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Supporting postsecondary readiness and success for all students in Arkansas

Southwest | July 27, 2023

The darkened silhouettes of eight young adults are throwing their graduation caps in the air in front of a setting sun

Equipping students with the skills and education necessary for success after high school is a priority in Arkansas. Research shows that the highest level of education a person completes is associated with later-life employment, earnings, and economic stability.1 Yet not all Arkansas middle and high school students are equally prepared for postsecondary success, whether they decide to enter the workforce directly or pursue a college degree. In Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest's most recent work with the Arkansas Department of Education, REL Southwest found significant disparities in students' postsecondary readiness and success outcomes across several student groups.2

To support the state in its endeavor to prepare all students for their chosen postsecondary path, REL Southwest and the Arkansas Department of Education formed the College and Career Readiness and Success (CCRS) partnership. This partnership will support and study two state initiatives that focus on preparing students for postsecondary success: the Arkansas Initiative for Instructional Materials (AIIM) and Arkansas THRIVE. Continue reading to learn more about these two initiatives and how REL Southwest is supporting postsecondary success in Arkansas.

Supporting AIIM

Arkansas has long expressed commitment to high-quality educational practices, directing funds to purchase and support implementation of high-quality instructional materials (HQIM). In 2021, the Arkansas Department of Education implemented AIIM to ensure that "every student in Arkansas has equitable access to HQIM, grade-level instruction, and responsive practices."3 AIIM provides a variety of supports to educators, such as the Building Pathways to HQIM guidebook, which is designed to help school teams establish a districtwide process to communicate, educate, and build awareness of the value of HQIM. Other supports include professional learning opportunities to build educators' capacity to identify and implement HQIM at every stage of a student's K–12 experience. By improving instruction, Arkansas ensures that students receive the education and support necessary to graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

Arkansas defines high-quality instructional materials, or HQIM, as curriculum materials aligned to state academic standards that include evidence-based strategies, inclusive practices, and embedded teacher supports. These materials account for the needs and experiences of diverse learners who are actively literate, critical thinkers and are engaged in the community.

During the next four years, REL Southwest will build the capacity of the Arkansas Department of Education to evaluate AIIM by helping the agency acquire accurate information regarding the implementation of AIIM's HQIM. This information will help the department understand how well districts are implementing AIIM.

Arkansas THRIVE

Arkansas THRIVE helps districts develop and sustain a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) in Arkansas schools. MTSS is a framework for providing personalized academic, behavioral, and mental health supports that students need to be successful. A core component of the initiative is the Arkansas THRIVE Leadership Academy, which offers a professional learning opportunity for school leaders to learn how to support positive behavior and mental health in schools.

Arkansas THRIVE has the following goals:

  • Increase coordination of efforts that support behavior and mental health services and programs.
  • Increase capacity in developing and sustaining evidence-based MTSSs that address behaviors through a system of positive behavioral supports.
  • Develop the infrastructure that will best support the needs of the whole child.

Starting in the 2024/25 school year, REL Southwest will work with the Arkansas Department of Education to examine how districts' implementation of Arkansas THRIVE affects student disciplinary incidents, achievement, and college and career readiness and success.

Building on previous work in Arkansas

In our previous partnership, REL Southwest and the Arkansas Department of Education focused on improving high school graduation rates and students' postsecondary success in college, job-training programs, paid employment, or the military. Partnership activities informed the refinement of data dashboards by coaching agency staff on aligning Arkansas college and career readiness indicators with the Employability Skills Framework and on best practices for using data visualization to facilitate data use across multiple partners. In addition, the partnership collaborated on applied research studies that helped agency staff identify student indicators of postsecondary readiness and success as well as disparities in postsecondary readiness and success for students from different backgrounds.

The CCRS partnership, which will continue through 2027, will build on this body of work with the Arkansas Department of Education to support and test evidence-based practices to build educators' capacity to produce a high-quality learning environment for all students.

"We are excited to build from our prior descriptive investigations towards causal analysis, which can help the state assess the capacity of its interventions to create equitable pathways to college and career readiness and success," said Candace Hester, CCRS partnership lead.

Related resources

For more information about college and career readiness, see the following resources:


1 Carnevale, A. P., Rose, R. J., & Cheah, B. (2011). The college payoff: Education, occupations, lifetime earnings. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

2 Hester, C., Lazarev, V., Zacamy, J., Nardi, C., & Feygin, A. (2022). Student group differences in Arkansas' indicators of postsecondary readiness and success (REL 2023–145). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

3 The State of Arkansas, Arkansas Initiative for Instructional Materials. (2023). Building pathways to high quality instructional materials [Website].


Mia Mamone

Mia Mamone

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