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OEP News and Another C- for Arkansas

In The View from the OEP on January 17, 2018 at 11:58 am

 

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OEP News!

 

Our big news is that Gary Ritter is leaving us in August to take on the role of Dean of the School of Education at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, MO. Since OEP’s inception in 2003, Gary has been the driving force behind and director of the Office.  We are sorry to see him go, but excited for him to expand his excellent work to our neighbor state! Gary will continue to share his insightful perspective and passion for improving education as a member of the OEP advisory board, and OEP will continue to support for Arkansas education stakeholders under the direction of OEP Executive Director Sarah McKenzie.

Make plans to visit with Gary and Sarah at OEP’s conference this April in Little Rock- tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, April 24th.  We are focusing on Teacher Pipeline issues and have some great information that you won’t want to miss so save the date!

OEP is changing our weekly news roundup/ blog/ report releases from Wednesday to Tuesday. You can get these automatically by emailing oep@uark.edu with “Sign me up” in the subject line.

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Quality Counts

 

Today Education Week released their annual Quality Counts report, which grades each state on their education performance.  This year Arkansas (again) received an overall grade of C- and is ranked 43rd overall.  Arkansas has received a C- for the last four years as our national ranking slipped from 36th in 2015, to 41st in 2016, to the current 43rd in 2017 and 2018.

As we have discussed in previous blog posts there are several issues with the grading system, and Arkansas’ scores have remained stagnant.This year’s report includes summative grades and rankings for states on education indicators.  The report finds “paints a portrait of middling performance overall with patches of high achievement, along with perennial struggles to improve on the part of states mired at the bottom.”

A state’s overall grade is the average of its scores on three separate indicators: Chance-for-Success, K-12 Achievement, and School Finance. Previous blog posts have discussed the flawed nature of the grading system, and this year’s grade is even less informative due to the use of old academic data (from the 2015 NAEP because of a delay in the release of the 2017 NAEP results), old financial data (2015 is the most recent year data were available), and the difficult-to-impact state data including annual income and percentage of adults with a two- or four-year degree.

Below are the most recent four years of  Arkansas grades in each of the categories considered for 2018.

Quality Counts Categories AR Grade 2015 AR Grade 2016 AR Grade 2017 AR Grade 2018
Chance for Success C- C-  C- C-
School Finance C C-  C- C-
K-12 Achievement D+ D  D*  D*

* Note: K-12 Achievement data are unchanged from the 2016 Quality Counts report

It is time to grade ourselves…

 

Quality Counts is EdWeek’s measure of educational quality, but here at OEP we don’t think it accurately captures all the strengths and areas for improvement.  ESSA allowed states to develop measures of student achievement that are meaningful to them, and Arkansas’ plan was approved yesterday!

Now that Arkansas’ ESSA plan is approved, we look forward to its implementation.  One of the first orders of business is to determine the details for how Arkansas will assign  school grades (A-F) to be used in the school rating system and the school recognition program.

We believe that if policymakers and education leaders focus on meaningful data, like student achievement AND growth, equity and efficiency in the face of disadvantage, and post-secondary transitions, students in Arkansas can continue to improve and reach greater levels of educational and lifelong success.

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Where do Arkansas Students Learn the Most?

In The View from the OEP on December 13, 2017 at 2:06 pm

GravetteGravette school district has the highest rate of student growth in the state, according to data released last week from researchers at Stanford, with students learning the equivalent of almost a whole extra year in school between 3rd and 8th grade! You can see how well your school district did here.

The new study examined rates of achievement and growth for nearly every school district in the country using 300 million scores on 3rd through 8th grade English/Language Arts and math assessments from 2008-09 to 2014-15. (If you are interested in learning how the researchers were able to compare scores across states- see notes at the bottom of this blog.)

Achievement represents how well students score on state tests, while growth reflects the rate of change in achievement over time. Examining growth allows us to see how students’ scores change while students are in school, essentially measuring how much students are learning.

To determine where kids ‘started’, the researchers examined the average third grade achievement in reading and math.  The measure represents the average third grade achievement across seven years (2008-09 to 2014-15). In the map below, green represents districts scoring above the national average grade achievement, and purples represents districts scoring below average. Darker colors indicate greater difference from the average.

Figure 1. Average Third Grade Test Scores, 2009-2015NAtional G3

When we zoom in on Arkansas below, we see a mixture of green and purple indicating varied achievement throughout the state. In a few districts, 3rd graders are scoring the equivalent of 1.5 to 2.5 grades above the national average (represented by the darkest green), while 3rd graders in a some districts are scoring the equivalent of 1.5 or more grades below the national average (represented by the darker purple colors).

Achievement_g3_2b

ach legend

The orange circle on the figure indicates Spring Hill school district, where third graders were the highest achieving in the state, on average.  Appearing in dark green, Spring Hill students were more than 2.5 grade-equivalent units above average national achievement.

The red circle on the figure represents Gravette school district.  Colored light purple, Gravette third graders scored about half a grade below average, placing the district at the 43rd percentile for achievement.

Now that we know how well Arkansas’ students are achieving at the earliest tested grade, let’s see what the researchers found about how they grew while in school. The growth measure represents changes in reading and math achievement from 2008-09 to 2014-15 for cohorts moving from grades 3 through 8. In an effective school system, we would expect achievement to increase over time. The map below represents the rate of growth, with green being above national average growth rate, and purple being below average growth rate, with darker colors indicating greater difference from the average.

Figure 2. Average Test Score Growth Rates, 2009-2015

NAtional_growth

When we zoom in on Arkansas below, we see much more purple in the growth figure than we did in the performance figure. Throughout the state, only 19 school districts demonstrated growth above the national average (identified in green).  In the remaining 92% of districts in the state (identified in purple), students learned at a rate of less than one year per year.

growth_AR_2bgrowth legend

The orange circle again indicates Spring Hill school district, which, as we indicated previously, had the highest third grade achievement.  Appearing in dark purple in the growth figure, however, Spring Hill scores in subsequent years reflect very low growth rates over time.

