University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Author Archive

ABC Pre-K Shows Benefits for ELLs

In The View from the OEP on January 27, 2021 at 11:50 am

Last week, OEP reported on the positive student outcomes associated with Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-K attendance. Today, we add further insight to that report’s findings by offering evidence that the ABC program may be especially beneficial for students who enter school with limited English proficiency. These students, often called English Language Learners (ELL), face a unique set of challenges as they navigate K-12 education with the added task of mastering a second language. As we serve an increasing number of ELLs in Arkansas public schools, we must work to determine how to help these students achieve English proficiency as early as possible to mitigate the challenges associated with the language barrier. 

Arkansas’s state-funded ABC program provides tuition-free pre-K opportunities for qualifying families, and it is considered a high-quality program, as ABC teachers must have bachelor’s degrees and AR teacher licenses. Research that examines public pre-K programs in other states demonstrates that ELL students experience especially pronounced benefits from such programs (Gormley, 2008; Lipsey, 2018). We examine whether that pattern holds true for ELL students in Arkansas. In this analysis, we follow three cohorts of Arkansas students (those who began Kindergarten in the fall of 2011, 2012, and 2013) through 5th grade to see the long-term outcomes of ABC participants who enter school with an ELL designation. Our outcomes of interest are math and reading achievement, as demonstrated by statewide assessments, as well as the likelihood of students exiting the ELL program by 5th grade. Our research design does not allow us to make causal claims of the program’s impact, but we hope that these findings will inform us of the potential for ABC programs to serve the ELL student population. You can read the policy brief or the full paper for more details, but here are the takeaways:

•          Approximately 10% of ABC pre-K enrollment is comprised of ELL students, making this student group over-enrolled relative to its 8% of K-12 enrollment. This is a positive and unsurprising pattern, given that ABC targets its enrollment toward high-risk student populations. 

•          We find positive, statistically significant relationships between ABC attendance and math and reading achievement across 3rd to 5th grades in all three cohorts of analysis. Gains are large and meaningful, although they are too limited in most cases to close achievement gaps between ELL and non-ELL students. 

•          Evidence from our subgroup analysis shows that ELL students who attend ABC pre-K experience a differentially positive benefit in two of three cohorts analyzed. This means that ABC attendance is associated with greater achievement benefits for ELL students over and above the program benefit for English-proficient students. 

•          ELL students who attend ABC pre-K are less likely to remain identified as ELL in 3rd to 5th grades. The process for exiting the ELL program is complex and involves demonstrating English proficiency on a variety of measures. ELL students who attended ABC were 9 percentage points less likely to be designated ELL by 5th grade, compared to those who did not attend ABC prior to starting Kindergarten, in the second cohort of analysis. 

While ELL students are currently over-enrolled in ABC programs relative to their K-12 enrollment, it is clear that they experience especially positive benefits from ABC, over and above the benefits for English-proficient students. Based on the findings from this analysis, policymakers and community leaders should consider efforts to further expand ELL enrollment in ABC pre-K programs across the state. The current strategy for program advertisement is through communication with families in schools, churches, and other community spaces. Additional efforts could include outreach in organizations that include many linguistic-minority community members. Also, program organizers in school districts across the state should ensure that applications and program materials are available in all non-English languages represented in their communities, including Spanish and Marshallese. Education leaders should also brainstorm ways to provide sustained support to this student subgroup, as ABC pre-K participation alone does not seem to be sufficient for closing the gap between ELL/non-ELL achievement. While we would love to employ a causal research design in the future, the patterns presented here are encouraging and suggest that ABC pre-K is a promising early intervention for this vulnerable student group. 

ABC Pre-K Students Outperform Peers

In The View from the OEP on January 20, 2021 at 11:30 am

New research out of OEP examines the relationship between students who attend Arkansas’ ABC pre-K programs and later academic outcomes. We find positive, statistically significant relationships between ABC participation and 3rd grade math and reading achievement in three of our four cohorts, but also that the relationship diminishes by the time students are in 5th grade.

The Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program was launched in 1991, and legislation passed in 2003 outlined specific guidelines and requirements for pre-K programs serving students with ABC funding. ABC educators are required to have bachelor’s degrees and current AR teacher licenses. These are considered rigorous standards compared to many public and private pre-K centers. The ABC program meets eight of ten quality standards set by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

ABC programs primarily serve students at risk for low academic performance. Families with combined household incomes less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for free tuition and priority enrollment. Students can also qualify for eligibility if they have other risk factors, including disabilities, developmental delays, or limited English proficiency. When there are additional spots in ABC classrooms unfilled by qualifying students, other children in the community can enroll and pay tuition on an income-based sliding scale. 

The new study from OEP describes the 3rd and 5th grade outcomes of students who enroll in ABC pre-K programs in Arkansas public schools. Our research isn’t causal, because students are not randomly assigned to ABC participation. In an attempt to understand how well these programs are serving students, we follow four cohorts of program participants through elementary school, and we compare their math and reading achievement test scores to those of similar peers who did not attend ABC programs.

You can read the full paper or the policy brief for more details, but here are the highlights:

  • Approximately 25% of each Kindergarten class for each of the four analytic samples attended an ABC pre-K program
  • ABC pre-K participants are more likely to fall into demographic groups that are considered at-risk for low academic performance: approximately 75% of ABC participants qualify for Free or Reduced Price lunch when they start Kindergarten
  • ABC students outperform similar peers on math and reading achievement tests in 3rd grade in three of four cohorts. After controlling for student-level demographic characteristics, there are positive, statistically significant relationships between ABC participation and 3rd grade math and reading achievement for three out of four cohorts of students
  • Relationships between ABC participation and 5th grade achievement are smaller in magnitude than those of 3rd grade and largely not statistically significant. The lack of significant findings in 5th grade is largely the result of declines in average z-scores for ABC participants since 3rd grade.

As Arkansas strives to improve academic outcomes for students, particularly the percentage of students reading on grade level by 3rd grade, positive results associated with ABC pre-K participation should be of particular interest to policymakers and advocates. The lack of significant findings in 5th grade math is largely the result of declines in average z-scores for ABC participants since 3rd grade. Our findings suggest that high-quality pre-K education may be a critical tool for ensuring all students have the opportunity to succeed. While ABC participants score demonstrably higher than similar peers on standardized tests in early elementary school, there are likely even more program benefits for these students. Prior pre-K research demonstrates that these programs can lead to positive social and behavioral outcomes in addition to academic and cognitive benefits (Gorey, 2001). Getting an additional year or two to learn classroom rules and procedures, socialize with peers, and adapt to the school routine should equip students with behavioral and social skills that will help them succeed in Kindergarten and beyond. Arkansas educators and policymakers have an opportunity to ensure that the benefits of high-quality pre-K endure into higher grade levels, and that all students are consistently provided the opportunity to learn and achieve their goals.

Parents/Guardians Share Opinions

In The View from the OEP on January 13, 2021 at 12:45 pm

In November, OEP partnered with DESE’s Office for Family Engagement to administer a survey to parents and guardians of K-12 public school students across the state. Our goal was to learn from the families of Arkansas students about what is working currently as well as future considerations. The report goes to the State Board this week, and we wanted to share the results with you too! Our key takeaways are that most students were attending schools in person (69%), most parents feel like their student is learning about the same or more than normal (62%), and most parents rated their child’s school as doing an “excellent” or “good” job on on the quality of teaching and instruction (72%), and on handling health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (71%).

Parents were informed about the survey through social media channels, and superintendents and principals were asked to share the link with the parents and guardians of students in their schools and 17,836 parents/guardians representing 30,381 individual students responded to the survey. We estimate this to be about 6% of the parents/guardians of K-12 students in the state. This is a sample of convenience and the results may not be generalizable to all parents in the state. Parents/guardians of white students were overrepresented in the sample by 15 percentage points compared to statewide student demographics, and the 42% of parents/guardians that reported their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) were underrepresented by 24 percentage points compared to statewide student demographics.

In the first part of the survey, parents/guardians responded about what schools should be focused on and their worries regarding COVID-19.

