The methodology for the Arkansas Best Practices Study was created by the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA). NCEA currently facilitates Best Practices studies in 20 states, and has established a common protocol to be used in each state throughout the nation. The common school selection process and interview protocol allows for comparisons between state findings, with the overall goal of identifying best practices that would improve student achievement across the United States.
Schools for the Arkansas Best Practices Study were selected from a list generated by NCEA. A set of criteria have been developed by NCEA to categorize schools as high-performing or average-performing. NCEA uses three years of state criterion-referenced testing data in mathematics and literacy for continuously enrolled students. In order for schools to be considered high-performing, they must have tested an appropriate percentage of students in each grade, and must have met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). NCEA then regressed the number of students proficient in a given school on various demographic characteristics, including ethnic breakdown and percentage of free and reduced lunch, to obtain a residual for each school. The residuals were then adjusted by the continuously enrolled group size and the state mean of the same group. Adjusted residuals were ranked within low income deciles, as determined by the school’s percentage of low income (Free and Reduced Lunch) students and converted to percentile ranks. Schools were then identified as high-performing or average-performing based on their percentile ranks for mathematics and literacy. More information on the NCEA school selection process can be found at http://www.nc4ea.org/files/NCEA%20HP%20Selection%20Criteria.pdf.
Data for the Arkansas Best Practices studies were collected through interviews of district and school administrators, as well as classroom teachers. Additionally, districts and schools provided documentation to support and further explain the processes that occur within the district and at the individual schools. Prior to visiting each school, researchers visited school and district websites to gain additional documentation. Notes taken during the interview were used to clarify interview statements and context.
All interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and subsequently analyzed using rigorous qualitative methods. Each transcript was read and coded by two independent researchers to identify major categories within the three system levels, the five NCEA themes, and the supporting factors area of analysis. Once the major categories were established, specific characteristics of each high-performing and average-performing school were identified within each theme, and compiled into lists. The lists of characteristics were then compared in order to detect overall differences between high-performing and average-performing schools for each system level and theme. Documents were examined for confirmatory evidence, as well as to reconcile discrepancies or to clarify information provided in the interviews.
After completion of the data analysis, overall findings were organized into a 15-block (3x5) grid to allow for examination of data by school system level and theme. Case studies of each of the high-performing schools were then developed so that beneficial practices are outlined in more detail.