University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

News From The Capitol: February 26, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 26, 2015 at 4:31 pm

 

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This morning the House Committee on Education recommended Do Pass on a resolution to recognize teachers with national board certifications and bill that would provide a waiver from consolidation.

Teacher Recognition

Rep. Clark Tucker presented HR1025 that would honor Arkansas teachers who have achieved National Board Certification. The resolution moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. Board certified teachers will be at the state capitol on Monday, March 2.

School Consolidation

Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1263 that would provide a waiver from consolidation for a school district with fewer than 350 students that is not in fiscal, academic, or facilities distress. The bill would not affect already-consolidated schools. Several representatives expressed concern that schools with fewer than 350 students may not meet the court-mandated requirements for adequacy. Arkansas Education Association Executive Director Rich Nagel spoke against HB1263, saying that the outcome of pending legislation on accreditation and minimum standards may affect this bill. Renee Carr, Executive Director of the Rural Community Alliance, spoke in favor of HB1263 and said that students and families of consolidated schools “have not been well served.” Former representative Randy Alexander also spoke for the bill, highlighting research findings that he said do not support consolidation’s supposed benefits of academic achievement and cost efficiency. After lengthy and vigorous discussion, the committee voted to recommend Do Pass, and HB1263 moves to the full House.

 

Several K-12 related bills moved through the Senate today.

School Choice

The Senate passed SB179 that would allow a K-12 student to attend school in a nonresident district. The bill also stipulates that districts declaring exemption because of desegregation orders must provide a copy of the federal order to the Arkansas Department of Education. SB179 moves to the House Committee on Education.

Make-up School Days

The Senate passed HB1313 that would allow schools to make up missed time in 60-minute increments. Districts would still have to submit a plan to ADE for approval. Now awaiting the signature of Gov. Hutchinson, this legislation has an emergency clause that would apply its provisions to the current school year.

Leadership Training

The Senate passed HB1382 that would permit the Arkansas Leadership Academy (ALA) to form partnerships with public or private entities, such as corporations or local chambers of commerce, to enhance leadership development opportunities for public school stakeholders. This bill also moves on to the governor’s office for approval.

Live Streaming

We recently reported in error that both the House and Senate education committees provide live video streaming of their meetings. In fact, only the House of Representatives offers live video streaming of committee meetings. The House also provides live video streaming of its sessions; Senate sessions are  live streamed in audio. We apologize for the error.

 

Arkansas Report Card: 2014

In The View from the OEP on February 25, 2015 at 11:28 am

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Each year, the OEP releases an annual “Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools” highlighting student performance on statewide and national standardized tests, examining the achievement gaps in Arkansas, the states that border Arkansas, and the nation.

Arkansas is entering a new phase for K-12 education. All students in Arkansas public schools are now being taught new standards, and this spring students in grade 3-11 are planning to take new assessments. Changing the standards taught and how student performance is measured is difficult, but Arkansas is committed to preparing students to leave the K-12 school system ready for college and careers.

In addition to administering new assessments, this spring schools are going to be ‘graded’ on their performance. Intended to help parents better understand how their local schools are performing, the A-F grades include a wider set of criteria than the prior school rating system and provide meaningful measures for parents and stakeholders.

As we reflect on Arkansas K-12 performance, there are several areas of success to highlight:

  • Pre-Kindergarten: In national reports, Arkansas gets high marks for access to, spending on and quality of pre-kindergarten programs.
  • High School Graduation Rates are above the national average and continuing to increase.
  • Education funding is consistently supported in the state budget, and progressive for regions in need of support.
  • ACT scores in English, reading and science are closing in on national averages, and almost all Arkansas high school graduates are taking the test.

Of course, there are also areas for improvement:

  • Math and literacy proficiency rates on state assessments have been stagnant or declining over the past three years. The declining results could be due to the mis-alignment between the new standards and the old assessment (ACTAAP), but student performance has also declined on the ITBS.
  • The achievement gap between students who participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch program and and their peers who do not, is relatively unchanged over the past several years.
  • Arkansas continues to lag behind the national average for 4th and 8th grade students as measured by the NAEP, and for high school students taking the ACT.

Pre-kindergarten and high school completion targets are examples of policies that have made a real difference to Arkansas students. The continuing financial support of the K-12 education provides Arkansas students the opportunities to learn and grow every day. While students have demonstrated increased performance on standardized assessments overall, for the past several years there has been little growth and the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students persist. Moreover, there are several schools around the state that continue to struggle to serve students year after year.  Simply put, education leaders need to do better for the students who need school the most.

New and innovative models for teaching and learning should be implemented and rigorously evaluated for their impact on student achievement. Effective school leadership and quality classroom teachers are critical to student success, and we need to continue to support the development and retention of quality educators. Changes in state assessments may make it more challenging to measure student progress and track the effectiveness of the K-12 education system, so it is important that stakeholders use a variety of methods to monitor student progress. By working together to discover the path to success for each and every student, educators and policy makers will ensure Arkansas students are ready for college and careers!

Take a look at the 2014 Report Card on Arkansas Public Schools and leave us a comment. Tell us your thoughts or suggestions for how we can continue to improve education for Arkansas students.

News From The Capitol: February 24, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 24, 2015 at 2:07 pm

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The House Committee on Education met this morning and heard bills on the use of virtual meeting attendance by school board members and on student expression of religious beliefs in public schools.

School Board Meetings

Rep. Ron McNair presented HB 1419 that would allow school boards to adopt a meeting attendance policy permitting a member to participate remotely, to count towards a quorum, and to vote. McNair gave an example that a board may need to meet the week school starts to approve a hiring decision but lacks a quorum because members are out of town. Representatives expressed concern that the bill does not specify any limitations on how often a member can participate remotely, making a policy intended for exceptions to enable a new norm. McNair pulled the bill to make changes addressing committee members’ concerns.

Student Religious Expression

Rep. Justin Harris introduced HB 1273 that would create more uniformity in the way schools address issues of religious expression by students. Harris offered instances in which students have been prohibited from communicating their “deeply held religious beliefs” through homework assignments, art projects, jewelry or clothing. Harris said the bill is consistent with federal law and case law on student freedom of expression. After a lengthy discussion of the need for additional policy and the possibilities for unintended consequences, the bill failed.

Upcoming Meetings

The Senate Committee on Education meets on Wednesday and the House education committee meets again on Thursday. House and Senate sessions and committee meetings are streamed live and also recorded for later viewing. Follow the links on the home pages of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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