Survey respondents were asked to select which statement they agreed with more:

  • Schools should be focused on rethinking how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
  • Schools should be focused on trying to get back to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis as soon as it is safe to do so

We found it interesting that the parents/guardians were nearly evenly split in their opinions. 51% of parents statewide selected “rethinking how we educate students… as a result of the COVID-19 crisis” and 47% of parents selected “get back to the way things were before COVID-19.” Two percent of survey respondents did not answer the question. These results are more evenly split than the national sample, in which 66% of parents supported re-thinking education. When we compare the results of parents that indicated that their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) with those who indicated that their student was not eligible to participate in the program, we see differences along these socio-economic lines. Parents of FRL-Eligible students are 10 percentage points more likely to believe that schools should be focused on rethinking how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Figure 1. Percentage of responses to the question regarding what schools should be focused on, by reported FRL-Eligibility

Overall, parents were most concerned about their child or children staying on track in school, that their child might miss important social interactions, or that someone in their family would get the virus. These were also the top 3 concerns in the national sample. Respondents who indicated that their student was eligible for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program (FRL) reported higher levels of worry than the full sample in all areas except missing social interactions. Figure 1 displays the comparison between the full sample and FRL-eligible parents/guardians who responded that they “worry a lot” or “worry some” to each area.

Figure 2. Percentage of full sample and FRL-eligible parent/guardian responses of “worry a lot” and “worry some” to the question “With regard to the current coronavirus situation, how much do you worry about each of the following as a parent or guardian?”.

In the second part of the survey, parents/guardians responded individually about each child in public school regarding current instructional setting, how much the student was learning compared to the prior year, and perceptions of the student’s school.

Current instructional setting:

The vast majority of parents indicated their student was attending school in person only on their school campus (69%), which is much higher than the national sample, in which only 19% of parents reported that their student was attending school in person. Twenty percent of Arkansas students were reported to be attending online or remotely only, and 10% were reported to be attending part-time in person and part-time remotely. One percent of students were doing “something different” or didn’t respond. These percentages were similar to what DESE reported at the time of the survey: 64% in person, 22% virtual, and 14% part-time in person and part-time remotely.

Reasons for instructional setting selection:

Among parents that selected in-person learning on the school campus, the most popular reasons were worries that their child would not learn as much any other way (74%) and that their child would miss social interactions (52%).  Among parents that selected remote instruction, the main reasons were to reduce the risk of the child getting Covid-19 (84%), as well as health and medical concerns for students, their families, or the community.

Learning amount:

Parents were also asked to compare how much their student was learning this year compared to normal. The majority of parents (62%) felt that their student was learning more (8%) or about the same (54%) as normal, however, there was variation by instructional setting. Parents of remote only or part-time remote students more likely to report that their student was learning less than normal. Among in-person parents, 25% reported that their student was learning less than normal, compared to 38% of remote only parents and 47% of parents whose students were attending school part-time in person and part-time online.

Opinions on daily schedule:

Overall, parents reported that their student was getting about the right amount of time receiving instruction from their teacher(s) (72%), time to communicate directly with their teacher(s), and to ask questions, or get help with assignments (71%). A smaller percentage of parents reported that their student was getting about the right amount of time to interact and communicate with other students (64%). Again there was variation by instructional setting, with parents part-time remote students less likely than parents of in-person students to report that their student was getting “about the right” amount of time receiving instruction from their teacher(s), time to communicate directly with their teacher(s), and to ask questions, or get help with assignments, and to interact and communicate with other students. Parents of students who were only remote were the least likely to report students were getting “about the right” amount of time in all three areas, particularly relative to interacting with other students.

Opinions of school performance:

Survey respondents were asked to rate how well their child(ren)’s school was doing on a variety of measures. Over 70% of parents rated their child’s school as “excellent” or “good” on the quality of teaching and instruction (72%), and on handling health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (71%). Over 60% of parents rated their child’s school as doing and “excellent” or “good” job on assessing their child’s progress and level of learning (68%), communicating with parents (66%) and providing additional resources and support to help their child continue learning (62%). Schools received lower ratings in two areas: providing additional resources to support learning and to support students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing. Some areas received lower levels of agreement, Only 53% of parents felt that their child’s school was doing an “excellent” or “good” job managing online learning programs, and only 43% reported that their child’s school was doing an “excellent” or “good” job support student’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. In large part these lower ratings, however, were due to an increased percentage of respondents who indicated that they did not know how the school was performing in these areas.

