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FARMINGTON -- Officials with the Arkansas Department of Education will form a committee within several months with broad representation to develop a state plan for schools, Commissioner of Education Johnny Key said Thursday.

The department will identify educators at all levels to participate in subgroups of that committee, Key said. The state plan will respond to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that passed in December. The plan will serve as the department's agenda when the state Legislature meets in 2017, Key said.

Every Student Succeeds Act

• Signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10.

• A rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replacement of No Child Left Behind.

• States must set long-term goals for student achievement, high school graduation rates and English language proficiency.

• Accountability systems developed by states will include multiple measures, including student test scores, at least one indicator of school quality, a measure of student growth for elementary and middle schools and graduation rates for high schools.

• States must improve the quality of low-performing high schools.

• Academic content standards must challenge students and prepare them for course work in colleges. Standards also must be relevant to state career and technical education standards.

Source: Alliance for Excellent Education

Key discussed priorities of the Education Department during a monthly meeting of superintendents and top school officials at the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative. Sixteen superintendents in Benton, Washington and Madison counties comprise the cooperative's board.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was a renewal of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The previous version of the federal education law was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

No Child Left Behind and subsequent federal programs, including the Race to the Top grant program, drove the direction of public schools for years, said Charles Cudney, the Farmington cooperative director. The federal policies affected testing of students and accountability for schools and districts.

The Race to the Top program was started by President Barack Obama's administration in 2012 and offered $4 billion in incentives that encouraged states to change education systems, including the adoption of "college and career ready standards."

The new law gives states more control over those issues, Cudney said.

"We're kind of at the front end of that," Cudney said.

The discussion with Key indicated the commissioner wants to involve school districts, community members and businesses in developing the state plan, Cudney said.

"Schools are very interested in being partners with the Department of Education as they develop their new compliance plan so that it can be Arkansas-focused," Cudney said.

Greenland Superintendent Larry Ben, president of the cooperative board, likes the emphasis of the new law. He thinks the discussions will energize community members who don't realize the influence they have on schools.

"I like the local control and local decision-making, setting the vision of what we want our product to be," Ben said.

Key told the superintendents Deputy Commissioner Mark Gotcher recently attended a conference where U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who was one of the authors of the legislation, explained the intent of the law was to put states and their districts in charge.

Arkansas' plan will require legislative changes because many state laws refer to No Child Left Behind, Key said. Key hopes the plan will be an initiative of the state working with local communities.

"I hope you will be willing to help us," Key said.

When Key became commissioner, he set out to move the state from a focus on providing all students with an adequate education to providing an excellent education, he said. Developing a comprehensive plan for pursuing that vision is ongoing and involves not only the department staff, but educators, business leaders and parents.

The vision for the Arkansas Department of Education's day-to-day activities now is "transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education," Key said. A mission and goals have been set for accomplishing that vision, and strategies and milestones will be set.

Key intends for the strategies and milestones to frame the department's legislative initiatives for 2017, including the development of new state policies for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

NW News on 04/08/2016

Print Headline: Commissioner Key discusses new federal education law

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