University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Is Little Rock Getting More Segregated?

In The View from the OEP on December 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

Group of Friends Smiling

Today we are excited to release the fifth policy brief regarding student integration in Little Rock public schools, where we answer the question about the racially and economically segregative impact of student moves from traditional public schools to charters.

Actually, because only 2% of students from the area TPSs switch to charters each year, we are not just interested in the students that switch from traditional public schools to charters.  We are also wondering about the impact of ALL students that choose to leave the Little Rock metro area traditional public school system (Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District). This includes students who leave for other traditional public schools (about 6% of students annually), or for other non-public educational options such as homeschooling or private school (about 7% of students annually).

Our question was what is the segregative impact of the 15% of students leaving the Little Rock metro area traditional public schools each year?  Are the traditional public schools becoming more racially or economically  segregated as a result of students leaving?

So what did we find?

Overall, when students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area, their exit makes the school more integrated.

  • 84% of moves made by black or white students resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 79% of student moves resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow. But what about just those kids leaving TPSs for charters?   Are those resulting in more segregated traditional schools?

No. When students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area to attend charters in the area, their exit still makes the school more integrated.

  • 83% of black or white student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 78% of economically disadvantaged student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow. But what about just those kids leaving Little Rock School District for charters?   Are those resulting in more segregated traditional schools?

Nope. When students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock School District to attend charters in the area, their exit makes the school more integrated.

  • 89% of black or white student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 78% of economically disadvantaged student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow! So what does that mean?

This analysis shows that, currently, student transfers out of traditional schools are  improving the level of racial and economic integration in the Little Rock metro area public school system. How can this be?

When we think about increasing integration, we picture students entering a school with students who are racially or demographically different from themselves.  What we found in this analysis, however, is that integration is occurring because students are leaving traditional public schools where the majority of students are ‘like them’; white students are leaving schools with above average percentages of white students, and black students are leaving schools with above average percentages of black students. The same pattern is present for economic differences in enrollment; students eligible for FRL are leaving schools with higher concentrations of poverty, while Non-FRL students are leaving schools with lower concentrations of poverty.  When the students leave, therefore, their schools look less ‘like them’ and become more racially and economically integrated.

Why are students going to traditional public schools with so many students that are demographically similar to themselves? Geographic segregation can result in attendance zones being racially and economically segregated.  We see that the majority of schools in LRSD have over 80% of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, but that there are three schools with fewer than 30% of students on FRL.  The racial breakdowns are similar, with the majority of schools enrolling over 80% minority students, but the three schools with the low FRL enrollment also have the lowest minority enrollment.

While we are glad to see that student transfers out of traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area are not leading to increased segregation in the schools they exit, we are concerned about the disparities present in traditional public schools. The integrative effects of students leaving traditional public schools result from the wide racial and even wider economic disparities between traditional public schools.

We feel the results of these analyses should be a catalyst to focus not on perceived (but factually incorrect) segregative impacts of LR area charter schools.  Many students and their parents (15% annually) are making different education choices than LR Metro TPSs.  Some are leaving the public school system altogether, others are choosing to attend other traditional public schools, and some are enrolling in charters. We need to respect parents’ choices for their students and focus on quality educational experiences for students in our classrooms.

Integration isn’t just about numbers, but about students building authentic relationships with peers from different backgrounds, and experiencing meaningful educational experiences together. We need to continue to track enrollment trends in the Little Rock area, but we need to ensure we are working together to support high quality education for all students.


How did you figure this out?

Here we are going to give some context to our analysis, but if you are really interested please read the policy brief or the (even more detailed) Arkansas Education Report.

First, we defined what we meant by segregated. What ‘should’ the racial demographics of schools be?  Is the standard an equally balanced 50% black students and 50% white students? Nationally, 73% of the population is white and 13% is black, but in Arkansas 80% are white and 16% are black.  When we just examine students enrolled in Arkansas’ public schools, however, there is a marked difference in racial representation: in 2015-16,  62% of students are white and 21% are black. But we aren’t interested in all of Arkansas, because we are only talking about school in Pulaski County.  Here the difference is more significant: 59% of the population in Pulaski County is white and 36% is black, but in the public school population, only 29% of the population is white while 56% is black. We decided to use a 10 percentage point window around the annual black, white and economically disadvantaged percentages for all students enrolled in the public school system in the Little Rock metro area as our definition of integrated. Schools with greater or lesser representation were identified as segregated.

Second, we considered the demographics of each student that exits a traditional public school to determine the impact of the move on the school.  The combination of the student demographics and the racial or economic percentages of students enrolled at the school can result in the move being integrative, segregative or neutral.

