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House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on August 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm



Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports on teacher supply, special education, and academic distress.

Teacher supply

“Greening and graying” are just two of the trends that Arkansas has to address in building and maintaining a diverse and experienced teacher workforce that is appropriately distributed among all schools, according to ADE Assistant Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer. Teachers with the most experience are nearing retirement age, and younger teachers are more likely to leave the profession. Types of shortages vary by region, but the rate of teacher turnover is higher in high poverty and high minority schools. Students in those schools are also more likely to have teachers with less experience or teaching out of field. Pfeffer said ADE is developing a strategic plan that includes a “coming back” campaign to recruit teachers back to the classroom, among other efforts. Pfeffer also noted several areas where ADE is conducting more in-depth examinations of data to better understand and respond to workforce issues.

Special education

A special education task force has completed its work, and Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville presented the group’s draft report. The task force reached consensus on 30 recommendations related to early diagnosis of disabilities; improved coordination among stakeholders; additional support for parents, teachers, and schools; and increased funding. The report was dedicated to the late Rep. Sheilla Lampkin of Monticello, a former special education teacher and diligent advocate who sponsored the enabling legislation and worked on the task force, but passed away before the report was completed.

Academic distress

Arkansas law mandates that the legislature’s ongoing study of educational adequacy must include an examination of the academic distress program for schools or school districts where academic achievement has not met a required standard for several years. The written report from the Bureau of Legislative Research gives a concise explanation of various aspects of the academic distress designation, feedback from superintendents of affected districts, and similar policies in other states. Some committee members expressed concern about the academic distress label and encouraged their peers to look at policy solutions to help schools before the designation becomes necessary and is made public.



Revamping Higher Education Funding in the Natural State

In The View from the OEP on August 10, 2016 at 11:31 am


Late last month, Gov. Hutchinson supported the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Coordinating Board’s unanimously approve proposal to change the funding formula for Arkansas’s public post-secondary institutions. The proposed funding model uses an outcomes-based approach, placing a higher priority on college completion than the current model. Right now, the main consideration in funding Arkansas colleges and universities is enrollment, a policy that does little to reward success.

While the proposed funding formula is still in the early stages of the legislative process, it is designed to spend money more effectively and support universities’ efforts to get students through rather than to college. The proposal goes to the Legislature during the 2017 session and would—if passed—make Arkansas’s higher education funding formula similar to other states with outcomes-based funding formulas. But what exactly is this proposed plan and is it good for students?

Higher Education Funding in Arkansas

Currently, the state’s higher education funding formula has a 90-10 split, based on need (enrollment, infrastructure, etc.) and performance (graduation, credit completion, etc.), respectively. Under the new plan, 100% of funding is tied to outcomes like program completion, number of graduates getting jobs/other degrees, and on-time graduation rates. A press release from the governor’s office expressed strong support for the proposal as a way to incentivize institutional leaders to emphasize educating students by putting money into resources, like academic support services, that are directly related to student learning.

Former ADHE director Bret Powell described the potential switch as a move that “would change the conversation from, ‘We have students, so give us funding,’ to ‘We have achieved these results, and the funding should follow those results.’” Though it is still unclear in these early stages, it is unlikely the new funding formula would lead to decreases in funding. In addition, the new formula may lead to fewer increases in charged tuition and fees, lessening the financial barriers to college and potential student loan debt faced by many Arkansas families.

Outcomes-Based Funding Elsewhere

Although this change to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula is still in the proposal stages, if Arkansas lawmakers approve the change we will join several other states in funding postsecondary education based on outcomes. For a complete description of funding allocation in the other states, please visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Similar to Arkansas’s current model, Indiana has used a two-part funding system based on enrollment changes and performance of students. A majority of Indiana’s funding is based on the change in enrollment from year-to-year, but a gradually increasing percentage of funding is tied to student performance (6% of funding in 2014-15). An important aspect that Arkansas legislators should consider is the seven clearly stated outcomes in Indiana’s formula, including degree completion, student persistence, and remediation success. Degree completion has the most weight in this formula.


Under the leadership of Gov. John Kasich, Ohio restructured their higher education funding formula in fiscal year 2014-15. Much like Arkansas’s proposed plan, Ohio ties 100% of institutional funding to performance. At Ohio’s public 2-year and 4-year institutions, funding is tied 100% to undergraduate students’ course completion and graduation rates. At the moment, it is still a bit too early to know what the impact of this change has been in Ohio.