The red circle represents Gravette school district.  Although third grade students were not initially high achieving, they grew at a faster rate than students in any other Arkansas school district. Colored dark green, students in Gravette experienced 5.9 years of growth in five years, ranking them in the 96th percentile in the country for growth in student learning.  Students learned the equivalent of almost a whole extra year in school by the time they were in 8th grade! Way to go Gravette!

If you are thinking that high growth is only possible for districts where initial student performance is low, consider the case of Bentonville and Brookland. Third graders in both of these districts score nearly a grade level above average, and serve relatively advantaged student populations (26% and 36% of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch, respectively).  So, although these districts have similar third grade student achievement, and serve similar populations, there are large differences in student growth by 8th grade: in one district the growth is high (5.3 years in 5 years, which is at 78th percentile nationally) and in the other it is low (2.7 years in 5 years, which is at the 11th percentile nationally). Growth rates for all districts are available here

There is a weak and negative relationship between third grade achievement and growth.  The Stanford researchers report a correlation of -0.13 nationally, but the in-state correlation for Arkansas is somewhat stronger at -0.19. The figure below illustrates the growth and 3rd grade achievement of Arkansas’ school districts.

Figure 2. Achievement Growth Rates by Grade 3 Achievement, Arkansas  2009-2015

AR Growth_Achievement_2a

You can see that no district where third graders are highest-achieving (more than one grade level above average) exceed average national growth.  You can also see, however, that only two of the districts where third graders were the lowest-achieving (less than one grade level below average) exceed average national growth.

You might be wondering about how charter schools performed.  In this research, charter schools are not reported separately as they were collapsed into the geographic district in which they were located.  While there were relatively few charter schools operating in Arkansas from 2008-09 to 2014-15, it is important to consider the possible impact on district achievement and growth outcomes.  Also remember that these data do not include any information about learning experiences happening before 3rd grade or after 8th grade, including high school graduation or college readiness. Test performance is a proxy for opportunity and achievement, and can be affected by many factors including what students have been taught and have learned, and how motivated they are to perform.

The big takeaways from this new research are:

Achievement: Arkansas school districts vary in 3rd grade achievement (we knew that) but the achievement is not consistently behind the nation (shown by all the green in the achievement figure).

Growth: Arkansas school districts vary in growth achievement and the rate of growth is consistently behind the nation (shown by all the purple in the achievement figure).  There are some districts, however, with growth rates that are above the national average.

The researchers recommend using caution when interpreting growth rates as pure measures of school effectiveness:

“It is tempting to think of growth rates in test scores as a rough measure of school district effectiveness. This is neither entirely inappropriate nor entirely accurate. The growth rates better isolate the contribution to learning due to experiences during the schooling years. Grade 3 average scores are likely much more strongly influenced by early childhood experiences than the growth rates. So the growth rates are certainly better as measures of educational opportunities from age 9 to 14 than are average test scores in a school district. But that does not mean they reflect only the contribution of schooling. Other characteristics of communities, including family resources, after school programs, and neighborhood conditions may all affect growth in test scores independent of schools’ effects.” (pg. 26)

Nonetheless, growth rates are closer to a measure of school effectiveness than average test scores. It is not unreasonable to think that the growth measures carry some signal regarding school quality. In particular, learning what conditions make high growth rates possible, and how we can spread those conditions to all students throughout the state.

 


Note on scaling:  Since states administer different tests and set their own standards regarding ‘proficiency’,  comparing student performance nationally required the researchers to create an achievement scale that was comparable across states, years, and grades. Using data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which is taken by a sample of students in every state every other year, researchers placed state achievement on a common scale. You can read more about this here

 

Hey School Board: Is Your District Successful?

In The View from the OEP on December 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm

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Here at OEP we think an informed school board is critical to the success of students in the district, so we are looking forward to presenting at the Arkansas School Boards Association annual meeting tomorrow in Little Rock.   Our presentation, “Is Your District Successful? Do You Have Proof?” is built to provide a road map for determining if your district is getting the job done.

Although sometimes folks think that the school board’s attention should be limited to the financial aspects of the district, under Arkansas law A.C.A § 6-13-620 (2012), school boards are tasked with several responsibilities, two of which are:

  • “Understand and oversee school district finances required by law to ensure alignment with the school district’s academic and facility needs and goals” and
  • “Do all other things necessary and lawful for the conduct of efficient free public schools in the school district”

So, school boards need to conduct EFFICIENT free public schools, or schools that achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. To determine if their schools are efficient, school boards need to examine both the inputs (financial resources supporting learning) and the outcomes (such as academic achievement, student growth, and graduation rate).

But how do school boards know if the community is getting a good return on the investments they are making?  Primarily, the board needs to determine a reasonable comparison group of districts to get a reasonable frame of reference for efficiency.

How do you pick which districts make a good comparison group? In our experience,  there is rarely a perfect match.  So here at the OEP, we choose districts about the same size with a similar percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch (FRL).  We focus these two characteristics because the percentage of students eligible for FRL is a proxy for students academically at risk, and in many of our analyses district size impacts academic outcomes.

We suggest you pick 5-8 districts that ‘look like’ yours- You can find this information here and easily sort the results based on:

1) Enrollment: Select a few districts that are slightly larger and a few that are slightly smaller.

2) % Eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL): Select a few districts that have higher FRL and a few that have lower.  Stay as close as you can- but ideally within a 10 percentage point difference above or below.

3) % Limited English Proficient (LEP): If you are one of the 90% of the districts in Arkansas that enrolls 10% or fewer LEP students, you don’t need to consider this, but if your district more that 10% English Language learners, you may want to consider this in your match since these students may face unique academic risks.

Sometimes districts want to be compared to who they play in football, or who is in their region, or who is down the street.  That’s fine, but START with similar districts.

Compare Inputs:

School boards may want to start by considering the inputs, or investments being made into the school district.

