Commissioner asks for input on school accountability

SPRINGDALE -- Commissioner of Education Johnny Key wants to unleash the creativity of educators in designing a comprehensive accountability system for schools, he said Tuesday.

Key and officials from the Arkansas Department of Education met with about 200 people, most representing area schools and education-related organizations, at The Jones Center for the final forum of a 10-city community listening tour.

Every Student Succeeds Act

*Newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

*Replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

*Student performance targets and school ratings will be decided by states and will include multiple measures beyond standardized test scores.

*States will develop systems for identifying and providing support for the bottom 5 percent of schools, those with subgroups of students who are falling behind and for high schools with high dropout rates.

*Includes provisions for prekindergarten, replicating high quality charter schools and encouraging support systems for vulnerable communities.

Source: U.S. Department of Education,

The Arkansas Department of Education aims to design a system that supports the department's vision of transforming the state to lead the nation in student-focused education, Key said. That vision coincides with the need for a new comprehensive accountability system, following passage in December of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"Arkansas does not have the reputation of being a leading state in the nation when it comes to education," Key said. "We want to change that."

The Every Student Succeeds Act mandates for states to have challenging academic standards and to do testing annually in reading, math and science, and it requires states to evaluate schools for academics and for school quality and student success. It replaced the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and is the most recent renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The department organized the community meetings to invite parents, students, educators, businesses and community members from across Northwest Arkansas to give input into the development of a new state accountability system for schools. The department also is accepting comments, including those sent to [email protected].

Key asked for audience members to think about the best measures of success and quality for schools and how to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.

Systems used to evaluate schools for years have focused primarily on the performance of students on standardized tests give across the state, said Jason Edwards, an assistant principal at Vandergriff Elementary School in Fayetteville.

"The state standardized tests are just a snapshot of one day," Edwards said. "What are students doing a year after graduating? That's the product we put out there for our community and who is going to be leading us into the future."

The discussion of measuring success hit on student participation in arts programs, teacher burnout, how well students function in society and their ability to compete after graduating from high school. Others discussed the difficulties some children have in school because of circumstances at home, special needs or language barriers.

Former Fayetteville High School Principal Steve Jacoby suggested the department consider counting students who continue their high school education for a fifth year or who earn a high school equivalency diploma toward a high school's graduation rate.

The new system should provide multiple pathways for students to progress through school and allow students to demonstrate learning in multiple ways, said Melody Morgan, director of accountability and assessment for Springdale School District. Growth should be another component at all grades, with many schools having the ability to track student growth at the beginning, middle and end of a school year.

Other audience members also discussed attendance, school media centers and prekindergarten.

Information provided to the department through the meetings and surveys will contribute to the development of a new plan for measuring the performance of schools in response to the new Every Student Succeeds Act.

The next step will involve state officials studying the feedback in early 2017 and then releasing a draft for a new accountability system for schools for public comment in April, according to the state department. The final plan is due to the U.S. Department of Education in July.

NW News on 10/26/2016

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