  • If a black student exits a school with above average black enrollment, then the black enrollment of the school decreases and the student’s move makes the school slightly more like the average.  In this case we label the move racially integrative.
  • If, however, a white student exited a school with above average black enrollment, then the black enrollment of the school increases and the move makes the school slightly less like the average. In this case we label the move racially segregative.
  • If either a black or a white student exited a school with enrollment within ten percentage points of the average black enrollment in the Little Rock Metro Area, then the move is considered racially neutral.

We repeated this procedure for students relative to their Free/ Reduced Lunch status (a proxy for poverty) and the percentage of students at the school who were eligible for FRL.

Third, we had to identify the samples. We examined all moves out of Little Rock metro Area  TPSs (Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District) by race (black/white) and Free/Reduced Lunch status as a proxy measure of low socio-economic status.  We repeated the analysis for only those students from Little Rock School District. We used student-level data to examine annual moves from 2008-09 to 2014-15.

For more information about our data, our methodology and our results please read the full Arkansas Education Report.

Just the Facts: Integration in the Little Rock Area Part 4 Current Integration in LR

In The View from the OEP on November 16, 2016 at 3:56 pm

As part of our ongoing examination of integration in the Little Rock Area public school system, we are pleased to announce the fourth brief in our series which examines the current state of integration. In this brief, we again explore questions of race and poverty and compare across traditional public school (TPS) and public charter school sectors.

We wondered:

  • What percentage of students go to racially hyper-segregated schools where 90% or more of the students are the same race?
  • What percentage of students go to socioeconomically hyper-segregated schools where 90% or more of the students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch?
  • What percentage of students attend racially integrated schools?
  • What percentage of students attend socioeconomically integrated schools?

To answer these questions, we used school demographic data from 2008-09 to 2014-15.

As shown in the table below, in 2014-15, only 4 TPSs and 1 charter school in the Little Rock Metro Area (LRMA) were identified as racially hyper-segregated. Little Rock Metro Area includes traditional public schools in LRSD, NLRSD and PCSSD as well as all public charter schools in the area.

 Number of Schools in the Little Rock Metro Area by Percent Black Enrollment, 2014-15 by Sector.pb_1415

What percentage of students go to racially hyper-segregated schools where 90% or more of the students are the same race? Less than 7%, but varies slightly by sector.

Over the seven years examined,  6% of charter students, 5% of LRMA TPS students, and 7% of LRSD students attended schools where 90% or more of students are of the same race.

 

 

What percentage of students go to socioeconomically hyper-segregated schools where 90% or more of the students are the eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch? About 20% overall, but varies significantly by sector.

Over the seven years examined, 3% of charter students, 18% of LRMA TPS students, and 22% of LRSD students attended schools where 90% or more of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch.

 

 

What percentage of students go to racially integrated schools where the student racial demographics are similar to the Little Rock Metro Area public school population as a whole?  About 40% overall, and varies slightly by sector and black or white enrollment.

Over the seven years examined, 50% of charter students, 47% of LRMA TPS students, and 42% of LRSD students attended schools where the percentage of black students enrolled was similar to the LRMA average overall (+/- 15 percentage points).  When white integration is examined, however, there are differences by sector:  60% of charter students, 37% of LRMA TPS students, and 27% of LRSD students attended schools where the percentage of white students enrolled was similar to the LRMA average overall (+/- 15 percentage points).

 

 

What percentage of students go to socioeconomically integrated schools where the student FRL percentage is similar to the Little Rock Metro Area public school population as a whole?  Fewer than 37% overall, and varies significantly by sector.

Over the seven years examined, 14% of charter students, 37% of LRMA TPS students, and 25% of LRSD students attended schools where the percentage of FRL students enrolled was similar to the LRMA average overall (+/- 15 percentage points).

Perhaps in part due to the smaller number of schools in the charter group, charters evidenced greater differences from the area average in the percent black students. Charters also evidenced greater differences from the area average in the percent FRL students. The area average is largely driven by the traditional public schools and we have seen in previous briefs how charters enroll a more economically advantaged population.  It is important to remember that like traditional public schools, charter schools cannot select students based on demographic characteristices.  Unlike traditional schools, charter students do not have to live within certain geographic boundaries.

 

Now that we have an understanding of the current state of racial and socioeconomic integration in Little Rock Area Public Schools, we can answer the question of whether student moves are helping to integrate or segregate the Little Rock Metro Area school system. Stay tuned to find out the results of  whether the student moves between traditional and charter schools helped the public schools look more or less like the overall demographics of the Little Rock Metro Area.