Here at the OEP, we suggest comparing per-pupil revenue, per-pupil expenditure (total and net current) and per-pupil instruction expenditures. You can access the data here, and put them in a chart like the one below.  It helps the interpretation to order the districts from greatest %FRL to least %FRL.

finances

We see that our ‘home’ district (represented by the gray bar) has a lower per-pupil revenue than similar districts, is spending average amounts per pupil overall, but is spending the least of comparison districts on instruction per pupil.

Another key input that the district will want to consider is teacher salary. The most recent teacher salary scales for each district are available here. Last week, the OEP released a report examining several comparisons of teacher salary (read the blog) and you can access the salary measures data here.

teacher salary

We see that our ‘home’ district is paying competitive salaries overall, so should be able to attract and retain quality teachers.

School boards should also consider comparing to similar districts on Student: Teacher Ratio, to determine if staffing is comparable.  We find that increasing student teachers ratio (even by one student) can allow more resources to fund higher teacher salaries.


Compare Outcomes:

School boards should also examine the outcomes of students in their districts. A key academic outcome is the percentage of students meeting grade level expectations on annual assessments.

Use ACT Aspire district-level data to compare student performance in ELA, Math, and Science.  You can access these data here, and put them in a chart like the one below.  It helps the interpretation to order the districts from greatest %FRL to least %FRL.  Interestingly, in this example, the district with the greatest % FRL (represented by the far left hand bar) often scores higher than districts serving fewer at-risk students.

ACT Aspire

Unfortunately, we see that our ‘home’ district (represented by the gray bar) has a lower percentage of students Meeting or Exceeding Expectations on the ACT Aspire than comparison districts of a similar size and serving similar rates of at-risk students.

Other outcome data that school boards should consider comparing to similar districts are:

  • NEW!  Just released yesterday from Stanford- see how your district’s student growth compares.  You can type in the name of your district in the box near the bottom of the article and check it out (more on this in next week’s blog)!
  • Student growth and school letter grades: Here at the OEP, we like to compare how much kids are growing in schools.
  • ACT: Now that all districts are testing all 11th graders, the results are comparable between districts, and we like the “percentage meeting readiness benchmark” as the indicator.
  • High school graduation rates: Since this measure has in been place for a while, we suggest looking at three years of graduation rates, for the overall population and for students at-risk (TAGG)
  • College-going rates: (NOTE: this rate only reflects graduates that go to school in state- you can read our thoughts about that here)

 


After examining a variety of inputs and outcomes for the school district, school boards should ask themselves: Are the schools achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense? 

If the answer is ‘No’, it is the board’s task to instigate change.

Developing a strategic plan will mean getting deeper understanding of where the challenges are, identifying clear, measurable (and reasonable) goals for the district, and making necessary changes to support the achievement of those goals. Turns out, focusing on the finances may not ensure that students in your district are getting the education the community expects.

Let us know how we can help!

 

 

Arkansas’s Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on November 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

teacher pay

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries? 

Here at the OEP, we have been asking these questions and are pleased to release our analysis of Arkansas teacher salaries! Both the Policy Brief and the Full Report include information about how Arkansas teacher salaries compare nationally, to other southern states, and to the states that border us. We also examine differences in teacher salary by region and what district characteristics are most associated with higher average teacher salaries.

Here’s what we found:

Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

When you do a straight comparison across the country, Arkansas’s average teacher salary of $48,220 ranks 40th out of the 51 states (including D.C.).  The highest average teacher salary of nearly $78,000 is paid to teachers in New York. Compared to the states surrounding us, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 3rd (out of 7- including us).

As you pack your bags to follow that high salary, you should remember that it will cost a lot more to live in New York.  We thought about that too, and adjusted the average teacher salaries in each state by the cost of living.  Arkansas’ cost of living is below average, so the adjusted average teacher salary of $54,733 is pretty close to New York’s adjusted salary of salary of $58,307 (plus, there’s less traffic here, which should count for something!). After adjusting for cost of living, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 20th in the country.  Arkansas’s cost of living adjusted salary is 2nd highest among the surrounding states.

Another way to examine the ‘value’ of the average teacher salary is to compare it to what other folks in the state earn.  We find that the average teacher in Arkansas earns 117% of Arkansas’s median household income.  This Median Income index ranks Arkansas’s teacher salary 7th highest in the country! You might want to keep packing though, because the average teacher in New York earns 132% of the median household income in NY, and take the top ranking in the nation. Compared to the surrounding states, however, Arkansas ranks #1 on this salary measure.

Here at OEP, we think the cost of living adjusted measure may be the most meaningful method for comparing teacher salaries, and we were excited to see how competitive the state’s teacher salaries are, especially when compared with neighboring states.

Which districts pay better than others in the same area?

We conducted a bunch of analysis examining teacher salary within and between regions of the state, and found that there are wide variations in what the average teacher earns. Regionally, teachers in the Central region of the state earn the highest salaries with an average salary in 2015-16 of $52,230, but Springdale School District in the Northwest region was the district that paid the highest average salary in the state at $59,143.

Located in the same region as Springdale, Mulberry’s average teacher salary was $35,460, indicating that the average teacher in Mulberry earned nearly $24,000 less per year than Springdale’s average teacher.

A quick check of ADE’s myschoolinfo shows that there are differences between the districts in the average teacher’s years of experience.  The average teacher in Springdale has 11.6 years of experience, compared to Mulberry’s 4.4 years. Since teacher salary generally increases with additional years of experience, we wondered if that was what was causing the difference?

We used district-level salary scales to compare what the average salary would be in each district if they all employed teachers with the same levels of experience and education. As opposed to the average teacher salary, which is directly effected by the experience and education of the teachers hired by the district, this “Scale Salary” identifies districts with the most (and least) ‘generous’ salaries overall.

Using this scaled measure, Springdale is the most ‘generous’ district in the Northwest region, although the average scale salary of $53,343 is lower that the raw average salary (reflecting that the raw average is inflated by higher than typical teacher experience and education levels). Mulberry’s average scale salary, on the other hand, increased to $36,417 and is not the ‘least generous’ district in the region.

