Greater Opportunity Through Innovative Change


Enacting accountability measures within Arkansas' K-12 public school system has been a long-term goal of the Policy Foundation (APF). In 1998, after studying the issue for three years, an APF panel that included former administrators and teachers made the following recommendations:1

  • Enactment of an Arkansas Educational Accountability Act mandating the use of national norm-referenced tests such as the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) at lower grade levels.

  • Adoption of the following pass-fail promotion standards: (Third grade) students must pass the SAT's reading section; (Fifth grade) students must pass the SAT's reading and math sections; (Seventh grade) students must pass the SAT's reading, writing and math sections. Students failing to meet these promotion criteria will take mandatory remedial classes during the next summer school and retake the appropriate SAT test. Students failing the test will be retained in grade.

  • Enactment of the following school district academic ratings and triggers for acclaim or sanctions: (Successful) majority of students scoring 10 or more percentage points above the 50th percentile (SAT) on reading-comprehension-writing and math; (Competent) majority of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile; (Weak) majority of students scoring between the 40th and 49th percentiles; (Academic Alert) majority of students scoring between the 30th and 39th percentiles; (Distress) majority of students scoring below the 30th percentile. The state Department of Education must intervene after two years of no improvement in districts rated in "distress."

Five years after APF's recommendations 50 percent of Arkansas fifth grade students; 49 percent of seventh grade students; and 53 percent of 10th grade students scored in the 50th percentile or lower on the full SAT battery. APF supports reform for this reason. The proposal is supported by an emerging coalition of parents, businesses and civic leaders who will no longer tolerate the K-12 system's failures.

Act Would Increase Accountability, Reward Performance

The Act proposes performance measures to increase accountability within Arkansas' K-12 system. Each school's academic performance would be graded from A-to-F with a 'C' grade representing a school that is providing an "adequate education." Schools receiving an 'A' or 'B' grade would be eligible to receive performance-based funding awards in the amount of $100 per student for each of these grades. Parents whose child is attending a school that receives a 'D' or 'F' grade for academic performance for two consecutive years would be able to transfer them to a school providing an adequate education with taxdollars following that student. A system of sanctions would be developed for schools and districts that continue to receive 'D' or 'F' grades.

Act Would End 'Social Promotion'

The Act would end the disturbing practice of "social promotion" within the K-12 system. Students in need of remediation would be identified and required to perform at their grade level before being promoted to the next grade. The existing system harms children by promoting them without basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics. Under this flawed system of public education many poor Arkansas students are sent into the world without the education necessary to survive let alone compete in a global economy. The inability of high school graduates to perform basic math is an indictment of a system failing the weakest in our state.

National Norm-Referenced Testing Must Be Used In Arkansas

The key element of the proposal is providing information on the performance of Arkansas students compared with other students from across the United States on national norm-referenced tests.

The use of national norm-referenced testing is the Act's centerpiece. State benchmark exams developed by the Arkansas Department of Education are inadequate performance measures. They fail to set high standards, especially in the area of mathematics. Failure to use national tests such as the SAT or Terra-Nova to measure performance would interfere with the Act's stated purpose of increasing accountability in the K-12 system.


1 "Streamlining And Cost-Saving Opportunities In Arkansas' K-12 Public Education System,' Arkansas Policy Foundation, September 1998.