Just The Facts: Integration in the Little Rock Area Part 3 Where do students move?

In The View from the OEP on November 10, 2016 at 9:57 am

As part of our ongoing examination of student enrollment patterns in the Little Rock Area, we are pleased to announce the third brief in our series which examines characteristics of schools that students are switching to.  In this brief, we again explore questions of race, poverty, and achievement, but from the school level.  We wondered:

  • Are students more likely to transfer to schools with higher concentrations of same-race students?
  • Do students switch to schools with higher overall academic performance?
  • Are students eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL) more likely to transfer to schools with higher concentrations of FRL eligible students?

To answer these questions, we used student-level data from 2008-09 to 2014-15 to examine differences in the schools that students were exiting and entering.  As in other analyses, we examine students switching between traditional public schools in Little Rock Schools District (LRSD) and public charter schools in the Little Rock area and vice versa.

Are students moving into schools with more students of their race? Not consistently

We found no consistent pattern of differences in the racial composition between the LRSD traditional schools and the charters students moved into.  In some years, students transferred into schools that had a higher percentage of students who were the same race as the student, but in other years that wasn’t the case.  Even in years where differences were present, they were relatively small.  For example, in 2015, black students leaving LRSD for charters entered schools with 9% fewer black students, and black students leaving charters for LRSD entered schools with 1% more black students. White students leaving LRSD for charters entered schools with 8% more white students, and white students leaving charters for LRSD entered schools with 4% fewer white students.

Are students moving into higher performing schools?  No, the schools are about the same.

There is also no pattern of differences in the academic performance of the LRSD schools and the charters that students transferred between during this time.  Students who left charters for LRSD also moved to schools with similar academic performance.

Are students moving into schools with fewer FRL students?  Students moving from LRSD to charters move to schools with fewer FRL students, while students moving from charters to LRSD move to schools with more.

Students from LRSD entering charters consistently moved into schools serving a substantially more economically advantaged population than the schools that they exited. Conversely, students exiting area charters and entering LRSD moved into schools serving a substantially less economically advantaged student body. We also saw this in our first brief, examining enrollment patterns between charters and traditional public schools. In the 2014-15 school year, for example, 47% of charter students received free or reduced price lunch, while 75% of LRSD students received free or reduced price lunch.

We also completed this analysis for the Little Rock Metro Area as a whole (LRSD, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School District), and you can find those results in the full brief.  While our policy briefs in this series have identified enrollment trends in Little Rock Area schools, disproportionalities in students who switch between sectors, and where switchers go when they transfer schools, we have not yet addressed the question of whether student moves are helping to integrate or segregate the Little Rock Metro Area school system. Stay tuned to find out the results of  whether these student moves helped the schools look more or less like the overall demographics of the Little Rock Metro Area.

Just the Facts: Integration in the Little Rock Area Part 2 Student Movers

In The View from the OEP on November 2, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Do you ever wonder how many students and which students move from traditional public schools to public charter schools?  A lot of the controversy surrounding the expansion of public charter schools in the Little Rock area stems from the belief that charters are enrolling higher performing students and leaving a greater density of struggling students to be served in the traditional public schools.

Here at OEP, we like to put these questions to the data to get the facts. We are pleased to announce the second brief in our series about integration in the Little Rock area which examines the demographics of students who choose to switch between traditional public schools and charters.

How many students leave LRSD for other schools?

We examined student-level data to identify students who were enrolled in LRSD, and then examined where they enrolled the following year (excluding students who had graduated or were entering kindergarten in the second year). Between the 2013-14 school year and the 2014-15 school year, 85% of the students who had been enrolled in LRSD continued to enroll in LRSD.  Of the 15% that left LRSD, the smallest percentage (2%) switched to area charters. Over three times as many (6%) went to other traditional public schools outside of Pulaski county, with 3% moving to NLRSD or PCSSD and 3% moving to other public schools throughout Arkansas. The largest share of movers, 7%, left the public school system entirely.

The most surprising fact to us was the finding that, of those students leaving LRSD each year, a small fraction of those are leaving for charter schools. While much of the debate surrounds students exiting for charters, the fact is that far more students leave LRSD for other traditional public schools. We were also surprised that such a large percentage of LRSD students were leaving Arkansas’ public school system entirely.  These students are most likely either moving out-of-state, attending private school, or homeschooling. We examined student moves for each pair of years from 2008-09 to 2014-15, and the pattern is very consistent.

Little Rock School District Student Enrollment Decisions, 2013-14 to 2014-15

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What are the characteristics of students who leave LRSD?