Well, then we thought about the high teacher salaries in New York, and that maybe it costs more to live in some communities than others. Unfortunately, cost of living data are not available at the district level, so we used median household income instead. Under this measure, Springdale teachers earn 130% of the median income in the county, while Mulberry teachers earn only 82%.

You can see the full list of districts and the key salary measures in excel here.

Are certain types of districts more likely to pay higher teacher salaries?

Throughout the state, the scaled salary reduced the differences in average teacher salary, but substantial variations in pay teacher remained.  The median income of the counties also informed the salary discrepancies, but given that districts all receive the same per-pupil funding from the state (read more here), we wondered WHY districts were paying teachers such different salaries?

So, we did what we do and ran some analyses to determine if certain district characteristics. You can read the nitty-gritty details in the full report, but here’s what we found:

Student-teacher ratio and total district enrollment had the most significant, positive impact on average teacher salary. Per-pupil expenditure had a significant, but modestly positive impact on salary. In contrast, the percent of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch (FRL) had a significantly negative impact on teacher salary.

In practical terms:

  • Increasing student-teacher ratio would be expected to have the largest impact on teacher salary. In a district that employs 50 teachers, if each teacher’s class was increased by one student, the average teacher salary would be expected to increase by about $1,815, holding all other factors equal.
  • Increasing district enrollment would be expected to have a small impact on average teacher salary. While perhaps more difficult to increase, an increase in district enrollment of 100 students would raise average teacher salary by an estimated $53, holding all other district characteristics constant.
  • Increasing per-pupil spending by $100 is associated with a $102 increase to average teacher salary, holding other factors constant.
  • The impact of a 16% increase in district FRL results in approximately a $1,420 decrease in annual teacher salary.

School district leaders cannot control the number or the type of students who enroll in the district,  and they may be unable to increase per-pupil spending.  Student-teacher ratio, however, is something that districts can adjust. District leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible

Consider our example of Springdale and Mulberry. Springdale enrolls over 20,000 students, while Mulberry serves fewer than 350. The percentage of students who are eligible for free/reduced lunch is similar in both districts (71% and 75%, respectively).  According to myschoolinfo, Springdale’s student-teacher ratio is 15 to 1, compared to Mulberry’s student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1. Consider Springdale’s higher average scale salary of $53,343 and Mulberry’s lower average scale salary $36,417. Mulberry teachers actually get paid more per student than their peers in Springdale.

How can lower-paying districts find revenue to increase teacher salaries?

School district leaders have control over the number of teachers they hire, and therefore the number of students for which each teacher is responsible. In an effort for smaller or lower-paying districts to recruit high quality teachers with a competitive salary, they may consider increasing student-teacher ratios within their districts. There is some research to suggest that class sizes no larger than 17 students to a teacher are associated with increased student performance as measured by test scores, and it is worth noting that student-teacher ratio may not represent class size because districts may employ ‘teachers’ who do not work in a classroom with specific students.

The overall student-teacher ratio within the state of Arkansas is 11 students per teacher, and much smaller in some districts. Increasing the student-teacher ratio is one way that local school districts could re-capture revenue to use to increase average teacher salary. Each district has the opportunity and responsibility to establish their local salary scale and ensure that it is attracting and retaining high-quality teachers for their students.

 

November Education Committee Meeting — Little Rock, AR

In The View from the OEP on November 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

ar legislature

The educational sub-committee met on November 20th to discuss current issues in Arkansas education.  The bipartisan group meets regularly to create discussion, study research, and pass legislation to help the educational system in Arkansas grow stronger to support the diverse needs of the youth.  The agenda for the meeting showcases the wide array of topics discussed in the open session.

Prior to the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting, the floor was open for Senators and Representatives to discuss trips or conferences attended that recently occurred to learn more about education.  A recent trip to Germany was discussed in which their “apprenticeship” programs were studied in order to gain better understanding of their success.  While no specific programs or practices were discussed in this forum, it was clear that “business is the driving force of their educational system.”  The needs of the community, work force, and business at-large guides the decisions made for the development youth.

Too Much Paperwork? 

Senator Chesterfield submitted a request for an ISP (Interim Study Proposal) to study the correlation between excessive paperwork for teachers and teachers leaving the profession.  She had heard from administrators in her district about quality teachers that are leaving the profession due to large amounts of energy spent on routine administrative tasks that are distracting from their role in education.  Other comments and questions asked about other leading factors that are currently cited as causes of teacher attrition led the committee to make sure the language of the ISP was broad enough to find other data points.  There is strong evidence nationally from exit surveys regarding student behavior, lack of administrative support, and overall behavioral health being leading causes of attrition as well, according to comments from committee members.  The ISP was approved with no votes in opposition.

Learning from the “Top 10”

Senator Joyce Elliott shared her findings from the NCSL International study group. (National Conference of State Legislatures) in which they observed the activities, protocols, and patterns of the “Top 10” academic countries in the world.  She stressed the importance of every individual state in America needs to focus on steps to joining nations on that list.  The bipartisan study group was designed to find solutions to shared problems specific to education.  She gave a brief overview of the history of the NCSL and its mission.  She also discussed the history of education pitting nations against nations (i.e. “The Space Race”), rather than working together and with collaboration.  The nations studied were Ontario, Alberta, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taiwan.)

Comparison of Arkansas as well as the USA against educational outcomes in any of those 10 countries indicates a vast discrepancy.  Senator Elliott’s presentation cites the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) findings that America is showing little to no progress within key educational objectives.  The presentation debunked myths that are circulated as to why this might be occurring, like the argument that other countries only educate/assess their “best students.”  Senator Elliott indicated that no matter which population group America is compared to, the findings are the same (i.e. America’s best students vs. other countries’ best students, poorest students vs. poorest students, etc.).   Senator Elliott also spoke to the myth of America serving more immigrants that most countries while other countries in the Top 10 have higher numbers of immigrant populations.

