Rebuttal to Senator Argue's Guest Article/

Facts Don't Match His Spin on State of Education in Arkansas

Money and Court-Control Have Not Improved Education in Arkansas

(Note that Senator Argue or No Other Official Has Noted the 10% Drop in Graduation Rates in 2006)


Senator Argue is the most powerful liberal senator in Arkansas and sponsored all the major legislation on education for Republican Governor Mike Huckabee.  If Arkansas had a Ted Kennedy, it would be Senator Argue.  He is the one Huckabee teamed up with to get his education package through the legislature.


Arkansas has  become just like Russia and other dictator countries. Facts are being hidden and distorted, and  history is even being changed. People are being told only what the government wants them to hear. Below is an open letter I wrote to  Senator Argue in January of this year.  He knows the truth.  He doesn't like it, but he knows it. ( Look for an article soon showing how accountability records have actually been falsified!)


About the 10% graduation rate.  I hate to connect the welfare of children and their parents to money, but the opponents do.  Statistics show that the taxpayers subsidize each household headed by a dropout at an amount of about $20,000 a year.  Multiply 10% times the number of students enrolled  in Arkansas, and you get  46,639 students. Multipy that by $20,000 and it comes to mega bucks! The educational improvements were supposed to help our economy!  That was shouted from the rooftops.   When the reforms bring that type of dropout rate (which many teachers warned it would do) how can the reforms  improve the economy?  And few people will even know because the government and the  media won't tell them!


Senator Argue had a guest article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Sunday, June 24.  Argue's  article was an attempt to refute Eric Hanushek's guest article which was published the Sunday before criticizing the work of Drs. Larry Picus and Allan Odden and how experts and more money had not improved education in Arkansas or the nation.   Argue  proclaims that  Arkansas is making such progress that our schools are being noticed across the country and gives the following as the main proof of that.

Argue:  "For example, in 2000, shortly before the Lake View decision, only 14 percent of Arkansas’s 4 th graders were scoring at or above proficient in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP ) standardized test. In 2005, just five years later but after numerous school reforms and improvements, the percentage had risen to 34 percent. It’s not where we need to be, but we should celebrate our solid progress."

Other side of the story: In 2005 on the NAEP (same year Argue quotes above) only nine states in the nation scored lower than Arkansas at the 8th grade level.   Only sixteen states scored lower than Arkansas on the 4th Grade Reading NAEP Test in 2005. See this link for great detail on this and how the entire testing system in Arkansas has been corrupted and how there is no correlation in scores even among the NAEP test, the Benchmark tests in Arkansas, and the nationally normed test given in Arkansas.    Yet Argue says, " Arkansas is making such progress that our schools are being noticed across the country"

Arkansas reforms are being noted by politically correct leaders,  just like Kentucky's reforms were noted for years (even while their scores were plummeting) when they fit the politically correct philosophy of reforms (government control and more money).  President  Clinton proclaimed Kentucky was the lighthouse for educational reforms back around 1992. Arkansas is probably the fastest growing state in government control in the nation.  But only the process in Arkansas  is being praised - the real facts and scores are not being reported.   Has anyone seen anyone praising our 10% plus drop in graduation rates or the above facts? 

 Following amounts were added to K-12 education in Arkansas:


·        $380 million in 2003

·        $170 million in 05

·        $200 million in 06 in special session,

·        $277 million for school facilities just allocated August, 06.

·        The Adequacy Experts in August, 06  recommended another $340 million for the coming year.

·        Altogether that would equal $1,367,000,000 – ($1.4 billion) or an increase equal to a  3% sales tax in Arkansas. 


Link to State Graduation Rates 06 - Shows 71% graduation rate for this year (that is unless they change them before you have time to check them)

Link to graduation rate 05 for comparison:  81.3% at this link:

Link to 04 graduation rate for comparison: 81.6%


See this link for cost of subsidizing household of dropout students:

Below is an open letter to Senator Argue on Test Scores last year. 

