The View from the OEP on August 29, 2018 at 1:16 pm


Amid national conversations about teacher shortages, we’ve been wondering if Arkansas has a teacher shortage.  We’ve been doing some research, and are excited to release our Policy Brief and Arkansas Education Report on Teacher Supply in Arkansas.

Does Arkansas have a teacher shortage?

Well, it’s difficult to tell.  One measure of teacher supply could be the number of teachers available to students, and Arkansas seems to do okay here.  According to ADE’s Recruitment and Retention Report, Arkansas students have greater access to teachers than their peers across the country. In Arkansas there is one classroom teacher to every 14.3 students, compared to the national average of 16.1 students per teacher (NCES).

Another measure of teacher supply could be the number of licensed educators in the state.  We have a bunch in Arkansas! According to Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), there were 33,228 certified teachers employed in Arkansas schools in 2017-18, and 60,317 people in Arkansas with a teaching license of any type as of 2017-18. That’s 81% more licensed teachers than are currently employed in the public schools.

A third measure of teacher supply considers the number of students enrolled in educator preparation programs, and the number of education program graduates entering the workforce. The ADE references the decline in the number of enrollees in education preparation programs as particular cause for concern.

All of these measures, however, focus on the overall supply of teachers in the state, and do not address current teacher supply realities faced by districts. It is possible there could be a shortage in some regions and subjects, but a surplus in others.

What do districts say?

We use a more intuitive and immediate measure of teacher supply: a ratio of the number of applicants for each open teaching position. This is the first study to define teacher supply in this way. By examining the ratio of applications to vacancies at the district level, we get a more direct, localized, measure of teacher supply and can investigate the relationship district characteristics may have on supply.

There is no centralized source to obtain the number of teaching vacancies and applicants in Arkansas, because each district posts their own position announcements and handles applications independently. In fact, over 46% of districts use only paper applications for teacher positions.

To gather information on the number of teaching vacancies and associated applications from school districts, we administered a survey to all districts in the Spring of 2017.  Overall, 74% of districts responded and the respondents were representative of statewide districts on examined characteristics.

We examined the reported teacher supply by student characteristics, district enrollment, district location, and beginning teacher salary. We also examined the relationship between teacher supply and the grade level and subject area of the vacancy.

What did we find?

  • There is not an overall teacher shortage across the state, but teacher supply is unequally distributed.
  • On average, districts reported receiving 6 applications per teacher vacancy. 
  • Districts that have the most favorable teaching supply are larger districts with enrollment greater than 3,500. On average, these districts get 8 applications per vacancy.
  • Urban and suburban districts, as well as districts in the Northwest appear to have a significant advantage in attracting teaching applicants.
  • Districts that face a greater challenge in attracting teaching supply are those in the Central, Southwest, and Southeast regions, and those in rural areas.
  • Beginning teacher salary is not found to be significantly related to district teacher supply, although districts who pay the most recieve more applications per vacancy.


What do we recommend?

Today the Learning Policy Institute released a report about six evidence-based policies that states are taking to solve teacher shortages:

  • Service scholarships and loan forgiveness (Arkansas does this!)
  • High-retention pathways into teaching (Arkansas does this!)
  • Mentoring and induction for new teachers
  • Developing high-quality school principals
  • Competitive compensation (Arkansas does this!)
  • Recruitment strategies to expand the pool of qualified educators

Arkansas is highlighted several times throughout the report, and we applaud the work that the state is doing to attract and retain teachers.  We do, however, worry that the current method Arkansas uses to identify teacher supply focuses more on the overall intended (future) supply, than on the current supply districts experience through the number of applications they receive.

Issues related to district level teacher supply may be different from statewide challenges and policies to address them must  be considered. Rather than focus on overall supply, Arkansas should consider examining teacher supply at a more localized level and examine ways to better match prospective teachers to positions.  To that end, we suggest the following recommendations:

  • To better understand how teacher supply is distributed across districts, the state should consider collecting application and vacancy information at the district level.
  • To make it easier for applicants to find district vacancies and districts to find applicants, a statewide online application process could be used. Teachers may be more likely to complete an application online than go ‘old-school’ and mail in a paper application.
  • Starting the hiring process earlier, especially for low-supply districts, could increase both the quantity and quality of candidates.
  • Examining ways to purposefully place student teachers in districts, and developing more district-university partnerships where they are limited or may not exist, would also facilitate getting teachers to where they are most needed.
  • Expand communication of any incentives available for teachers, especially those in small districts and districts in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the state.

Teachers are critical to Arkansas’ success, and there is a lot of great work being done to support them. We want to make sure we have quality teachers in all our clasrrooms.  A deeper understanding of variations in teacher supply throughout the state can maximize the impact of the policies being used to solve any teacher shortages, and provide reliable data about their effectiveness.

National Opinions on Teacher Salary

In The View from the OEP on August 22, 2018 at 11:34 am

This week the education journal Education Next released its annual poll examining nation-wide attitudes toward major issues in K-12 education.  The poll surveyed more than 4,600 respondents (a nationally-representative sample), covered 10 main topics, and compared the results with those of prior years. Today we wanted to focus on questions in the EdNext poll about teacher salaries and consider the issue through an Arkansas lens.

Teacher Salary_EdNext2018

  • Respondents underestimated annual average teacher salaries by over  31%. The average response for a yearly salary of a public school teacher in their local district was $40,181, which was more than $18,000 less than the actual average teacher salary of $58,297.
  • Parents underestimated local teacher salaries by 30%, an amount similar to the general public.
  • Teachers’ guesses about annual teacher salary were closer to the actual amount than were those of parents or the general public, but still underestimated teacher salaries by over 20%.

Average Arkansas Teacher Salaries: The average salary for classroom teachers in Arkansas was $49,615 for school districts including charters (2016-17). In June, the Bureau of Legislative Research produced a brief and report on Arkansas teacher compensation, which indicated that Arkansas teacher salaries are near the middle of the pack when compared to surrounding states and those in the broader region as well.  You can check salaries for your district here. As mentioned here, OEP examined teacher salaries in depth in this report and policy brief.  We found that differences in teacher salary are greatest within regions of the state, and are most associated with student-to-teacher ratios and enrollment.

Teacher Salary Change_EdNext2018Scale

  • Respondents widely supported increasing teacher salaries, with 67% of the general public, 74% of parents, and 86% of teachers indicating that they felt teacher salaries should increase.

Teacher Salary Given_EdNext2018Scale

  • When provided with the actual amount that teachers are making, however, respondents were less supportive of increasing teacher salaries.  When told how much teachers earn, 49% of the general public and 53% of parents indicated that salaries should increase, a decline of 20% from when the question was asked without salary information included. Teachers, however, were only slightly less supportive of salary increases when actual salary information was provided.
  • Compared to last year’s results, however, the respondents were 13 percentage points more likely to support increases in teacher salary when provided the actual salary information.  This may reflect the impact of teacher strikes and widespread discussions of teacher salary throughout the nation.

Changes to Arkansas Teacher Salaries: Changes to Arkansas teacher salaries are being discussed, with gubernatorial candidates proposing increases.  Statutory minimum teacher salary has increased in each of the last four years, and the vast majority (87%) of districts in the state have a minimum salary that is higher that legally required. We support attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, but we want to make sure that changes in teacher salary are implemented in a way that makes a difference for Arkansas students.

National perspectives on education like those presented in the EdNext poll are interesting, but education policy is generally set at the state or local level.  We thought it was helpful to compare the national results to what is happening in Arkansas. If you would like to read more about the national perspectives, you can go here, and if you would like to know more about what is happening in education in Arkansas- you are already where you need to be!