The key lessons shared in the learning from other countries was that there was a laser focus on “where they wanted to be” as a country.  They made decisions, funding, and legislation with this focus in mind.  Initiatives and projects outside of this focus simply did not proceed.  Senator Elliott shared how this focus along with aligned assessment towards achievement of these goals led countries to increased success.

Senator Elliott also discussed that most countries do not view “career tech” as a lesser form of higher education.  She indicated that it is a viable pathway for learners that is held in high regard in the educational systems.

Senator Elliott shared that “If American did not compete in the Olympics, we would lose our minds.  What would happen if we had the same view of education.”   She spoke of the findings that other countries embrace diversity and practice equity.  They do not treat each student or organization equally, but they give each what is needed to support them.  There is also a strong belief among educators in high-performing countries that “equity” starts at birth, not the first day of school.

She closed with questions and comments supporting the finding of the study.  She gave the example of each component of the educational system that is a focused part of the study’s findings being like vital organs in the human body.  They must work together and have different jobs, but they are all equally important and impossible to function without one.

Full findings of the “No Time to Lose” study can be read here.

The “Indifference” Project

The committee heard from an Arkansas English teacher, Michael Hensley, on his annual class project at Alma High School.  This served as an example and highlighted the higher-level instructional practices around the state.   Representative Douglas spoke in favor of the teacher as she has worked with his class on this project.  He served students in her district, and he spoke highly of the support she has shown him.

Michael Hensley sought an activity that would engage his students in real-world challenges while still following the pace and content objectives within Arkansas curriculum.  He developed an open-ended project that allowed students to “choose something that is so important to them, that they cannot be indifferent about it.”  Then, through the project, the students are able to research, plan, and put into action a plan to create awareness.   While the project is still on-going, Hensley reports seeing strong levels of participation on a wide array of topics and interests.

This project was first highlighted with a student’s idea becoming a bill signed into law in April 2017.

Discussion of the Annual Report from the School Leadership Coordinating Council

Mr. David Cook, the Chair of the School Leadership Coordinating Council and the Director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy opened the session by introducing the annual report process.  (Download PowerPoint).

Program Lead Blaine Alexander and Research Specialist Jennifer Medeiros led the findings from the past year regarding their “Theory of Change” and “Strategic Plan Cycle”.  They seek to use a 4-point assessment scale to find the “current reality” of a school organization, and then they can develop a specific plan.  They understand the importance of creating systems changes, not just trainings for one part of the educational system.  They train superintendents, teachers, principals, and other educational stakeholders.

Superintendents Thelma Forte (Mineral Springs) and Jerrod Williams (Sheridan) spoke about their experiences and learnings in the Academy.  They felt that their success now as leaders can be attributed to the education and coaching they received in their past attendance in the Academy.

Parent Perceptions about Assessment

In The View from the OEP on November 8, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Gallup_ParentToday Gallup and NWEA released an interesting report about how parents and teachers think about assessments.  In this blog we are going to focus on parent perceptions about the amount of time spent assessing students, how frequently the results of assessments are communicated to them, and their feelings about the usefulness of assessments. The report is based on a survey of Texas parents, and provides some ‘food for thought’ about how Arkansas parents might be feeling about assessment.

Time Spent on Assessment Activities

The responses of Texas parents presented in the figure below reflect a nearly even split between those that think the time devoted to assessment is ‘just right’ and those that consider ‘too much’ time is being spent on assessment activities.

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Parent perceptions were split regarding teacher activities around assessment. The amount of time teachers spent preparing for and administering assessments was ‘just right’ for 42% of parents and ‘too much’ for 43%.   Only 13% of parents felt teachers spent ‘too little’ time preparing for and administering assessments.

Parents were somewhat more comfortable with the amount of time students spent taking assessments, with 50% reporting it was ‘just the right amount’, while 40% of parents felt that it was ‘too much’.  Only 10% of parents felt that students spent ‘too little’ time completing assessments.

The report highlights an interesting difference related to parents’ socioeconomic status. Parents from low- and middle-SES households are less likely than high-SES parents to say that teachers and students spend ‘too much’ time on assessment activities.

Communication about  Assessments

The responses of Texas parents reflect an understanding of when assessments are being administered, but a lack of understanding about why.  As presented in the figure below, nearly 3 out of 4 parents (73%) responded that the school did a good job of informing them when assessments will be conducted, but fewer than half felt that schools did a good job of explaining the purpose of classroom/ district assessments or the annual state assessment.

GoodJob

Additionally, more than half of the parents surveyed reported that teachers ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discussed their student’s assessment results with them (58%), and rarely give them feedback about how they can improve their student’s academic performance (56%).

Value of Assessment Activities

Given the reported lack of communication about student assessment results, it is not surprising that few parents believe that state assessments improve teaching or learning.  Nearly half (48%) of the parents surveyed reported that their child’s teacher was ‘effectively’ or ‘very effectively’ using state assessment results to meet their student’s learning needs.  Overall, only 32% of parents surveyed reported that the use of state accountability tests were improving students learning and only 31% reported improving the quality of teaching.

As can be seen in the figure below, interesting perception differences are again related to parents’ socioeconomic status. Parents from low- and middle-SES households are more likely than high-SES parents to say that their child’s teachers are effectively or every effectively using the assessment results to meet their student’s learning needs (64% to 41%, respectively).  Parents from low- and middle-SES households are also more likely than high-SES parents to say that the use of state assessments improves student learning (44% to 13%) and the quality of teaching (41% to 11%).

Value

A high percentage of parents surveyed support using assessment data to evaluate school performance (79%). Parents from low- and middle-SES households are more likely than high-SES parents to support evaluating school performance using assessment data (89% to 65% respectively).

How might Arkansas’ parents perceptions differ? 

Students in Arkansas spend much less time completing assessments than students in Texas.  Arkansas’ required annual assessments take about four hours for students to complete, while Texas students spend up to five days taking the state assessments.  Perhaps Arkansas parents would be more likely to think assessment activities were taking up the right amount of time, given the short duration of the annual assessment.