Also see these links for other documented articles on false and deceitful information on Arkansas testing and accountability

See this link for "Testing System Corrupted, No Correlation Among NAEP, IBS, and Benchmark Tests

Link to :   "Money Wasted on Misguided Educational Reforms, Why Scores Are Lower Now Than When Accountability System Was Started"

Did We Win Olympic Medal on NAEP Scores or Did We Bomb Them - You Decide

See this lnk for "Real Truth Behind Those Low 4th Grade Benchmark 2005 Test Scores (only 33% earned achievement score of BASIC)

See this Link for Why did ADE Commissioner James Spins Low Test Scores

        See this link for Why Test Scores Are Lower in Arkansas  Now Than in 1984

        See this link for Arkansas Department of  Education Presents Deceptive Scores (03)

        ADE Director Ray Simon Gives False Information About Test Scores


Open Letter to Senator Argue on Test Scores (written January 15, 07)

An Appeal to Stop the Misinformation on Test Scores


Re:  The reported statement by the Southern Regional Education Board statement on Arkansas's marvelous improvement in academic performance; and  your reported statement:  "'Arkansas ahead of the national average on something; I don't think I've ever seen that,' Argue said."


Senator Argue,  just look at these apples in the Facts listed below, the scores back in 1984 to 1990;  and you will see higher scores in all those years, 1984-1990 on the nationally normed tests used for accountability purposes than those for this year.  Scores for 5th grades this year was 58% which is 9 percentile points lower than in 1990 and 4 points lower than in 1984 when the accountability system was set up in Arkansas.


The scores only started to dive when the government took over and started coercing teachers to use the new  educational fads – like telling teachers in staff development that "life is too short for long division" and using calculators before they learn the multiplication table, using projects for learning rather than textbooks, and many other such fads. 


I know the paper did report some remarks by you that could be interpreted as some skepticism on your part about the scores.  "Argue said he was at a loss as to why the education improvement came so quickly. 'We raised teacher salaries, but I don't think the improvement is from paying the same teachers more,' Argue said in an interview. 'The state's relatively new pre-kindergarten program has not had time to have much of an affect on fourth-graders,' he said."  I would certainly encourage you to follow up on that skepticism and get to the truth about why the criterion referenced tests are improving so much when all the other indicators as noted below are not matching that improvement.


Keep in mind that the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) controls the cut score on the benchmark tests where there is such improvement. The cutoff score for the 8th Grade Proficient was lowered 8 points in 2005, and the entire curriculum for all grade levels  has been co-opted using the released test items for the curriculum more and more every year.


I know it is hard to admit failure but when you look at the above scores and the following information it is unethical for the legislators to allow this false information to be given to the citizens whom they represent without straightening out the record. 


"Arkansas is making more progress than any other state in improving public school  students' academic performance, spokesmen for the Southern Regional education Board told legislators Thursday. " Arkansas New Bureau reported:


 Following is the other side of the story.


  • Test Scores on nationally normed tests  are 11 Percentile Points lower in 2006 than in 1990 (a 22% decrease)

  • Arkansas college Remediation Rate is 51.6% (46.6% in 1995); National Average is 33%

  • Only Nine States Scored Lower Than Arkansas in 8th Grade Math on NAEP Test

  • Only 28% of AR students pass test on AP courses, while 59.4% pass nationwide

  • Fordham Foundation Gives Arkansas an F on Standards

  • The National Report Card on Higher Ed. Gave Arkansas a  D+ In High School Preparation for College .  

  • Educational Reforms Have Cost $1.4 BILLION  which equals a 3% sales tax in AR 


See details and documentation below:


Ken James, State Department of Education Commissioner, also wrote a guest editorial, Sept 10, 06,   for the Democrat Gazette.  James said, “Never in this state have we been able to boast the academic progress we’ve experienced in the last few years. To be able to do so in such a short time is nothing short of amazing.” See this link for article 1


FACTS: The composite score for 7th graders on the nationally normed test (ITBS) just released for this year  is 50% - 11 percentile points lower (a 22% decrease in  scores)  than in 1990, and 7 percentile points below 1984 (a 14% decrease)  when the accountability system was set up in Arkansas billions of dollars ago.  Score for 5th grade this year was 58% which is 9 percentile points lower than in1990 and 4 points lower than in 1984 when the accountability system was set up in Arkansas.  Another paper reported that Ken James was jubilant over the scores this year.  And 8th and 9th grade were below 50% on this test even this year. See this link for more details on these scores: article:  2 


James said: "For the first time ever, Arkansas students scored at or very near the national average on The Nation’s Report Card the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP )."