Tennessee passed the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 to improve the state’s college completion rate. Each institution receives a base fund to support operations, but 100% of funds on top of this base are a result of a points system based entirely on student outcomes. Tennessee includes credits accumulated, degrees completed, and 6-year graduation rates at 4-year institutions in the model. Community colleges have similar outcomes with additional outcomes including dual enrollment at a 4-year institution and graduates who were placed in jobs.

Promise and Pitfalls of Changes

There is something to be said for focusing on outcomes. Tying institutional funding to student success will likely hold institutions more accountable for educating students, rather than focusing on increasing enrollment numbers and potentially enrolling higher numbers of academically unprepared students who may dropout after accruing some student loan debt. The most likely outcomes will focus on degree completion and credits earned.

Improving college outcomes is admirable and important to the state, but goals will need to be very clearly stated (like those in Indiana) and implemented with controls to ensure the value of a college degree does not get “watered down”. A legitimate concern with an outcomes-based formula is the appeal of more money leading institutions to become “degree factories” rather than preparing students for their future careers.

At the moment, we do not know all of the details of the proposed changes to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula. The only sure thing is the ADHE wants to change the funding formula to be based entirely on student outcomes and having little to do with enrollment numbers. The Legislature has a tall task ahead of them in 2017, one that could profoundly change the way Arkansas’s postsecondary institutions are funded.

2016 OEP Conference Registration Is Open!

In The View from the OEP on August 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

Register now for the 2016 OEP Conference Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at Heifer International in Little Rock!


OEP Logo JPEG-2rel logo


We are very excited about partnering with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest on this year’s theme of Unlocking Key Challenges Facing Arkansas’ Schools.

Dr. William Gormley from the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. will present the Keynote on Oklahoma’s Universal Prekindergarten Program and Cory Biggs, Associate Director of ForwARd Arkansas, will discuss opportunities for systemic change in Arkansas.

Breakout sessions will feature speakers and panels discussing research, practice and policy surrounding Prekindergarten, Rural Education and Diverse Learners. You can find out more details below.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited, so please don’t delay! Register now

Can’t wait to see you there!


Checkout some of the sessions that will be at the conference:

Diverse Learners: KIPP Delta- 15 Years- A Retrospective  (Lessons taught and lessons learned) Scott Shirey, founder and executive director, KIPP Delta Public Schools

Rural PD: What does the literature say and how can it be implemented in Arkansas?   Haidee Williams, REL Southwest and Erin Haynes, REL Southwest

Prekindergarten: Research-to-Practice: Current Research Influencing the Field   Janice Keizer, REL Southwest and Sarah Caverly, REL Southwest

Diverse Learners: Facilitating a PLC to Support English Learners  Jackie Burniske, REL Southwest   Kathleen Theodore, Southeast Comprehensive Center

Prekindergarten: Designing and Sustaining Accessible Prekindergarten Programming in Arkansas   Tonya Williams, Department of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, DHS  Jody Veit-Edrington, Coordinator of Early Childhood Programs, NLR Public Schools  Jenny Barber, Supervisor of Federal Programs and Preschool Education, Russellville Public Schools

Rural Education: Rural Teacher Recruitment and Retention Practices Identified in the Literature    Haidee Williams, REL Southwest  Bobby Hart, Superintendent, Hope Public Schools Chintan Desai, KIPP Delta



House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In The View from the OEP on July 20, 2016 at 11:29 am



The Arkansas House and Senate education committees met this week to hear presentations and discuss progress on broadband upgrades and career/technical education planning.  A report on isolated funding took a side trip to broader transportation issues and ended with a request for an attorney general’s opinion.

Broadband Upgrades

We’re about halfway through the two-year project timeline to provide all Arkansas public schools with better and more cost effective high speed broadband access, and Chief Technology Officer Mark Myers reported more districts are connected and connections are faster than planned. Security and content filtering safeguards are in place, and performance monitoring is such that DIS will know immediately if a district’s email goes down. Issues with vendor deadline commitments and previously-existing contracts have been resolved thus far. DIS is on track to finish all the APSCN upgrades by July 2017, and you can track progress with this linked map.