We compared the demographics of the ‘movers’ to the demographics of LRSD as a whole to determine if certain types of students were more likely to make different enrollment decisions. We also examined the academic performance of students and compared it to the average performance of the school that they exited to get a better sense of if they were high performing compared to their peers (if you are a nerd like us, you can get more information about our methodology in the policy brief and the associated Arkansas Education Report).

To Charters?  (~2% annually)

Representative percentages of Black and white students, somewhat fewer FRL. Students were average academic performers at their LRSD school.

Over the six years examined, an average of 67% of LRSD students were black and 64% of the students who transferred to area charters were black.  Although there was some variation throughout the years, black students were nearly equally represented in the students transferring to charters as they were in the LRSD population. White students were also equally represented, as 20% of LRSD students overall and 19% of the transfers to charters.  Students who qualify for Free/ Reduced Lunch (a proxy measure for student poverty) were slightly underrepresented in students who transferred from LRSD to area charters; 69% of students in LRSD were FRL eligible between 2009 and 2014, and only 61% of the students who transferred to area charters were eligible for the FRL program.  Overall, the students who left LRSD for charters were performing just slightly above the students at the school that they exited (+0.03 standard deviations).

To NLRSD and PCCSD?  (~3% annually)

Greater percentages of Black and FRL students, and a smaller percentage of white students. Students were below average academic performers at their LRSD school.

Over the six years examined, an average of 67% of LRSD students were black and 80% of the students who transferred to North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School districts were black.  Black students were consistently overrepresented in the students transferring to these nearby districts as they were in the LRSD population. White students were somewhat underrepresented, as 20% of LRSD students overall and only 15% of the transfers to NLRSD and PCSSD.  Students who qualify for Free/ Reduced Lunch (a proxy measure for student poverty) were somewhat overrepresented in students who transferred from LRSD to NLRSD and PCSSD; 69% of students in LRSD were FRL eligible between 2009 and 2014, and 75% of the students who transferred to NLRSD and PCSSD were eligible for the FRL program.  Overall, the students who left LRSD for these nearby districts were performing below the students at the school that they exited (-0.20 standard deviations).

To other Arkansas public?  (~3% annually)

Smaller percentage of Black students, and a similar percentage of white students. Greater percentage of FRL students. Students were average academic performers at their LRSD school.

Over the six years examined, an average of 67% of LRSD students were black and 62% of the students who transferred to other public schools in Arkansas (excluding NLRSD and PCSSD) districts were black.  White students were equally represented, as 20% of LRSD students overall and 21% of the transfers to other public schools in Arkansas.  Students who qualify for Free/ Reduced Lunch (a proxy measure for student poverty) were  overrepresented in students who transferred from LRSD to other public schools in Arkansas; 69% of students in LRSD were FRL eligible between 2009 and 2014, and 77% of the students who transferred to other public schools in Arkansas were eligible for the FRL program.  Overall, the students who left LRSD for other public schools in Arkansas were performing at the same level as the students at the school that they exited (+0.01 standard deviations).

To out of the public system?  (~6% annually) 

Smaller percentage of Black students, and a larger percentage of white students. Slightly smaller percentage of FRL students. Students were average academic performers at their LRSD school.

Over the six years examined, an average of 67% of LRSD students were black and 59% of the students who left the Arkansas public school system were black.  White students were somewhat overrepresented, as 20% of LRSD students overall and 27% of the transfers who left the Arkansas public school system.  Students who qualify for Free/ Reduced Lunch (a proxy measure for student poverty) were  also somewhat underrepresented in students who transferred from LRSD and left the Arkansas public school system; 69% of students in LRSD were FRL eligible between 2009 and 2014, and 64% of the students who left the Arkansas public school system were eligible for the FRL program.  Overall, the students who left LRSD and then left the Arkansas public school system Arkansas were performing at the same level as the students at the school that they exited (+0.03 standard deviations).

Wait- WHAT?

We know, right?  There is no pattern of demographic or academic disparities in the students leaving LRSD for area charters.  In fact, the students transferring to charters are more ‘like’ LRSD than those leaving for other public districts or leaving the system entirely.

If you want to find out about patterns of students exiting the Little Rock Metro area schools districts (LRSD, NLRSD and PCSSD) or students leaving area charters, please read the policy brief or full report.

Stay tuned!

We now know about students enrolled in Little Rock and the surrounding metro area, and how many students are moving between the traditional public and the public charters and what do they ‘look like’?

But what we don’t yet know is about the schools that students move INTO.  Stay tuned for the next brief in the series to learn if students moving between the traditional public and public charter schools in the Little Rock area move to schools with students who are more ‘like them’ demographically and academically?