Fact:  Only 22% of Arkansas students scored proficient or above on this 8th grade math NAEP test to which James is referring in 2005 - only nine states in the nation scored lower than that.  Only 34% of Arkansas students  scored Proficient or above on the NAEP 4th grade math test  in 2005;  29% scored Proficient or above in  4th grade reading and 26% in 8th grade reading.  Only twelve states scored lower than Arkansas on the 8th Grade Reading  NAEP Test in  2005. Are these scores something to brag about and do they sound like national averages?  For more explanation and links to the scores, see this link: 3


James said Arkansas has become "a model for other states to replicate in terms of Advanced Placement policies." 


FACTS: A recent article reported that in Arkansas 28% of the students score a 3 or  above on a 5 point scale while 59.4% of students in the nation score 3 or above.  Students can earn college credit only  if they score a 3 or higher on the exam.   What a model Arkansas makes! 4


James said: " The number of students scoring proficient or above on Arkansas Benchmark test scores increased this year across all racial groups in all grade levels in both subjects with one exception—6th grade literacy for Hispanics."


Facts:  Please remember that benchmark tests are designed by the ADE and they can make them as hard or as easy as they want.  "Arkansas Education Commissioner Ken James on Monday defended Arkansas’ Benchmark and End-of-Course exams against suggestions made by the U. S. Department of Education that the tests given to more than half of the state’s students every year may be too easy," according to a newspaper article.


 Just how high is the bar or cutoff scores for Basic on the "easy"  Benchmark Tests now after the bar was raised last year?  Starting this year, those 4th grade math students  have to reach that whopping  high  score of 32  points out of 80  in math (a 40%) to make Basic on these so called rigorous benchmark tests.  Third grade math students only had to get 23  out of 80 pts to score Basic.  (Teachers are required by the ADE to give an F to any  student who scores anything lower than a 60 percent.)  Further, the cutoff score for 8th grade Proficient was lowered 8 points this year.    I chose Basic achievement level here for comparison because ADE chose to use Basic scores to tout their good scores on the ADE website.


Cutoff Score for Basic Achievement Level in Math on Arkansas Benchmark Tests after the Bar Was Raised, Fall 05.  (Of  80 possible raw points)




Percent Score

Grade 3

23 out of 80 pts.


Grade 4

32 out of 80 pts.


Grade 5

31 out of 80 pts


Grade 6

30 out of 80 pts.


Grade 7

28 out of 80 pts


Grade 8

30 out of 80 pts

38%  6

This is the link for this year’s cutoff scores but not for previous years


FACT: The college remediation rate in Arkansas for 2005 is 51.6%.  The national average remediation rate is 33%.  In  1995-96 Arkansas college remediation rate was 46.6%.  Why is the remediation rate increasing if  our educational  reforms are  working so well? Yet, Ken James says, “Never in this state have we been able to boast the academic progress we’ve experienced in the last few years. To be able to do so in such a short time is nothing short of amazing.”  7


Perhaps the following information will give a clue as to why the college remediation rate in Arkansas is still so high. "Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Arkansas’ world history education standards an “F” because the 2000 standards don’t refer to specific world events and provide no guide to what high school students should know by the time they graduate…. The standards used in Arkansas received 25 out of a possible 110 points (that's a failing grade of  22%)  for the content or material identified to be taught in its world history standards, and 13 out of a potential 60 points (that's a failing grade of  21%)  for instruction or the approach in the standards to teaching in a way that is of interest to students.  


"The institute has routinely given Arkansas’ education standards low grades. The same set of history standards earned an F in 2003 for treatment of American history. It also gave the state an overall F in a 2000 study that covered standards for five subjects." The Fordham Foundation is a well known nonprofit, Washington-based institute headed by Chester E. Finn Jr., an assistant U. S. secretary of education in the Reagan administration.  8


FACT: To add to that dismal information, "Arkansas received a D-plus in how well high schools in the state prepare students for college-level work according to 'Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education'.   "The report also noted that a small proportion of 11th- and 12th-graders scores well on Advanced Placement tests and college entrance exams. Only 133 out of every 1, 000 high school graduates scored in the top 20th percentile nationally on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams."    9


FACT: Ken James did get one thing right in his guest article when he said, " Funding for schools has grown dramatically."   