CTE Emphasis in Education and Employment

A common thread through several presenters was improving the employability and earning power of Arkansans through coursework and credentialing that align with labor market demands and job growth. Outgoing ADHE Director Brett Powell said new jobs are going to applicants who have at least some college education, and while more Arkansans need to earn all kinds of degrees, the most growth is expected in jobs requiring a CTE certificate.¹ Department of Career Education (ACE) leaders reported their work with high schools and secondary technical centers to assess career and technical programs and enrollment in light of employer needs and future economic impact for students and communities.²  Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) staff also reported extensively on CTE program offerings and student enrollment and achievement data.³

Isolated and Transportation Funding

Reporting on the distribution and expenditures of “isolated funding” intended to help districts with geographic challenges, BLR Assistant Director Richard Wilson said the majority of those funds are spent on instruction-related expenses and transportation.  Committee members’ discussion veered to the broader topic of inequity in transportation funding as allocated through the budget matrix. Lawmakers have repeatedly expressed frustration that distributing transportation dollars on a per-student basis results in a profit for some school districts while others must supplement transportation costs with money meant for student learning. Ultimately, the committees voted to request an attorney general’s opinion on how the courts might view changes to the transportation funding mechanism in light of educational adequacy.





Outstanding Educational Performance Awards 2014-15!

In The View from the OEP on May 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm

As the school year draws to a close for most students and teachers throughout Arkansas, there are many awards ceremonies and celebrations of student success. Here at the OEP  we are excited to celebrate the achievement of the highest-performing schools across the state in our 2014-15 Outstanding Educational Performance Awards (also known as the OEP Awards)!  Today’s awards are based on the performance of students on the PARCC Math and English Language Arts assessments (we released the OEP awards for Science earlier this year).

We celebrate two types of schools: “High-Achieving” and “Beating the Odds”.  High Achieving schools are those whose students demonstrated the highest performance on the PARCC tests, and “Beating the Odds” are the highest performing schools serving low-income communities.

Like the past three years, the awards are based upon a GPA measure. The OEP calculates a GPA for schools in each subject based on the number of students that perform at each level on the exam.  We slightly modified our procedure this year, due to the five performance levels reported on the PARCC exams (Exceeded Expectations is assigned a “4”, Met Expectations is assigned a “3”, Approached Expectations is awarded a “2”, Partially Met Expectations receives a  “1”, and Did Not Meet Expectations was assigned  “0”). GPAs are lower overall this year, due to more challenging assessments, and are not directly comparable to prior years because of the change in assessment.

Congratulations to all our OEP award winners!

Highest Achievement


The top elementary school in both math and literacy hails from the Little Rock School District: Forest Park Elementary! At Forest Park, 70% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC Math exam, and 81% did so on the PARCC Literacy assessment.

The remaining top 5 elementary schools for overall achievement are: Vandergriff (Fayetteville), Park Magnet (Hot Springs), Don Roberts (Little Rock), and Baker Interdistrict (Pulaski County Special).

We were pleased to see a lot of new schools on our lists this year and noted that nearly half of the top 10 elementary schools were newcomers to this award. We particularly celebrate the increased representation of schools from the Central region of the state who are receiving High Achieving awards!  Way to go!

You can see the rest of the top elementary schools, as well as the high achievers by subject and region in the full report.

Middle School

The top middle school in both math and literacy is McNair Middle School from the Fayetteville School District! At McNair, 56% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC Math exam, and 72% did so on the PARCC Literacy assessment.

The remaining top 5 middle schools for overall achievement are: Bright Field (Bentonville), East Hills (GreenWood), Greenbrier Middle (Greenbrier), and Benton Middle (Benton).

Many of the middle schools that made our top 10 lists have been recognized previously,  but there were several newcomers to these lists as well.  Once again, we saw a greater representation from Central Arkansas, especially in literacy performance.  You can see the rest of the top middle schools, as well as the high achievers by subject and region in the full report.

Junior High School

The top junior high school in both math and literacy is J.William Fullbright Junior High from Bentonville School District! At Fullbright, 55% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC Math exam, and 68% did so on the PARCC Literacy assessment.

The remaining top 5 junior high schools for overall achievement are: Valley View JH (Valley View), Woodland JH (Fayetteville), Greenbrier JH (Greenbrier), and Lincoln JH (Bentonville).   To find out what other Junior Highs made the list, as well as the high achievers by subject and region check out the full report.

High School

The top high school in both math and literacy is Haas Hall Academy!  At Haas Hall 95% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC Math exam, and 97% did so on the PARCC Literacy assessment.   Congratulations to the students and teachers of McNair!

The remaining top 5 high schools for overall achievement are: Bentonville HS (Bentonville), Benton HS (Benton), Rogers New Tech (Rogers), and Concord HS (Concord). To find out what other High Schools made the list, as well as the high achievers by subject and region check out the full report.