Just the Facts: Integration in the Little Rock Area

In The View from the OEP on October 26, 2016 at 1:54 pm

A lot of people have a lot to say about the impact of public charter school expansion on the traditional public schools in the Little Rock area.  Here at OEP, we have been working to identify the concerns, gather the data, and determine the facts surrounding this issue.  Even if you don’t live in Little Rock, the changing context of public education is important for all of us to consider.

We identified four key questions that we felt we could answer:

  1. How many students are enrolled in schools in Little Rock and the surrounding metro area and what do they ‘look like’? Is it changing over time? 
  2. How many students are moving between the traditional public and the public charters and what do they ‘look like’? Are certain groups more likely to move?
  3. When students move between the traditional public and public charter school in the Little Rock area- do they move to schools with students who are more ‘like them’ demographically and academically?
  4. What impact does student movement have on the school left behind and the system as a whole?  Are student moves leading to increased racial or socio-economic segregation within the public school system?

Today, we are pleased to release our first policy brief in the series: Demographic Trends in Enrollment. This brief addresses the first, and foundational, question,”How many students are enrolled in schools in Little Rock and the surrounding metro area and what do they ‘look like’?  Is it changing over time?”

A Little History…

Today’s brief begins by presenting overall enrollment trends since 1987 for traditional public, public charter and private schools in the Little Rock area, to provide a long-term perspective on K-12 education sectors in the area. Remember that charter schools are public schools that are free for students to attend, just like traditional schools, but that students do not have to live within any certain geographic area to attend.  Since students enrolled in charters can come from anywhere in the Little Rock area, we examine enrollment and demographics of the entire Little Rock Metro Area as well as the Little Rock School District itself.

enroll

Key findings from the trends shown in Figure 1:

  • Enrollment in traditional public schools in the Little Rock Metro Area (LRSD, NLRSD, PCCSD) has declined steadily over time, resulting in an overall decrease of 18% since 1987.
  • Little Rock School District itself has also seen a smaller decline in enrollment, and has declined only 4% since the first charter school opened in the area in 2001.
  • Enrollment in private schools has remained fairly constant since 1987.
  • Enrollment in public charter schools has increased continuously since the first school opened in 2001, and charters currently enroll about 10% of public school students in the LR Metro Area.

More Recent History

We next focus on demographic changes in enrollment since 2008-09 for Little Rock School District as well as for the traditional public and public charter schools in the Little Rock Metro Area, which includes LRSD, North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District.

Some key findings are:

  • Traditional Public schools in the LR Metro Area enroll a higher percentage of black students than charters (57% to 46% in 2014-15), but black enrollment in traditional schools has declined, while black enrollment at charters has increased.
  • The percentage of white students has declined across both traditional public and public charter school sectors since 2008-09.
  • An increasing percentage of public school students in the Little Rock are Hispanic, reaching 10% in both LR Metro traditional public schools and public charters.
  • Traditional Public schools in the LR Metro Area enroll a higher percentage of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch (a proxy measure of student poverty) than public charters (69% to 46% in 2014-15), and FRL enrollment is increasing in both traditional and charter schools.
  • A small but increasing percentage (11% in LRSD and 3% in area charters in 2014-15, ) of public school students in the Little Rock area are identified as English Language Learners.
  • About 11 % of the students in Little Rock’s traditional public schools and 7% of students in the area’s public charter schools were identified as special education students in 2014-15.

 

We hope you will read the brief and we look forward to releasing the next one that asks

How many students are moving between the traditional public and the public charters and what do they ‘look like’? Are certain groups more likely to move?

We were very surprised at the findings from this one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treadmills, Assessments and Teacher Preparation.

In The View from the OEP on October 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm

When working with students, parents, teachers, and policy makers, we find that assessments and treadmills have a lot in common.

Folks have a tendency to lose sight of the appropriate use of assessments, and use them in ways that don’t fit.  This can lead to unintended consequences like focusing too much on proficiency or imagining that one test score is all we need to understand a successful school. Taylor Swift portrays this perfectly here when she loses focus on the treadmill and face plants!
taylorswiftfalling_large

Some people forget to use assessments at all.  Like the expensive treadmill sitting in the corner of the room with clothes hanging on it, educators invest valuable time in assessing students, but then may neglect to use the information collected to inform their teaching and support student learning.

treadmillhanger
Assessments are also like treadmills in that if you use them appropriately, they can have a big impact. A balanced assessment system can be like a whole home gym for a district, where frequent formative assessments, interim benchmark assessments, and summative assessments all focus on and strengthen different areas. In order for schools to ensure the success of all students, every school needs teachers who can interpret assessment results and take action based on accurate data.

man_on_treadmill-253x300.jpgYou can think of these teachers like ‘personal trainers’ who know how to use the assessments effectively and appropriately, and can help students, teachers and school leaders set goals and meet them.  Unfortunately, few colleges of education or K-12 school districts provide adequate hands-on training on the use of assessments in teaching.  We simply aren’t preparing teachers to use assessments effectively for student learning.

