University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Summer Summary

In The View from the OEP on August 12, 2015 at 9:37 am


As teachers and students throughout the state return to classrooms, here at the OEP we wanted to be sure everyone was up to speed on the significant events in Arkansas education that occurred over the summer.

  • Common Core is here to stay (at least for now):  The Governor’s Council on Common Core released its Findings and Recommendations.  The Council recommended that Arkansas keep the Common Core State Standards in place but conduct “a comprehensive review of the standards with the goal of revising, improving and replacing, as warranted, both the Mathematics and ELA [English Language Arts] standards.”  As Commissioner Key noted, ADE was already scheduled to review the ELA and mathematics standards as part of the annual standards review process.
  • ACT Aspire is the new test:  Students in grades 3-10 will complete the ACT Aspire in ELA [English Language Arts], Mathematics, and science beginning in April.  After some controversy, the State Board approved the new assessment system in early July.  ACT Aspire replaces the PARCC tests that were administered for the first time last spring, as well as the 5th and 7th grade Benchmark science exams, and the Biology End Of Course exam. For more information about ACT Aspire, see our policy brief and the ADE’s resources. New assessments are expected to be implemented next year for students in grades K-2, but 1st and 2nd graders will still be taking the ITBS this spring.
  • ACT free but not required: Although the reputation and national comparability of ACT were key points in the move to a new assessment system, the ACT is not a required assessment.  The test will be FREE for any 11th grader who chooses to take it, however, and can be used for all scholarship/ admission purposes. OEP suggests that all districts take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate their students’ readiness for College and Careers and promote the ACT for all students. We also hope that parents and students would take full advantage of this opportunity and sign up for the FREE ACT in March.
  • Science Standards approved: New science standards for Kindergarten through 8th grade were approved by the State Board in June.  Current Arkansas science standards remain in place for the 2015-16 school year, with the new standards being implemented next year for Kindergarten-4th grades and in 2017 for 5th-8th grades.
  • Arkansas granted one-year renewal of ESEA waiver: One immediate implication for Arkansas schools is that ADE will identify Needs Improvement Priority, Needs Improvement Focus, and Exemplary schools.  The Needs Improvement Priority schools include schools with the lowest performance over 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.  The Needs Improvement Focus schools include schools with the largest TAGG/Non-TAGG achievement gaps. PARCC results will not be used for these determinations this year.
  • Computer Science development:  Under Act 187, schools must offer at least one computer science course at the high school level beginning this school year.   ADE is reimbursing the $120 fee for the first 200 Arkansas educators who pass the Praxis™ Computer Science assessment and add the area to their Arkansas Educator’s License. While more teachers may be preparing to take advantage of this great opportunity for themselves and their students, 25 teachers attempted the test in July, and only 5 passed it. Many schools will still have to rely on virtual instruction options since they don’t have a teacher certified to teach Computer Science.  For more information about this issue, check out the ADE’s FAQ.
  • Broadband improvements: Improvements to the APSCN system are underway, with Ft. Smith School District the first to be connected into the new high speed broadband fiber optic cable.  All schools are expected to be connected by July, 2017.

OEP is looking forward to a great year for Arkansas students and educators!

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