Beating the Odds: High Achieving with Low-Income Populations

These are special awards for schools whose students are achieving well even though they face some significant challenges.  While poverty impacts learning, these schools are demonstrating that they are “Beating the Odds.” The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.


The top elementary school beating the odds in math is Cowsert Elementary from Clinton School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 71% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  63% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC math assessment. Norfolk Elementary (Norfolk), Centerpoint Primary (Centerpoint), Green Forest Elementary (Green Forest) and Paron Elementary (Bryant) round out the top 5 elementary schools Beating the Odds in mathematics.

The top elementary school beating the odds in literacy is Norfolk Elementary from Norfolk School District.  Despite serving a student population where 83% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  60% of students Met or Exceeded expectations on the PARCC literacy assessment. Forest Heights STEM Academy (Little Rock),Dover Elementary (Dover), Omaha Elementary (Omaha) and Cowsert Elementary (Clinton) round out the top 5 elementary schools Beating the Odds in literacy.


Clinton School District also boasts the top middle school beating the odds in math. Clinton Intermediate serves a student population where of students are 77% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 34% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC math assessment. Atkins Middle, McRae Middle (Prescott), and Helen Tyson (Springdale) ranked 2nd -4th on Beating the Odds, while Nettleton Middle and DeQueen Middle tied for the fifth place spot.

The top middle school beating the odds in literacy is Nemo Vista Middle. Sixty-six percent of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch and 57% of students Met or Exceeded expectations on the PARCC literacy assessment. Lingle Middle (Rogers), Clinton Intermediate (Clinton), Oakdale Middle (Rogers) and Nettleton Middle are the other schools that made the top 5 for Beating the Odds in literacy.

Junior High

The top junior high school beating the odds in math is DeQueen Junior High.  Despite serving a student population that is 73% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  31% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC math assessment. Southwest JH (Springdale), Clinton JH (Clinton), and Douglas MacArthur (Jonesboro) ranked 2nd-4th, while Clarksville JH (Clarksville) and George JH (Springdale) tied for the fifth place spot for the top 5 junior high schools Beating the Odds in mathematics.

The top middle school beating the odds in literacy is Clinton Junior High. Sixty-eight percent of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch and 45% of students Met or Exceeded expectations on the PARCC literacy assessment. Nashville JH, Southwest JH (Springdale), Douglas MacArthur (Jonesboro), Hot Springs Middle and Nettleton Middle are the other junior highs schools that made the top 5 for Beating the Odds in literacy.

High School

The top high school beating the odds in math is Marshall High in Searcy.  Despite serving a student population that is 68% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  41% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC math assessment. Norfolk High, Marked Tree High, Cave City High and Omaha High complete the list of the top 5 high schools Beating the Odds in mathematics.

The top high school beating the odds in literacy is Norfork High.  Despite serving a student population that is 81% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch,  65% of students Met or Exceeded Expectations on the PARCC literacy assessment. Cave City High, Marshall High (Searcy), Timbo High (Mountain View) and Marked Tree High are the other top high schools Beating the Odds in literacy.

Congratulations to all the OEP award winners and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!

Northwest Arkansas Report Card: 2015

In The View from the OEP on May 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm

In our latest report, the Office for Education Policy summarizes the 2014-15 assessment results for Northwest Arkansas districts and charter schools. In partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council, we are proud to release the 2015 Northwest Arkansas Report Card, our annual look into standardized test performance, graduation rates, and all things K-12 in our region.2015 NWARC

How are Northwest Arkansas Districts Doing?

Northwest Arkansas districts outperformed the state on 2014-15 assessments and high school graduation rate.  NWA districts spend less per pupil, enjoy more National Board Certified Teachers, and boast eight high schools ranked in the top 10% in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, data recently released by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University, presents a new method for comparing the state assessment performance of Northwest Arkansas districts to other districts across the country.  These data show that Rogers School District, despite serving a large population of students At-Risk outperforms 72% of other districts across the county.  Fayetteville School District outperforms 77%, and Bentonville School District outperforms 84% of districts nationally.

What’s in the Report Card?page

The Report Card presents a ‘district dashboard’ format that makes it easier for educators, school administrators, parents, and state lawmakers to see how regional school districts are performing. A change in the assessment administered in 2014-15 (to PARCC) resulted in a substantial decline in student performance statewide, but because the NWA Report Card compares districts to their peer group in the region (either the ‘Big 5’ districts or the ‘Small 10’ districts) we can still get a measure of how performance compares.  Information includes key metrics about assessment results, graduation rates, student demographics, and financial indicators.