As states and districts begin to construct new, coherent assessment systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) incorporating multiple measures of student learning, it is crucial that educators at all levels understand how to appropriately select, use, analyze, and communicate about the results of those assessments. In the teacher preparation regulations released today the US Department of Education, assessment of student learning is included as a required part of rigorous teacher candidate exit qualifications. In short, educators will need to be assessment literate.

What is Assessment Literacy?

The National Task Force on Assessment Education today released a foundational definition of Assessment Literacy. It can be used to guide development of systems that use assessments appropriately and equitably to support teaching and learning.

The definition states:

“Assessment is the process of gathering information about student learning to inform education- related decisions. One becomes Assessment Literate by mastering basic principles of sound assessment practice, coming to believe strongly in their consistent, high-quality application in order to meet the diverse needs of all students, and acting assertively based on those values.”

Further, the definition identifies traits of an assessment literate person. He or she:

  • Understands the purpose of the assessment and how the results will be used
  • Uses the learning targets to dictate the appropriate assessments
  • Recognizes that valid results only come from quality assessments
  • Communicates clearly about assessment results to parents, students, and others
  • Creates an assessment process that motivates students and supports learning

“Those who face the challenges of developing and implementing state, local or classroom assessment systems are far better prepared to succeed if they bring to the task a foundation of understanding of the basic principles of sound assessment practice; that is, if they are assessment literate,” said Rick Stiggins, advisor to the Task Force and retired founder and CEO of the Assessment Training Institute. “Our Task Force has defined this to mean that they always are clear about why and what they will assess, how to assess it well, how to share results effectively, and how to use assessment to support and promote student learning success.”

Is it Truthful?  Is it Useful?

Assessments of student learning are important for tracking success and ensuring equity among student groups.  Students, parents, teachers, and policy makers need to be assessment literate so they can advocate for  valid and reliable assessments that provide truthful and useful information.  Teachers need to be assessment literate so they can model quality assessment practices in their own classrooms, and modify their instruction based on student needs.  Parents and policymakers are open to new and innovative ways to measure and report educational success, and assessment literate educators can advocating for quality assessments and demonstrate that using assessments appropriately makes a difference for students. Students, parents , educators and policy makers need to learn more about quality assessment and assessment literacy development so we don’t find ourselves with just a more advanced version of the treadmill sitting in the corner covered in laundry.

.treadmill-cartoon21

A Catastrophic Amount of Money

In The View from the OEP on October 5, 2016 at 12:57 pm

LakeView2House and Senate education committees recently recommended a $20 million increase in funding for special education.  The money would go to the “catastrophic” fund, which provides reimbursement to districts that are educating special needs students with extraordinarily high-cost services.  In Arkansas, after subtracting Medicaid, federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education (IDEA), and other 3rd party funds, districts can receive 100% reimbursement for up to $15,000, 80% for costs between $15,000 and $50,000, and 50% for costs between $50,000 and $100,000.  The number of students for whom districts request reimbursement has more than doubled in the past four years. Under 500 reimbursement requests were submitted in 2010-11, and over 1,100 were submitted in 2014-15. Districts are committing funds to educate their students, and increasingly requesting reimbursement from the state.  Although requests and expenditures have increased dramatically, state funding for reimbursement has remained stagnant, and only about a third of eligible expenses are currently reimbursed.  The recommendation by the House and Senate education committees provides additional funding to reimburse districts.

Special education advocates commonly call on the federal government to fully fund the program. The initial passage of special education legislation, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, in 1975, stated that the federal government would fund 40% of the state’s “excess costs” for students with disabilities.  The Council for Exceptional Children estimates that, in 2008, the funded amount is closer to 17%.  The unfunded cost of special education does not disappear, but is instead borne by the state and local districts.  The reauthorization of IDEA, in 2004, allowed the use of federal IDEA funds to be allocated to state catastrophic or extraordinary aid pools, such as the one in Arkansas.

Here at OEP, we applaud the recommendation to increase funding for special education students in Arkansas. It is clear that providing necessary funds for students with disabilities is important. The students receiving “catastrophic” funds are those with the most severe disabilities who require the most intensive services.  For policy purposes, however, we suggest thinking more strategically about how the state’s funding mechanism for special education can more effectively allocate money to so fewer districts need to request reimbursement in the first place.

