Northwest Arkansas Students Outperform Peers Across Natural State

Northwest Arkansas students are outperforming their peers across the Natural State, a new education report card shows.

The 2014 Northwest Arkansas Report Card, which was made public today, is published by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council. The report card shows Northwest Arkansas students are performing well above state and national averages on tests that measure reading, math and science.

The report incorporates information on student performance, graduation rates, and district financial information from a variety of publicly available resources, and it presents the information in a “district dashboard” format that makes it easy for educators, school administrators, parents and state lawmakers to see how the region’s school districts are performing.

“It can be difficult to locate reliable information about school districts, so this report provides the key information about all our regional districts in one place,” said Gary Ritter, faculty director for the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy. “Information on school performance shouldn’t be limited to those who are experts in education. We hope to push discussions and ensure that policy decisions are made with informed data.

“When we look at all the data, we see that Arkansas, and especially Northwest Arkansas, is providing good schools. Arkansas’ high school graduation rate is above the national average, and our students score above the national average on reading, language and math.”

The Northwest Arkansas Council is a partner in the report’s publication because it allows newcomers to see what’s occurring in the region’s school districts. Strong educational systems are critical and the region’s largest employers have expressed the need for school-related information they can share with job candidates being recruited to Northwest Arkansas, said Mike Malone, the Council’s president and CEO.

The 32-page Northwest Arkansas Report Card provides information about how students in 15 school districts and three charter schools are performing. Information about enrollment growth, per pupil expenditures, student-teacher ratios, high school graduation rates, test scores and student demographics is included for each district.

“What’s clear is that Northwest Arkansas is home to a variety of high-quality public school districts and choices,” Ritter said. “There are smaller districts, bigger districts, and several open-enrollment charter schools, and they each have their own strengths. One district might have very high graduation rates while another can boast excellent student test scores. Families can choose very small schools or large and diverse districts. There are also innovative learning opportunities like Pea Ridge Business and Career Academy here as well.” There are other education-focused reports available that could be used for a more detailed evaluation of school districts. Those reports are available on the Office for Education Policy website.

The publication of the Northwest Arkansas Report Card is one of several education-related efforts involving the Northwest Arkansas Council, a nonprofit organization establishing in 1990.

The Council helped establish several education-focused programs in the region, including Razor C.O.A.C.H., a program to assist at-risk students in pursuing educational and career opportunities after high school graduation; Graduate NWA, a program to help nontraditional students complete college degrees and technical certifications; Reach Out NWA, a program to encourage high school dropouts to return to the classroom; and the Northwest Arkansas Higher Education Consortium, a mechanism to allow the region’s colleges and universities to work together on programs of mutual interest.