District Highlights:

  • Bentonville and Fayetteville were the highest performing traditional school districts on state assessments overall, and serve the lowest percentage of At Risk students.
  • Gentry had the highest proficiency rates for At Risk students.   Proficiency rates for  students were higher than the “Small 10” average, even though Gentry serves a higher percentage of students receiving Free/Reduced Lunch and Limited English Proficiency services.
  • Bentonville, Fayetteville and Prairie Grove were the highest performing traditional school districts on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for students in grades 1 and 2.
  • Elkins graduated 96% of seniors in 2014-15:  the highest traditional school graduation rate.
  • Charters  are also performing well; Haas Hall reported near 100% proficiency and graduation rates, and no At Risk students.

In addition to the ‘district dashboards’, we also included spotlights about programs that extend beyond the classroom. Athletics, arts, advanced coursework and academic challenges are all areas where students in NWA districts excel.

Continued Improvement Needed

Benchmarking against other districts regionally and nationally is a comparison districts should welcome.  Making reasonable comparisons of student performance allows us to celebrate, and recognize that we can still do better. Northwest Arkansas offers many benefits to its residents, and outstanding public education for all students should be one of them.

This spring, students in Northwest Arkansas and around the state completed ACT Aspire, another new assessment.  Although the results of these assessments will not be directly comparable to the results presented here, they are the first step in a stable assessment system that can be easily used to measure changes in student performance across years.  There is no single measure of successful education, but improvement in graduation rates, advanced coursework completion and fiscal efficiency along with improved performance on other state assessments is something all our NWA districts should strive for.

For more information about current education issues, check out OEP’s Policy Briefs and Blog.  The more we can share the good news and look for ways to improve, the better Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas will be.

We invite you to share this report card with anyone who might be curious about the state of education in our region.  If you want more information on schools in Northwest Arkansas or the state as a whole, head on over to our website, where you can dive into all of the publicly available data on school demographicstest scores, and finances.

Arkansas’ Education Pipeline

In The View from the OEP on May 4, 2016 at 12:38 pm

How many Arkansas kindergartners will finish college?


First off, we would like to clarify a number reported in Monday’s Democrat Gazette.  The print article stated “Nearly two-thirds of students who started at an Arkansas public university in fall 2009 graduated four and six years after they enrolled, according to data from the state Department of Higher Education.”

The suggestion that 66% of Arkansas college students graduate in four or six years caught our attention, as the national average is less than 60%.  The reality is that only 27.6% of Arkansas students who attend four-year institutions actually graduate in four years. An additional 12.1% graduate after six years, bringing the total percentage of graduates to 39.7%.

Let’s follow the progress of a classroom of kindergartners, given what we know about the educational pipeline in Arkansas.


While the numbers aren’t actually tracking individual students through the Kindergarten->Post- Secondary system, we are applying high school graduation, college- going, and college completion rates to the Kindergarten class of fall 2002.

  • 35,283 students were enrolled in kindergarten in Arkansas’ public schools in fall of 2002.
  • 29,955 of these kindergartners graduated on time in 2014-15 (applying Arkansas’ statewide graduation rate of 84.9%)
  •   9,286 of these high school graduates are headed off to an Arkansas university after graduation (applying Arkansas’ college-going rate of 31% to four-year in-state institutions)
  •   2,563 of those who go to university will graduate in four years (given historical college graduation rates of 27.6%) and 1,123 more students will graduate in six years

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

Some high school graduates also attend two-year colleges. Recent data show it is 16.2% so 4,852 of our kindergartners are headed in that direction.  Of those, 742 (15.3%) will complete in two years, and an additional 223 will finish in three years.

A small percentage (3%) of Arkansas graduates attend private or independent colleges or universities in the state.  That would be 899 kids from our kindergarten class. 334 (37%) will graduate in four years, and an additional 124 would complete in six years.

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


There are several suggestions that we have to improve the percentage of Arkansas students getting college degrees.  What do we recommend?

1: Be accurate and clear. We are sure that the two-thirds error on Monday was unintentional, but it is important to share correct data and it helps to put these numbers in a context we can all understand.  We also wish we had better data about how many high school graduates go to school out-of-state and how successful they are. While better data won’t directly help students graduate, it can help identify the problem areas.

2: Look deeper into graduation rates.  High school graduation rates in Arkansas are above the national average, but many of our students are still not prepared for success in post-secondary education. Over 54% of Arkansas students will need remediation to be successful in college English or math courses.

