Published: January 6, 2005
Standards and Accountability: The state has clear and specific standards in English, mathematics, and science, although the English and math standards are not clear and specific at the high school level. The standards in social studies/history are not clear and specific at the elementary, middle, or high school level.
Moreover, the state often lacks tests to match its standards. That gap contributes to the state’s merely average grade. For example, Arkansas has no standards-based science or social studies tests in any grade.
On the plus side, Arkansas uses a variety of test items at all grade levels. Assessments measure student knowledge with multiple-choice and short-answer items. The state also uses extended-response questions on English exams.
Arkansas uses its testing data to track school performance and hold schools accountable for student achievement. The state publishes report cards with test data and assigns school ratings based, in part, on test results. Low-performing and failing schools receive technical assistance and also are subject to sanctions.
The state does not have cash rewards for high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Arkansas has established a comprehensive system of teacher testing that continues after teachers enter the classroom.The state requires its prospective teachers to pass basic-skills, subject-knowledge, and subject-specific-pedagogy tests to earn their beginning licenses. When those teachers pass the tests and take over their own classrooms, they enter an induction phase that can last from one to three years and is financed by the state at $2,000 per teacher per year.
During induction, each new teacher is assigned a mentor. Induction culminates with a Praxis III performance assessment that measures the classroom skills of novice teachers through direct observations by trained assessors, interviews, and examples of classroom work. Once teachers pass the performance assessment, they exchange their initial teaching certificates for more advanced licenses.
In emergencies, Arkansas issues waivers that allow districts to assign teachers to subjects or grade levels for which they are not qualified.
The state is one of only three, however, that require schools to notify all parents when unlicensed or out-of-field teachers are assigned to their children’s classrooms. Most states have such a requirement in place only for schools receiving federal Title I money for disadvantaged students.
In addition, the state has established an alternative path to teaching called the Non-Traditional Licensure Program. Participants complete a two-year program that begins two weeks before they start teaching. They are supported by mentors throughout the program.
School Climate: Background data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress place Arkansas near the bottom in several categories. A relatively low percentage of students attend schools where officials report that absenteeism, tardiness, and lack of parent involvement are not problems at all or are minor problems. That result lowers the state’s grade.
Arkansas gains points for having a statewide system of open enrollment and a charter school law, although the law is considered weak by the Center for Education Reform. The state also includes safety information on school report cards and has a law in place intended to reduce school bullying and harassment. But Arkansas has not enacted specific penalties for students who commit acts of violence in school.
Equity: Arkansas has a positive wealth-neutrality score, meaning that, on average, property-wealthy districts have slightly more revenue than poor districts do. The state ranks 28th out of the 50 states for that indicator, and its score shows a moderate link between spending and property wealth. The state does slightly better on the other two equity indicators, the McLoone Index and the coefficient of variation. Arkansas’ McLoone Index is above average, and the state’s coefficient of variation of 11 percent indicates a moderate amount of disparity in funding across districts.
Spending: Arkansas has a below-average expenditure per pupil compared with the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, ranking 37th. That ranking, though, reflects a 12.7 percent increase in the 2001-02 school year over the previous year.
More than 45 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts where spending equals or eclipses the national average. The state ranks 31st on the spending index, a measure of the level of Arkansas’ funding relative to that of the other states and the District of Columbia. Arkansas spends 4.2 percent of its total taxable resources on education, which is higher than the U.S. average of 3.8 percent.
Vol. 24, Issue 17, Page 109