Figure 3. Percentage of parent/guardian responses to the question: “How would you currently rate how your child’s school is doing on each of the following?” Full Sample

A challenge in interpreting the survey results is that we do not have the same information from parents before COVID, so we can’t determine if parents’ feelings about their schools have improved or declined as a result of COVID- related changes. Although we examine the survey results by geographic region in the full report, parents and guardians did not identify their school or district, so it is impossible to determine if these results reflect certain school systems or a more general perspective across multiple districts. In addition, certain populations are over- or underrepresented in the responses and parent perspectives may have shifted with the rising rates of COVID. Given these limitations, however, this is valuable information and the large sample indicates that parents want to share their opinions. Here at OEP, we recommend the state consider implementing an annual parent survey so that the opinions of these important stakeholders can continue to be heard and included in the discussion about the future of Arkansas’ public schools. You can find more details about the sample and the results in the full report.

School-Based Health Centers

In The View from the OEP on December 9, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Do you think School-Based Health Centers improve student attendance or academic achievement? Today OEP releases new research examining some of the intended impacts of SBHCs on public school campuses in Arkansas.  You can read the policy brief or the full paper for more details, but we wanted to share the highlights. We asked if the presence of an SBHC is associated with a change in school-level standardized achievement scores and looked descriptively at attendance trends. Results suggest that overall, Arkansas SBHCs are not associated with changes in school-level achievement scores or attendance rates.

What are School-Based Health Centers?

School-Based Health Centers (SBHC) are multi-faceted healthcare facilities serving school-age children and adolescents, their family members, and the wider community.  Arkansas’s SBHCs started in 2009 with the Arkansas SBHC Grant Program. Open to all Arkansas public schools, the grant awards schools $150,000 to open and begin operating an SBHC.  Grant funding can be renewed annually for up to five years. Currently, SBHCs are funded out of a line item in the Public School Fund. SBHCs often operate in partnership with local healthcare providers. There are several centers across the state that are not grant funded where providers have partnered with districts to implement on-campus services for students.

 Schools with SBHCs

Arkansas SBHCs provide a combination of basic physical, mental, dental or vision services. There are 40 SBHCs located on public school campuses throughout the state, located on twenty-five elementary schools, four middle schools, and eleven high schools. Average enrollment rates for the 40 schools with SBHCs is 486.  On average, 70% of students receive free and reduced lunch, and 38% of the school populations are a minority. Although there are 40 schools with SBHCs, conducting an effective before-after analysis of the relationship between SBHCs and school-level achievement scores requires the sample be reduced to 24 schools.

Do school outcomes like achievement and attendance benefit from SBHCs?

It doesn’t seem like it. Stare departments of Education and Health intend for SBHCs to impact educational outcomes by reducing absenteeism rates among staff and students and contribute to the overall improvement of academic success.  However, school-level achievement trends for the 24 schools in our analytic sample show that average school performance does not improve after an SBHC opens on the school’s campus (Figure 1). In addition, data limitations prohibit us from conducting an empirical analysis of the relationship between SBHCs and absenteeism rates for Arkansas SBHC schools, a preliminary inspection of the available attendance data suggests that the presence of an SBHC is not associated with a change in school level attendance rates (Figure 2). 

Figure 1: Average annual achievement Z-scores, by SHBC opening year cohort

Figure 2: Average annual attendance rates, by SHBC opening year cohort

What are the implications?

As the prevalence of SBHCs continues to expand across the state, it is important to understand whether these health centers are associated with improvements in school standardized achievement scores. These findings suggest SBHCs are not improving Arkansas’s school-level achievement scores, and a preliminary examination of data trends suggests SBHCs are not benefiting Arkansas school-level attendance rates either.

We do not claim that SBHCs do not benefit Arkansas public school students in other ways! In fact, given that SBHCs continue serving students and communities after the five-year renewable grant lapses, and state officials report an increase in student’s health knowledge SBHCs are benefiting students and communities across Arkansas. However, if the state persists in the expectation of SBHCs to contribute to the overall improvement in academic success, clear and measurable steps should be taken to help SBHCs and schools work toward meeting this state-wide goal.  Or perhaps it is enough to eliminate the repeated claims of SBHCs improving or contributing to education outcomes and simply declare SBHCs to be significant and essential to the school community because of other identified and mutually agreed upon reasons.