3: Provide more effective support for students entering post-secondary schools. This could include enhanced transition activities while students are in high school, innovative ‘meet students where they are’ supports like frequent text reminders to students to complete important financial aid forms, better data systems linking K-12 and post-secondary systems,active reduction of stigma associated with ‘needing help’ be it academic or financial, and student advisors who are well-trained and strategically assigned students to support.

Arkansas site near the bottom of the nation in the percentage of adults with college degrees.  Unless we do more to ensure our students are ready for success in college, and to support them through college graduation, it looks like we will stay where we are.







Reflections on AP

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm


As thousands of high school students throughout Arkansas prepare for Advanced Placement (AP)  Exams next week, we thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at AP in Arkansas.  Below is a short summary of today’s policy brief which explores the topic of AP in Arkansas in more depth. You can find district-level AP data here, and we recommend district personnel check out the new Commissioner’s memo regarding PSAT administration here, and sign up for free administration next fall.

Since 2003, Arkansas has boasted one of the most aggressive AP programs in the nation.

‘4 Core’

All high schools are required to offer at least one AP course in each of the ‘4 Core’ areas (math, English, science and social studies) each year. This mandate, established through Act 102, has greatly expand access to AP courses: in 2015, 87% of the students in Arkansas attend districts that enroll students in at least these ‘4 Core’ AP classes.

Fee free

In addition to expanding course access, the legislation pays AP Exams fees for ALL students. Without the state support, AP Exams would cost the student $92 each.  Low income students can get a reduced fee, but cost of the exams could be a barrier to participation. Participation of Arkansas’ minority and low-income students in AP Exams has increased by double digits since the fees were waived in 2005.

Increasing Success

In 2003, fewer than 5,000 public school students completed an AP Exam. Those students received a score of 3 or higher on 47% of their exams.  Eighty-three percent (83%) of AP Exam takers were white.

In 2015, nearly 26,000  public school students completed an AP Exam. Those students received a score of 3 or higher on 32% of their exams. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of AP Exam takers were white.

AP participation has increased over 400%!

Minority students are an increasing large share of the AP participants! 


Yes, passing rates have declined since 2003, but Arkansas has opened the AP door to a much more diverse population. Black and Hispanic student participation in AP Exams has increased 7 percentage points each, and low-income student participation has increased 23 points.

In addition, while the passing rates for these groups are lower than we would like, Arkansas’ minority and low-income students are performing similarly to their peers nationally.

Here at OEP, we would like to see our kids do even better, and we make several policy recommendations to support the continued success of AP in Arkansas.

  • Accountability: 30% of Arkansas school districts do not have students enrolled in the four AP core classes. Support should be provided to these districts to ensure that all Arkansas students are provided the “4 Core” requirement of offering one each of the four core classes in math, science, English, and social studies every year.
  • Innovation: Small schools who have consistently offered, and had students enrolled in the “4Core” at their schools appear to be offering classes in sets that vary by year to better meet the need of AP student cohorts within their schools. This and other innovations, such as co-oping with other small schools to provide brick and mortar or virtual classes, as well as the potential of online classes, would insure all students have better access, regardless of where they live in the state.
  • Pre-AP Pipeline to Success: While passing rates have improved, many students are not adequately prepared for success in AP courses. This could be helped by better defining the pre-AP pipeline, where students are developing needed skills before they sit in the AP classroom. While Arkansas does encourage pre-AP courses, better guidelines with accountability could ensure better student preparation across the state and, again, promote better student success equity.
  • Teacher Quality: Similarly, students may not be succeeding at higher rates because teachers are not adequately prepared or supported in the teaching of the AP courses. We must ensure teacher quality and recommend increased high quality training for new AP teachers and teachers in high need school districts. We also recommend the formation of an AP teacher support network within the state where novice teachers can receive support from a mentor AP teacher for longer periods of time.


For school leaders, board members, and/or assessment folks:

We were pleased to see the Commissioner’s memo explaining that ADE will fund the administration of the PSAT/NMSQT to all 10th graders next fall.  While participation is voluntary, here at OEP we highly recommend that Superintendents take advantage of the opportunity to administer the PSAT/NMSQT next year.  The PSAT/NMSQT provides information through AP Potential that helps schools identify students who show potential to be successful in AP coursework including student populations who may be underrepresented. An informational webinar to discuss the benefits is tomorrow at 2pm.  Sign up here by May 13th if you want your district to be included!




Good News Hidden in the Little Rock Controversy?