Arkansas parents may be just as unsure about the purpose of assessments as their Texas counterpoints, and Arkansas teachers may be just as unlikely to effectively communicate the results to parents. Nationally, about 1 in 3 teachers reports receiving training in communicating assessment results to parents, and less that half (41%) feel ‘very prepared’ to do so.

What would your parents say? 

Do your parents understand the purpose of assessments?  Do teachers explain how they are effectively using assessments to support student learning in their classrooms?  Are parents just mailed/handed the paper copy of their student’s ACT Aspire results or does the staff help them to understand what the information means for their student and provide suggestions about how they can help their child succeed?

Here at OEP  we found it particularly interesting that low- and middle-SES households reported more positive perceptions regarding assessment. We think this may be due to a greater use of assessment data in communications with these parents. Perhaps teachers communicate more effectively with them about how assessments reflect developing skills, while more affluent parents may being told that their (perhaps higher-performing) students are ‘fine’.

Upcoming opportunity? 

We expect Arkansas school ratings will be released before the end of the year, and we suggest making a plan for clearly communicating with your stakeholders surrounding the ratings.  Use the insights from the Texas parent survey to reflect on your communication, and be sure to address the purpose of state assessments, how the results are being used to support student learning, and the strengths/growth areas for your district/school.

 

Digital Learning- Is it working for students?

In The View from the OEP on November 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Digital_Learning

Many Arkansas students are participating in digital learning and here at OEP we are interested if they are benefiting- aren’t you?

Digital Learning is learning facilitated by technology that gives students some element of control over the time, place, path and/or pace of their learning. Digital learning is more than providing students with a laptop or tablet, as it requires a combination of technology, digital content, and instruction. Digital learning can be a blended instructional model that combines learning in a brick-and-mortar classroom with content delivered online, or full online learning, where all instruction and content are delivered over the internet.

Arkansas has supported digital learning through resource allocation and legislation since 2005. Arkansas is currently one of only a handful of states where every student is connected to the internet at speeds more than sufficient for digital learning. In addition, this year’s seniors must complete a digital learning course in order to graduate, and all public and charter high schools must offer computer science courses to students. This year, Advanced Placement Computer Science students students who pass the AP exam are eligible for up to $1,000 in cash. While not every school may have an AP Computer Science teacher on staff, students can enroll in a digital version of the course. Arkansas currently has 53 Approved Digital Learning Providers that offer nearly 1,000 digital courses to students in the state.

But are the current digital learning options meeting the needs of students? 

A new survey released yesterday by the Task Force on Quality Digital Learning Providers gives educators, parents, and students the opportunity to share their thoughts about how digital learning is (or isn’t) working in their school.

thumbs

It is important that stakeholders participate in the short and anonymous survey because the primary purpose of the Task Force is to make recommendations to improve the quality and educational benefit of blended and online digital learning for Arkansas students.  Data from the survey will be used to guide the ongoing work under Act 939, which requires a report the Arkansas State Board of Education.

Here at OEP we are pleased to be partnering with the Task Force to conduct the evaluation of Digital Learning Providers. We will be examining several aspects of Arkansas’ digital learning environment:

  • Availability: What online and blended programs are currently operating in Arkansas? How many students are participating in these programs? And what do the students ‘look like’ in terms of demographic characteristics, academic performances, and geographic location?
  • Educational Benefit: Are Arkansas’ online and blended learning program effective in terms of fostering students’ academic achievement and growth?
  • Quality: Are there differences in the quality of Arkansas’ online and blended learning program providers as measured by students’ academic achievement and growth?
  • Cost: What costs are associated with Arkansas’ online and blended learning programs and are there differences between the providers in cost to the state?

We are very interested to hear from educators, parents, and students about their experiences with digital learning in Arkansas! Please help spread the word about the survey.  We need to check and see if current options are supporting student learning, or if there is more that needs to be done to ensure students benefit from quality digital learning experiences.

 

 

 

College Deadlines are Looming- Who Enrolls?

In The View from the OEP on October 25, 2017 at 1:24 pm

It’s that time of year when many students across Arkansas are working on college applications. Do you know what percentage of high school graduates start their college adventure within a year of graduating high school?  Here at the OEP, we wanted to share this information and are releasing the college-going rates for Arkansas schools and districts here.

It is important to note that these percentages reflect only the students who enroll in a 2- or 4-year college in Arkansas, as no current data are publicly available that include students who attend schools beyond the state boundaries.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, 50.5% of students headed to an Arkansas college the year following high school graduation in 2015. The data have been reported for three years, which are presented by geographic region below.

overall_CG

While it is difficult to see a trend in just three years of data, here at the OEP, we like how the in-state college-going rate is fairly consistent across all five geographic regions despite variations in the percentage of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch.  Despite enrolling a population that is more likely to be eligible for the FRL program, a similar percentage of students from the Southwest region are enrolling in college as in the Northwest region.


College-Going by Race

College-going rate is also reported by race, and we present those graphs below to examine trends in enrollment and variations by region.  In 2015-16, across Arkansas 52% of White graduates,  34% of Black graduates, and 37% of Hispanic graduates enrolled in college. It is informative to examine rates by region:  While the percentage of White and Hispanic students enrolling in college after graduation is fairly consistent throughout the state, the percentage of Black students enrolling varied from 27% in the Northwest Region to 53% in the Southeast region.

White CG

In 2015-16, across Arkansas 52% of White graduates enrolled in college. This reflected a slight decrease from 57% in 2014-15. The rates are fairly consistent across all regions, and the Southwest region has seen continuous increases in while college enrollment over the last three years.

 

Black CG

 

In 2015-16, across Arkansas 34% of Black graduates enrolled in college. This reflected a decrease from 42% in 2014-15. The percentage of Black students enrolling varied substantially across regions; from 27% in the Northwest region to 53% in the Southeast region. Although only three percent of students in Northwest Arkansas are Black, (compared to 44% of students in the Southeast), we are concerned about the low college-going rates for Black students in the northern regions.