Early Research on Learning During COVID-19

In The View from the OEP on December 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm

We’ve all been wondering- how did COVID-19 disruptions impact students’ academic learning?

Yesterday, NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth released new research that found some good news! You can read more in the full brief here, but the takeaway is that there were not consistent declines in student achievement over the spring and summer.

Using data from nearly 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP® Growth™ assessments in fall 2020, the researchers examined three primary research questions:

  • Are students performing at lower levels this fall compared to last fall?
    • Reading held steady: In fall of 2020, students in grades 3-8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019.
    • Math falls behind: In fall of 2020, students in grades 3-8 performed about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math compared to same-grade students in fall 2019.
  • Did students demonstrate lower academic growth than typical since schools closed in March?
    • Students still demonstrated academic growth during COVID: In almost all grades, most students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
    • Growth in reading scores was consistent with typical learning projections.
    • Gains in math were lower on average than in prior years, resulting in more students falling behind relative to their prior standing.
  • Were the early predictions of a COVID slide accurate?
    • NWEA’s earlier projections of a COVID slide were lower than actual performance for reading, but pretty spot on for math.


Although the news about student achievement and growth is better than we had feared, the researchers caution that many students that would typically take the MAP assessment in the fall are not appearing in the data. Student groups especially vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic were more likely to be missing. Without the information from these students, the understanding of how achievement this fall may differ across student groups is incomplete and the research may be underestimating the impacts of COVID-19. In addition, the research only includes students in grades 3-8, so the relative achievement of students in K-2 and high school is still unknown.

The research highlights a critical need for clear data to understand where students have fallen behind and to guide where additional resources and supports should be deployed to get them back on track. Here in Arkansas, many students complete an assessment in the fall, be it MAP or something else. We should collectively examine data from this fall to determine if the trends observed nationally are reflective for Arkansas’ students.

The reported declines in math achievement are particularly concerning for Arkansas students, as only one in three of our 4th graders scored at grade level on the most recent national assessment in mathematics. We should take this opportunity to think creatively about how students are organized for instruction in mathematics, and providing differentiated support for each student.

Arkansas leaders are continuing to support our schools, proposing in the FY22 budget the largest increase in education in more than a decade. It is our responsibility to ensure that the resources are being used effectively to support Arkansas students.

If you want to be a part of a collective (anonymous) analysis of Arkansas’ data, or if you want support interpreting your data- just reach out to us at oep@uark.edu.

Do AP Classes Help Students to be College Ready?

In The View from the OEP on November 18, 2020 at 12:30 pm

The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a nationwide curriculum offering that provides high school students the opportunity to access rigorous, college-level content. Students enrolled in AP may earn college credits for their performance on standardized end-of-course exams.

In recent years AP has come to be seen as a tool to help close achievement gaps in both access to higher education and student outcomes of traditionally underserved students. Since 2008, every Arkansas district has been required to offer AP coursework in the four core disciplines: math, English, science and social studies (“four core”).

Here at OEP we love that Arkansas is supporting AP course availability for all students, but we wondered if increased access to AP was helping our students be ready for college, and if all student groups were benefiting equally.

We use ACT to measure college readiness, as it is used in Arkansas to determine eligibility for a number of scholarship programs and whether students are required to participate in college remediation courses. Our sample includes over 75,000 11th graders from 2016-2018 since 2016 was the first year that Arkansas offered the ACT at no cost to 11th graders during the school day.

You can read the full paper here, and a shorter policy brief here, but we cover the key findings below.

Who Participates in Advanced Placement?

About thirty-four percent of 11th grade students in the study enrolled in at least one core content AP course between 9th and 11th grade, but students who take AP courses are noticeably different relative to their peers who never take AP (Table 1). For example, AP-Takers are more likely to be White and/or qualify for gifted and talented services and have high prior achievement as early as seventh grade. AP-Takers in Arkansas are also substantially more likely to be female. Students who do not enroll in AP are more likely to be Black or Hispanic, English Language Learners, or qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

AP-TakersAP Non-Takers
% Female6046
% White7064
% Hispanic911
% Black1722
% Other Races54
% Gifted & Talented215
% English Language Learner27
% Free/Reduced Lunch4159
7th Grade Math Z-score0.68-0.15
7th Grade RLA Z-score0.64-0.15
N24,90151,656
Table 1. Characteristics of AP-Takers and Non-Takers, 11th Graders, 2016-2018

AP participation, overall and by demographic subgroup, varies significantly across different regions of Arkansas. Table 2 shows that Southeast Arkansas has the highest AP participation rate at 39%, while in Northeast Arkansas only 28% of students enroll in AP. On average, there is a 4.6 point difference on the ACT between AP-Takers and Non-Takers, but this too varies by region.