In The View from the OEP on April 22, 2016 at 5:49 am

On Wednesday (4/20), we at the OEP blogged about the controversial change of leadership in the LRSD. A handful of critics and commentators complained that the tone of the OEP essay was condescending as we described what we called “5 Facts” from our perch in Fayetteville about Little Rock. Fair enough. Our intent was to try to find a silver lining and report some good news, but we may not have fully succeeded!  So, this morning we will try again to “look at the bright side” on our blog and in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Opinion section.

Published in Arkansas Democrat Gazette, April 22, 2016


The news of a leadership change in the Little Rock School District—from Baker Kurrus to Michael Poore—sparked controversy this week. In the face of the understandable negative reaction from many in the community to the unexpected change, we want to share a few of the reasons that we remain optimistic about the potential benefits of this move for students and families in Little Rock.

First of all, Michael Poore is a lifetime educator who’s been in the field since 1984. Last year, the choice of Kurrus as superintendent raised criticism because he had no professional background in education. In fact, his hiring required a waiver from the state Board of Education. Kurrus’ expertise was in finance and management, and it is undeniable that he worked doggedly to address the organizational and fiscal issues faced by the district. Poore has the background to lead the academic improvement needed in Little Rock public schools.

Second, Poore is a respected school leader with experience in a variety of school settings. Currently the superintendent of Bentonville Public Schools, Poore has served as a leader in several districts (large and small) in Colorado and Arkansas for more than a decade. Notably, he served as superintendent in Sheridan, Colo., with a student population that was 74 percent minority and 76 percent free/reduced-lunch eligible, and led the Sheridan district off the state’s academic ‘”watch list.”

Although not from Little Rock, Poore has learned the Arkansas context through his leadership of the fourth-largest district in the state over the past half-decade. Yes, Little Rock is unique; but all school districts come with their own set of challenges, and it seems Poore’s experiences have prepared him to meet this challenge.

Third, the leadership change does not appear to be the result of a Waltonite conspiracy to dismantle the Little Rock School District. Voiced by many over social media, this idea seems to stem from the fact that Poore currently works in Bentonville, home to Wal-Mart and the Walton Family.

On Tuesday night, journalist John Brummett tweeted that “I don’t actually think Poore of Bentonville is a Walton disciple. His politics may be a bit … uh, left?” After further investigation, Brummett wrote on Thursday that “And I also am advised reliably that the Waltons were as surprised by the Kurrus ouster as anyone.”

So, if it’s not a Walton conspiracy, then why did Commissioner Johnny Key make the change? At his press conference, Commissioner Key thanked Baker Kurrus for his strong management of the schools. While systemic organizational change is an important starting point, Key believes that Little Rock students and teachers may now benefit from a leader with a stronger academic background. This surely seems reasonable.

As for Poore, he says he is taking on this job because he wants to accept the challenge of turning around a struggling district and improving the lives of thousands of students. Given our past experience with Superintendent Poore, we’ll take him at his word.

While we believe that Superintendent Poore has the right mindset and experience to tackle the very challenging job of managing a large urban district, we understand the criticism voiced by many local (and vocal) leaders in Little Rock regarding the process. The communication about the change certainly could have been better, and one of Poore’s first challenges will be to engage the community and continue to develop strong relationships the way that Kurrus has done.

And this leads us to the fourth reason to be optimistic about the future of Little Rock schools. The recent controversy has reinforced what many of us already knew—many talented, energetic, and passionate people care deeply about the students in Little Rock. Vocal critics of the leadership change, like Sen. Joyce Elliott, care about Little Rock students. Commissioner Key is willing to face substantial criticism to make the changes he thinks are best for students. Poore cares enough to leave his relatively comfortable post in Bentonville for, by all accounts, a much tougher job, because he wants to make a difference for the students in Little Rock.

This controversy reminds us of an important fact: Various stakeholders, despite having different ideas and proposed strategies, all share a common goal—to improve the educational experience for students and families in Little Rock. We would all do well to keep this in mind!

From our post in Northwest Arkansas, we have been fortunate enough to observe Superintendent Poore closely. As a leader, he engages the broader community, considers competing views, and, most importantly, critically examines district practices in search of ways to improve the schooling experience for his students.

In our view, any district would benefit from Poore’s leadership, and we can’t help but feel optimistic that he will soon be working for the 20,000+ students in our state’s capital.

Gary W. Ritter and Sarah C. McKenzie direct the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.

Half Full or Half Empty?

In The View from the OEP on April 20, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Monday night, news broke that Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus’ contract was not being renewed.  Wow- that was a surprise!