 

Hispanic CG

 

In 2015-16, across Arkansas 37% of Hispanic graduates enrolled in college. This reflected an increase from 35% in the prior two years. The percentage of Hispanic students enrolling varied somewhat across regions; from 27% in the Southeast region to 42% in the Southwest region. The Northwest and Southwest regions enroll the largest percentage of Hispanic students (20% of enrollment and 12% of enrollment, respectively), and we are pleased to see the continuous increase in college enrollment for those from the Southwest region.


College-Going at the District Level

Although enrollment rates are fairly consistent across the regions of the state, there is large variation by district. In 2015-16, KIPP Delta had the highest in-state enrollment rate at 77%, compared to the lowest college enrollment of 18%.

According to a recent poll, 89% of parents want their student to attend college. Here at the OEP, we don’t think that all students want to go to college, or that college is the best path for all students, but we do believe that all students should have the opportunity to make the choice.

We suggest that you examine your district/school’s college-going rate and ask some questions.

Higher rates of college-enrollment may indicate:

  1. Students who may be interested in college are being well supported to complete college readiness actions, like filling out the FAFSA and completing applications.
  2. Students are being academically supported to be prepared for college.
  3. Student are being given opportunities to increase their ACT score, which can result in higher levels of financial aid.

Lower rates of college-enrollment may indicate:

  1. Students are being supported in pursuing other Career pathways (unfortunately, Arkansas does not publish information on other post-secondary choices or the number of students who complete career and technical coursework, so this would be a guess).
  2. Students who may be interested in college are not being well supported to complete college readiness actions, such as filling out the FAFSA and completing applications.

 

Additional questions about college-going rates that are important to consider:

Are all demographic groups experiencing similar rates of enrollment? (You can check this out here).  If not, why not?

Are your graduates needing remediation when they get to college? (You can find this information here in the graduation rate section).

How likely are students from your district to persist in college? We don’t have this information!  In some other states, the first-year persistence rates are reported back to the district.

You can see how projections of Arkansas college-going enrollment compare to national projections here, but in order to really understand our students, we need to use data that finds and follows our graduates wherever they go to school. Here at the OEP, we are hoping for those data to become available, in order to provide us all better information about the college-going choices and success of our high school graduates.

 

 

Cash Rewards for Computer Science!

In The View from the OEP on October 18, 2017 at 1:13 pm

ARCSYesterday, the Arkansas Department of Education announced a program to drive more students to enroll and demonstrate success in a high-level computer science course. Students who complete an Advanced Placement Computer Science A course, and receive a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the associated AP exam are eligible for the cash reward!  According to the announcement, an Arkansas public school student can receive $1,000 for scoring a 5 on the exam, $750 for scoring a 4, and $250 for receiving a score of 3.

But the rewards don’t just apply to students!  Schools get money for each qualifying  score as well! Schools will receive $250 for each 5 on the AP CSA exam, $150 for each 4, and $50 for each 3.

Why is this important?

Advanced Placement Computer Science A is one of the highest-level Computer Science courses that has a quantitative assessment associated with it.  The course introduces students to computer science with fundamental topics that include problem solving, design strategies and methodologies, organization of data (data structures), approaches to processing data (algorithms), analysis of potential solutions, and the ethical and social implications of computing.

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are administered throughout the country in a wide variety of subjects. AP exams can serve as a consistent and nationally comparable measure of student content knowledge, and students are likely to be granted college credit for a score 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam. In an earlier blog about AP, we mentioned Arkansas is one of a few states that provide AP testing at no cost to students.

AP CSA exam results in Arkansas compared to the country

In 2016, 46,480 public school students across the country completed the AP CSA exam, and 63% received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  In Arkansas, 298 public school students completed the AP CSA exam, and 29% of students received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  If the new incentive program had been in pace, 14 Arkansas students would have received $1,000, 29 students would have received $750, and 44 would have received $250.

Females made up only 27% of AP CSA testers nationally, so Arkansas is about average with 23% of AP CSA exam takers being female. African American students were 6% of those tested in Arkansas, and only 4% of the national pool.

Increasing Access to Computer Science

Arkansas hit the national computer science education stage in 2015 with Act 187, which  requires that public high schools and public charter high schools offer at least one computer science course at the high school level. As presented in the graph below, Arkansas has seen a sharp increase in the number of students enrolling in, and the number of districts offering computer science classes.  From 2004-05 through 2012-13, about 300 students from 15 districts enrolled in computer science courses.  In 2016-17, there are over 6,600 students from 225 districts enrolled in computer science courses.

CS trend

 

BUT- not yet equitable access to AP CSA

Most of these students are enrolled in classes other than AP CSA. In 2016-17, over 24% of computer science students were enrolled in “Essentials of Computer Programming”.  Comparatively, only 338 (5%) of computer science students were enrolled in AP Computer Science A in 2016-17, and only 33 school districts offered the class. When we consider what type of district provides access to AP Computer Science, we see that they are relatively large (4,500 students on average) and that more than half of the districts that offered AP CSA were in Northwest Arkansas, while it was offered in only 2 districts in Southeast Arkansas.  Please note that all districts are allowed to offer AP CSA, and decisions about which courses to offer to students are made by individual school districts.  If your district isn’t offering this course- we would love to know why!

In order to be eligible for the cash reward, students must enroll in the AP Computer Science A course. A student cannot just learn the material on their own and pass the test, so what if their school is one of the 87% of districts that does not offer the course?

According to ADE, there are six digital providers approved to teach AP CSA, but we are still checking into how a student gets signed up.

Our thoughts:

Here at OEP we like the idea of incentivizing students and schools to focus on computer science, but we are concerned that not all students have the same access to the course.  We fully support students taking the AP exam, as it is a stable measure of student knowledge than teacher-assigned course grades, which are inconsistent across the state.  We would like to see the program changed, however, so students who do not have access to the course or who prefer to learn the material independently could still be eligible for the reward.