Funding for Arkansas’ special education students is currently embedded in the funding matrix, which assumes all schools have the same special education demands. Data show wide variation, however, between in the number and severity of special education students being served in Arkansas school districts.  Instead of providing funding through a model that assumes, incorrectly, all needs are the same, we suggest funding based on the needs of the students actually enrolled in the school.  Such a differentiated student-based allocation would ensure that special education funds are spent on the students for whom they were intended, and decrease the need for reimbursement though catastrophic funding.

Although additional money may soon be available if approved by the Legislature, the reimbursement-based nature of the catastrophic funding may work against small, rural, and poor schools. The financial burden of providing extensive resources (hoping they may be reimbursed) combined with the amount of time, effort, and expertise needed to submit the paperwork to receive the reimbursement may be more difficult for these schools.  Creating a funding model for special education based on the actual data about student needs would more effectively provide schools with the resources they need, and reduce the need for the state to further increase catastrophic funding.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is…Academic Guarantees and College Remediation

In The View from the OEP on September 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm

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In our latest policy brief, summarized below, we examine options for reducing college remediation rates, including a public school district’s offering of an Academic Guarantee.

Last October, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education released Closing the Gap 2020, the state’s plan to increase the percentage of Arkansans earning a post-secondary credential or degree by 50% over the number earned in the 2013-14 academic year. Part of this plan includes reducing the percentage of students taking remedial courses at the college level.

Since 1988, Arkansas has required placement tests for all college-bound students in math, English, and reading. The most common placement test in Arkansas is the ACT. Students taking the ACT can score anywhere between 0 and 36. The national average ACT score in 2015 was a 21 and the average for Arkansas was a 20. Arkansas students must score a 19 to avoid remedial coursework.

College Remediation Needed

For the 2014-15 academic year, over 22,000 students enrolled for the first time at one of Arkansas’s post-secondary institutions. Just over 40% of these students were assigned to at least one remedial course (compared with 33% nationally). Remedial courses are often high school-level courses, yet the cost for students is the same as a typical college-level course.

Remediation not only hits students in their wallets, but also hinders their achievement and attainment. The ADHE states in Closing the Gap 2020, “Students requiring remediation pay more in tuition and are less likely to complete a credential…typically only 25-30% [of remediated students] successfully enroll in and pass the college-level course required upon completion of remediation.” With this in mind, it comes as no surprise Arkansas would like to reduce college remediation. However, decreasing the number of students who qualify for remediation is not just a post-secondary issue. It will take a devoted effort at the K12 and post-secondary levels.

An Academic Guarantee

There are a variety of policies Arkansas’s schools could implement, but Rogers Public Schools has implemented an “Academic Guarantee” since 2004. Rogers’ policy guarantees all of its graduates are academically prepared for college-level coursework. If a graduate is required to enroll in remedial courses after being admitted to college, the district will reimburse the full cost of tuition for said courses, pending students meet a list of requirements. No students have taken advantage of the policy yet.

According to the ADHE’s remediation report, Rogers Schools graduated 1,048 students in the class of 2014, with 457 enrolling in college in Arkansas, and 178 students enrolling in at least one remedial course. Using the average cost of tuition at the state’s 2- and 4-year institutions, we calculated the range of the potential cost of reimbursement to Rogers Schools, finding the district would have paid between $42,389 if all remediated students attended 2-year institutions and $88,645 if all attended 4-year institutions. In the brief, we also include the hypothetical cost of remediation reimbursement for 16 other districts in the state along with a projection of potential costs over the next five years. We show that a policy like Rogers’ implemented in other districts could come at a pretty high cost and these costs would vary quite a bit across the state. Because of this, it seems like a difficult policy to implement statewide.

However, would we even a want a statewide “Academic Guarantee”? Recognizing the potential costs could lead districts to council potentially remediated students away from post-secondary education or to less expensive schools. Also, with Arkansas’s new policy of paying for all juniors to take the ACT, schools could start encouraging students to attempt the ACT multiple times to avoid remediation by improving their scores above the remedial cutoff. Research from the ACT suggests students who take the test multiple times are likely to see higher scores, which is improved test-taking skills rather than academic preparation.

Need Multiple Measures

Districts could try to find ways to avoid paying for remedial courses if a statewide academic guarantee were to be implemented, but the real issue lies at the heart of the remediation policy itself. Currently, test performance is the only tool used to determine course placement and potential future success. This is a decision the ACT itself does not support, instead suggesting a multi-dimensional approach that goes beyond test scores. Research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, shows that using multiple measures such as high school GPA alongside standardized test scores could reduce incorrectly placing students in remedial courses by 15 percent.