Tuesday morning we learned that Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore was going to replace him as the new leader of LRSD. Double wow!

Oh boy- the Little Rock folks and internet commenters started raging.  Some were mad that Commissioner Key was “dumping” Kurrus. The conclusion most seemed to jump to was that Baker was being ‘let go’ because he had opposed the expansion of two Little Rock charters.  From the comments, it is clear that many folks believe Commissioner Key selected Poore because he is a charter-friendly Waltonite who will dismantle the Little Rock School District.


Here at OEP we want to share with you what we see as the 5 facts:

1.   Baker Kurrus wasn’t ‘fired’.  Kurrus was hired on a one-year contract and it is not being renewed. It is undeniable that Kurrus has worked doggedly to address the organizational and fiscal issues faced by the district.  Commissioner Key had very positive words for his work in Little Rock; “He did everything right. He set the stage for the next direction of leadership.” Key also stated that he hoped Kurrus would continue to work with the district in some capacity. It’s not clear how that might work out, but both Key and Kurrus were professional and cordial at yesterday’s press conference.

2.   Many of the same people who are now upset that Kurrus is being ‘let go’ were also upset when Kurrus was first selected. When he was selected last May,  folks were unhappy about Kurrus’ lack of education experience, and, apparently, that they hadn’t been consulted. Now that a lifetime educator has been selected, some folks are still unhappy that they weren’t consulted.  Although you can’t ever make everyone happy, communication about this process could definitely have been better.

3.   Poore is an experienced and respected educator, with a variety of districts under his belt. Little Rock is unique, but all school districts come with their own set of challenges.  Although Bentonville’s student population is different from Little Rock’s, Poore has learned the Arkansas context through his work in the 4th largest district in the state. Although currently leading a large, low poverty district, Michael Poore has been at the helm of a racially diverse and high poverty district as well.  When he was Superintendent in Sheridan, Colorado, 74% of students were minority and 76% of students qualified for Free/Reduced Lunch. See table below for comparison of Little Rock to other districts led by Poore.Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.31.54 AM

4.   Academic leadership is critical to Little Rock students, and low achievement was the cause of the takeover. There seems to be general acknowledgement that Baker Kurrus has done some great work in Little Rock.  He has, according to Commissioner Key, “restored LRSD as an organization”.  Kurrus’ expertise was never in academics, but in finances and management. Although some have pointed to improvement in recently released Little Rock test scores as evidence of Baker’s positive educational impact, it is important to note that these scores are from tests taken last spring, before Kurrus was Superintendent.  Poore has not been a leader skating by on high test scores.  He has consistently asked us here at OEP to make data presentations, in PUBLIC, highlighting areas of weakness so they can be identified and fixed.  Recently, despite high test scores and above average graduation rates, Poore was seeking strategies to improve the graduation rate for At Risk students.

5.   Sometimes people do things for the right reason.  According to Commissioner Key during yesterday’s press conference, Poore has “servant’s heart”.  We assume he means that Poore is taking the position because it is the right thing to do for kids. Heading up LRSD is a tough job.  The money isn’t that much more, the Bentonville School Board was not trying to oust him, and as for the suggestion that he was pressured by the Waltons – apparently they were as surprised as the rest of us.  Kids are kids, communities are communities.  While angry community members are pointing out shortcomings (that Poore hasn’t worked in a majority African-American district, or that he isn’t from Little Rock, or that they weren’t consulted), here at OEP we believe that Poore is heading to Little Rock to make a positive difference for the kids.

Annual Salaries of LRSD Superintendents: 2011-2016

Holmes (2011-13) Burton (interim) 2013 Suggs     (2013-2015) Kurrus (2015-2016) Poore    (2016-?)
 $         226,806  $            149,676  $            228,000  $            150,000  $       225,000



When Poore was leaving Colorado, he discussed the skills he felt were needed:  “One, is that you have to have data to create the case for whatever direction you’re going to go, and second, the ability to communicate.”

Responding to Poore’s imminent departure, one of the Bentonville school board members vows you’ll never see a leader who knows staff better and who gets out in the community more tirelessly than Poore.

These are the SAME qualities that the community admired in Baker Kurrus.  Here at the OEP we feel that any district would benefit from a superintendent like Michael Poore.

The first time Johnny Key picked a superintendent for Little Rock,  people liked him so much they are ‘stunned’ that his contract was not renewed.  Why would anyone suggest that Commissioner Key would now make an inferior selection for Little Rock?

Little Rock- start looking at the glass as half full.  

With your support, it may begin to overflow.



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