- Arkansas submitted a clear, data-rich plan. The state has modeled a number of its decisions, including how many student subgroups would be included at various minimum thresholds and the distribution of school scores on each of the various accountability indicators.
- The state is placing a strong emphasis on student achievement and growth, including balancing an emphasis on grade-level proficiency with growth over time. In particular, the state’s weighted achievement indicator balances incentives for grade-level proficiency alongside incentives to help students advance performance levels no matter where they start out.
- The state deserves additional credit for an innovative list of school quality measures, including a focus on college and career readiness at the high school level.
- Arkansas has presented a clear vision, robust theory of action, and model for continuous improvement, and the state appears to have built extensive stakeholder consultation and feedback into its plan development process.
- While Arkansas has built out a robust list of school quality indicators, the number and the specific calculations behind them may confuse parents and educators, and the model may prove too complicated over time. Similarly, the state plans to combine school-wide student growth with growth on English language proficiency, which may have the effect of obscuring the performance of English learners.
- The state is also not planning to build subgroup performance directly into school ratings and will instead perform back-end checks to identify schools with underperforming subgroups. However, the state has not yet provided data estimating the effects of those rules on schools. Moreover, Arkansas will not identify schools with consistently underperforming subgroups until 2020-21, but it does not provide a justification for this (and it appears in conflict with federal requirements).
- While Arkansas has a well-defined theory of action around school improvement, it places a lot of emphasis on districts to take the lead. It’s not clear when, or if, the state would step in with more directed actions and evidence-based interventions in the event of continued low performance. The shift from directly intervening in schools in need of support to empowering and enabling districts to harness local, state, and federal resources for those schools in need of support needs to be carefully monitored.
- Finally, the state’s exit criteria for schools identified for improvement rely heavily on the state’s future definition of the phrase “upward trend.” Arkansas could strengthen its plan by clarifying what exactly it means by that and how it would know when schools had made sufficient progress.