Arkansas has too many students entering college unprepared for the rigors of college-level coursework, but some of them may be incorrectly placed into remedial coursework. This forces students who could be successful in college to clear unnecessary hurdles and decreases their chances of earning a college degree. Simply using a more holistic evaluation of students’ skills could help Arkansas reach its post-secondary achievement goals. We could ask other districts to emulate Rogers, but we should start by revisiting the college course placement policy.

OEP Conference Roundup

In The View from the OEP on September 21, 2016 at 8:40 am

Thanks to everyone who attended our OEP conference! We loved hearing a variety of perspectives throughout the day. We hope these conversations continue, as they are necessary for improving the Arkansas education system. Here are a few thoughts we’re still marinating on a week after the conference:

1. Pre-kindergarten programs lead to significant gains, but face implementation challenges.

Our keynote speaker for the day was Dr. William Gormley, who presented a review of the research on pre-K programs. In general, pre-K programs are associated with large, immediate gains—and smaller long-term gains— fpre-kor students. Here in Arkansas, our ABC pre-K program has been applauded nationally, but it faces challenges in serving the state’s children. In a panel discussion on Arkansas’ pre-K program, pre-K administrators discussed funding and staffing challenges facing pre-K providers across the state.

2. When it comes to rural education, we need both collaboration and autonomy.

We had many discussions about rural education at our conference, from how to make rural-roadsprofessional development meaningful for teachers, to recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas, to the impacts of state policies on rural schools. A common theme throughout the day was the need to facilitate collaboration across districts, while still giving rural districts enough autonomy to make decisions rooted in their local context. Our rural districts face significant challenges, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to their unique needs

3. Serving diverse learners requires systems that are responsive to individuals.

At our conference, we discussed how schools and systems are (or are not) meeting diverse-learnersstudents’ needs. This included a retrospective look at how KIPP Delta has improved over the years, an examination of research on how funding mechanisms may prevent students with disabilities from being identified, and a review of the research on how to best serve English Language Learners. Through all of this,  we were able to think deeply how best to meet the needs of ALL students in Arkansas.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to the conference! We were truly inspired by hearing  all your thoughts, ideas, and actions in our communities, and can’t wait for next year!

Begin with the End in Mind

In The View from the OEP on September 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm

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Beginning the school year with the end in mind, we are pleased to release our newest Arkansas Education Report: Graduation Rates in Arkansas, an Updated Descriptive Analysis! This report examines trends in Arkansas’ graduation rates overall and for at risk students over the past four years. We consider the relationship between graduation rate and several district- and school- level factors including district size, cohort (grade-level) enrollment, school poverty rates, and school location (rural, town, suburb, or city).

High school graduation is an increasingly important metric of school performance, and research finds that students who fail to graduate face a variety of negative consequences including lower lifetime earning and poorer health.  The good news is that Arkansas graduation rates are increasing and our students graduate at higher rates than the national average.   Compared to bordering states, we are high performing even though we have a greater percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch (a proxy for poverty).

You should check out the report for yourself, but here’s some of what we found:

Smaller districts:  Smaller districts had higher graduation rates in general, and districts with fewer than 500 students are reporting 90% graduation rates for at risk students.

Smaller cohorts: Grade-level enrollment between 50 and  150 was related to higher graduation rates for students.

More rural: Rural school reported higher graduation rates overall and for at risk students.

Like our earlier report, we found that school poverty rates are related to high school graduation rates.  An interesting aspect of this finding, however, was that higher poverty schools have higher graduation rates for at risk students, while lower poverty schools are more likely to graduate students who are not at risk. 

This finding should spur school leaders to analyze their own graduation rate data and consider what more they can do to support graduation for those students in the minority at their schools.

Data used for the report are available here, and  graduation rate data for all schools and all years are available here.

Although examined individually in this report, these district- and school-level characteristics are interrelated. For example, 63% of Arkansas high schools are located in Rural areas, 72% of the Rural schools are either in the Upper Middle or High Poverty categories and 83% of these rural and higher poverty schools are Very Small or Small districts. All three of these characteristics are positively related to graduation rate, but which is actually driving differences in graduation rate?

In a subsequent paper multivariate analyses will be conducted on a student level, allowing for a more in-depth look into the variations that positively or negatively impact graduation rate. In addition, we will also examine the relationships between graduation rate and other important academic outcomes such as student performance on the ACT and college remediation rates, because although we are pleased to report on Arkansas’ increasing high school graduation rate, we need to ensue that the graduates are truly prepared for life after high school.