 Following amounts were added to K-12 education in Arkansas:


·        $380 million in 2003

·        $170 million in 05

·        $200 million in 06 in special session,

·        $277 million for school facilities just allocated August, 06.

·        The Adequacy Experts in August, 06  recommended another $340 million for the coming year.

·        Altogether that would equal $1,367,000,000 – ($1.4 billion) or an increase equal to a  3% sales tax in Arkansas.   10


As a retired teacher am I disillusioned with education in Arkansas?  No, not with education as such, but I am definitely disheartened and angry with the deceptive  government education reforms and the tax burden that is being imposed on the citizens of Arkansas and making students hate school and causing teachers to leave the profession.  I am joined by a vast majority of other teachers in Arkansas. In an Arkansas teacher survey in 2000 and another in 2003,  87% of teachers said, "The recent educational reforms have contributed to more job dissatisfaction or caused me to look for other employment." (86% in 2000 and 87% in 2003)  11


I believe that educators for the most part have done a terrific job in overcoming the burdensome hurdles they have had to overcome with all the faulty curriculum, excessive paperwork, absences from school to participate in all the worthless staff development, and other things imposed on them by government control?


Where do we really stand on education today in relation to the rest of the nation?  Probably about the same place we stood twenty years ago before they started all the educational reforms and wasted hundreds of millions on educational reforms.  The testing system has been so corrupted that the tests prove nothing any more.   See this article for details on how tests have been corrupted.  12


Arkansas is a poor state.  Isn't it statistically proven that students in poor districts score lower than those in more affluent districts? Why should it not be so with states?  No amount of money in the world will change the culture and emphasis on education by the parents.

There are ways that could help change that.  However,  forced government control; forcing teachers out of the profession; taking away the community schools; making students hate education by reducing them to a test score and reducing the curriculum to the three T's - test, test, test; and tying the hands of teachers so they are unable to use the gift of teaching with which they have been endowed by their Creator will never help the situation.  We teachers don't have to be very visionary to know without a doubt (like most of us knew in the beginning of the reforms)  that educational reform as we know it in Arkansas will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER succeed.  See these links for teacher and superintendent surveys that tell you how educators feel about the reforms. 13 


Debbie Pelley


1. "State's Education Reforms Working", Ken James Special to Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sept 10, 06


2."Nationally Normed Test Scores 11 percentile points lower than in 1990 Yet ADE Commissioner Ken James is JUBILANT",  Arkansas Democrat Gazette,


3.  "Arkansas NAEP Test Scores -Did we win the Olympic Gold Medal on the NAEP, or did we Bomb It? You Decide!"


4. " High-level classes rise, test scores still lagging" by Heather Wecsler August 30, 06, Arkansas Democrat Gazette


5.  Exam 'very difficult' state school chief says by Cynthia Howell, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, July 11,06


6. "Recommended Grade 3-8 Benchmark Cut Scores "  ADE website


7.  Kids Count Bulletin, February 1998, Volume 2,, Number 2, "Arkansas is Preparing More College Ready Students"


8. " How World History is Taught Gets Arkansas an "F" in study by Cynthia Howell", June 6, 06,  Arkansas Democrat Gazette


9.  "Road to college track found rough in the state" by Carolyne Park, Sept 7, 06, Arkansas Democrat Gazette


10.  For $752 million of this amount. "Progress or retreat on education?" by Jim Argue Special to the Arkansas  Democrat Gazette, May 15, 2005;  Some figures in this article changed.

Ark. Legislature overrides Huckabee veto, by Andrew DeMillo, AP Writer, April 21, says During the five-day session that ended April 7, 06  lawmakers directed nearly $200 million to the state's 251 school districts, raised the state's minimum wage and banned smoking in most workplaces.

 $277 for school facilities -  "School building costs rise for state" by Cynthia Howell, August 31, 06,  Arkansas Democrat Gazette

 "Add $341 million for schools in ’08, consultants urge by Seth Blomeley, July 21, 06,  Arkansas Democrat Gazette


11. Teacher Survey Summary - How Teachers Really Feel About Educational Reforms


12.  Testing System Corrupted,  No Correlation Among NAEP, ITBS, and Benchmark Tests


13.  Teacher Survey Summary - How Teachers Really Feel About Educational Reforms

Arkansas Teacher Survey Results May, 2003

Survey Result Of All Superintendents In Arkansas And Comments, May, 2003







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