StateNWNECNSWSE
% Taking AP343328353639
Mean ACT (AP-Takers)22.022.722.222.220.619.7
Mean ACT (Non-Takers)17.418.517.116.916.215.7
Table 2. 11th Grade AP Course Taking and Composite Scores, By Region, 2016-2018

AP students do not appear to be representative of the overall population within each region. This suggests access to AP coursework may be subject to selection mechanisms such as peer, parent, and teacher influence or school requirements that provide entry barriers. These findings have implications for policymakers wishing to leverage Advanced Placement coursework to improve student outcomes for students from historically underserved backgrounds.

Do AP Students Score Better on the ACT?

Yes. Students who choose to take at least one AP course between 9th and 11th grade earn higher ACT composite scores relative to their peers. After controlling for demographic characteristics and prior achievement, we find that on average, the difference in ACT score for a student who takes AP is two points higher than a Non-AP Taker (Figure 1). Interestingly, this result is clustered around the 19-point cut score required for students to opt out of remedial math and English courses during their freshman year of college in Arkansas.

There is also evidence that race and socioeconomic status moderates the size of the association between AP course-taking and ACT outcomes (Figure 1). Subgroups from racially diverse or economically disadvantaged backgrounds both score lower on the ACT, on average, and experience smaller increases in ACT composite score when taking AP courses, compared to their economically advantaged, White peers.

Figure 1. Mean ACT Composite Score for AP-Takers and Non-Takers, 2016-2018

It is important to recognize that AP coursework may not be the mechanism that causes students to score higher on the ACT exam. For example, students who select into AP classes may also be more motivated to complete ACT preparation courses, influencing their achievement outcomes.

What Are the Implications?

Students who select into AP score above the remediation threshold while those who do not take AP courses score below the 19 point cutoff, although the overall association between AP course-taking and ACT scores differs for demographic subgroups. The exception is Black students, where even AP-Takers fail to cross the remediation threshold with an average composite score of approximately 18.5, despite the fact that Black AP-Takers score 1.25 points higher than their Black Non-AP peers.

The finding that AP-Takers tend to score above the 19 point remediation cut score and Non-AP Takers generally score below could be a function of two mechanisms:

  1. The difference in ACT composite score for the two groups results from taking an AP course. In this scenario, AP coursework improves student outcomes through some unknown mechanism such as peer effect, teacher quality, or the AP curriculum itself, OR
  2. Students self-select into, or out of, AP based on their self-perceived college readiness or college-going aspirations. The difference in scores, therefore, may simply be capturing the effect of motivation or parental or teacher influence, none of which have been studied by existing research.

This story is interesting to consider, given that Arkansas policies are seeking increased participation in Advanced Placement. It is possible that these policies may end up “pushing” students into AP who are not ready, either academically or socio-emotionally.

Regardless of the mechanism or the consequences, the question remains whether students induced to take AP will experience the hypothesized benefits of the coursework. Existing research is unable to determine whether AP courses cause students to score higher on the ACT, but future research on such topics would be beneficial in understanding how to best prepare students for the rigors of college.

As Advanced Placement programs continue to expand it is important to understand whether the courses actually benefit all students in the way AP advocates claim it will. Our research, albeit on a specific group of Arkansas students, shows that there seems to be a difference in college readiness for students who take AP compared to students who opt out of these more rigorous classes. While we cannot claim that AP classes cause students to score higher on the ACT, it seems there is certainly a tangible benefit for students who engage in these rigorous learning experiences.

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 oep@uark.edu.

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 ARteachers.org 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.

ARteachers.org 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 ARteachers.org 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 ARteachers.org

Posting is easy.  All you need is to get someone approved to post for the district. That person goes to ARteachers.org 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 ARteachers.org 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 arteachermatch@gmail.com.

 

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)

4year

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

2year


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!