The student-focused goal should be the learning, not the seat time.

 

PSAT day! Are your students benefiting?

In The View from the OEP on October 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm
Throughout Arkansas today, many high school students are spending a few hours taking the PSAT.  Here at OEP, we are big on everyone understanding the purpose behind assessments, who is going to make what decisions based on the results, and how students can benefit from the assessment, so we wanted to review what the PSAT is, how it is being used in Arkansas, how it benefits (or doesn’t) Arkansas students, and what OEP recommends moving forward.

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is an assessment developed for high school students that measures skills in Reading, Writing, Language, and Math.  The paper/pencil test takes about 3 hours to complete.

How the PSAT is being used in Arkansas:

Arkansas school districts are not required to administer the PSAT, but if a district agrees to administer the test to all 10th graders, they can do so at no cost to students or to the district. The PSAT typically costs $16 per student, but the Arkansas State Board of Education approved covering the costs using at-risk funding as allowed by Act 989.
Districts do not have to offer the test to any student. Districts that want to test only select students on the PSAT can do so, but the district/student must cover the associated cost.
All 11th grade test fees are always the responsibility of the school district/student.

Some states (Deleware, Colorado, and Michigan) are requiring students to take the PSAT, and are planning on using the results in their state accountability system.

The PSAT is not required for Arkansas students, the results are not used in any aspect of the accountability system.  The PSAT administration does not replace the required 10th grade ACT Aspire administration in the spring, which is used as a measure in school accountability.

How the PSAT benefits Arkansas students:

Students can benefit from taking the PSAT in 10th grade in several ways.  The test serves as a practice for the voluntary 11th grade PSAT, which score qualifies you for National Merit Scholarship consideration. In addition, the PSAT is good practice for the SAT, a college entrance exam similar to the ACT, and required by some out-of-state colleges.
Participating in the 10th grade PSAT provides students and their schools with the opportunity to find out if students have the potential to be successful in Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  This can help identify students who may have been ‘flying under the radar’ for academic success in AP- and can serve as a particularly helpful tool for encouraging AP participation and enrollment of underrepresented academically prepared students. Schools and students receive AP Potential information in January, allowing time for students to discuss academic plans with counselors , teacher, and parents before selecting classes for their junior year.

A final bonus of PSAT participation in 10th grade is the opportunity to participate in Student Search Service, which connects students with information about educational and financial aid opportunities from nearly 1,700 colleges, universities, scholarship programs, and educational organizations.

When taken in 11th grade, the PSAT automatically enters students for consideration in the National Merit Scholarship competition.  From an initial pool of over 1.6 million students, this well-known program annually identifies 7,500 Merit Scholars to receive college scholarships.


What type of 10th graders are benefiting?

According to information provided by ADE, eighty-one (81) school districts elected to provide their 10th grade students the opportunity to complete the PSAT for free in 10th grade. This is less than one-third of the 262 school districts in Arkansas.

Although less than a third of Arkansas’ school districts are participating, nearly half of 10th graders in the state attend a participating district.  More than 17,000 10th grade students are getting access to a free PSAT, representing over $270,000 in test fees that are being covered by the state.

We were wondering about the characteristics of districts who chose to offer the PSAT to all 10th graders.  Overall, the districts seem representative of state demographics.  As a group the PSAT participating districts serve students whole are slightly more likely to be a minority than the state (47% of participating district students are minority compared to 36% of the state as a whole).   Participating districts also serve students who are about as likely to be participating in FRL as the state (60% of participating district students are FRL compared to 63% of the state as a whole).

Although the PSAT-participating districts look similar to the state as a whole, the program is not reaching some students.  Regional differences are presented below.

 

PSAT

District participation in the 10th grade free PSAT program is highest in the Southeast Arkansas, where over 50% of districts are participating, compared to the lowest participation of 21% in the Northeast region. In terms of overall 10th grade enrollment participation, Northwest Arkansas is providing free access to the PSAT to over 60% of 10th graders, but only 1 in 5 10th graders in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.

When examined by student demographics, we find stark differences in access by region.   Over 70% of African-American students will take the test for free in the Northwest and Central regions, but only 1 in 5 African American students in the Northeast region are getting the opportunity.  Over 80% of Hispanic students in Northwest Arkansas will take the test for free, as will over half of the Hispanic students in Central and Southeast. Less than 15% of Hispanic students in Northeast and Southwest Arkansas will get the opportunity.


What does OEP recommend?

Here at OEP, we like how the state is willing to support all 10th graders taking the PSAT for free, but wonder about how meaningful an opportunity it is for students.

It is certainly a meaningful opportunity for students who are going to re-take the PSAT in 11th grade and may be one of the 3% of students who get selected to participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition. It seems prudent to note that although finalists are eligible for scholarships from colleges or corporations, only 2,500 students nationally win scholarships from National Merit, and these are a one-time payment of $2,500.

So, for most Arkansas students, the benefit will come if districts actively USE THE DATA to identify students for possible enrollment in AP.  Enrollment in AP is particularly helpful if students are on the college-bound track, and if instruction in the course is high-quality. Due to the ACT Aspire testing, which is required in the spring of 3rd through 10th grades, teachers and counselors should ALREADY have good data about students and their academic performance.  ACT Aspire for 9th and 10 graders gives students a predicted ACT score, which is likely a much more relevant indicator of success for Arkansas students than if they are ready to take an AP class.

We think the state should continue to promote the free 10th grade PSAT opportunity to districts, particularly those in the Northeast and Southwest regions, where African-American and Hispanic students are unlikely to get access to the test and subsequent information.  We also recommend that the state examine how many students are being identified for AP potential who are not already enrolled in AP courses.  Perhaps the schools are doing a good job of placing students in appropriate courses!

Most importantly, we need to be sure we are using our resources effectively to provide the best quality college and career counseling to all Arkansas students.

We would love to hear your thoughts…