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Student goal plan for Arkansas public schools revealed; state seeks 90% at level by 2030

May 29, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A draft plan for holding Arkansas’ public school districts and schools responsible for student achievement calls for 90 percent of all students to achieve at their grade levels in math and English/language arts by the 2030-31 school year.

The plan also incorporates an annual school performance rating system — compiled from both academic and school quality indicators — to enable the Arkansas Department of Education to identify struggling schools.

“We are not identifying for label and shame. We are labeling for support,” Denise Airola said about the state’s proposal for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Airola is director of the Office of Innovation in Education at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a chief consultant to the Arkansas Department of Education on the drafting of the accountability plan.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by Congress and signed by then-President Barack Obama, is the reauthorization of the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The 2015 law replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 that had called for 100 percent of students to achieve at grade level by 2013-14. To that end, schools and school districts had to meet annual achievement goals for students and subgroups of students to avoid labels and penalties that became more severe year after year.

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The new law — like the old — calls for states to test students in math and literacy and set goals for students and for subgroups of students. In Arkansas those subgroups are white, black, Hispanic students as well as students who are from low-income families, require special education services or are non-native English language learners.

The Arkansas Department of Education last week posted to its website the latest draft of the proposed Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability System for public review and comment.

The 142-page draft plan for conforming to the federal law will be online for public input until late June. As of mid-week, only about seven people had submitted comments to the plan. The department’s website is

“The more eyes that we get on this plan and getting people to think about how this will affect students, how it will affect teachers, how it will affect schools and how it will affect districts, the better our plan will be,” Ouida Newton, a member both of the Arkansas Board of Education and a state steering committee on the development of the plan, said Wednesday.

“Take it in small bites,” Newton advised. “But help us do something that I think will be great for Arkansas students.”

At the end of next month, revisions will be made to the plan and an updated draft will be posted for public scrutiny. It will then be submitted to to Gov. Asa Hutchinson in August and to the Arkansas Board of Education in August or early September, said Tina Smith, policy and special projects director at the Arkansas Education Department.

The plans from more than half of the United States, including Arkansas, are due to the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 18. Washington, D.C., and 16 states — including Tennessee, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Michigan — submitted their accountability plans in April.

Once reviewed and accepted by the U.S. Department of Education, the Arkansas plan would become operational in the 2018-19 school year.

In contrast to current practice, the state will not so much intervene in the operation of a struggling school but instead direct its support — financial, staff training and consultation — to the local school district as the district works to raise student performance at the individual campus, Airola said.

Still, the state system must identify the lowest 5 percent of achieving schools as required by the federal law, qualifying those schools for help from their school districts with support from the state agency. The state has about 1,000 schools in 257 school districts and charter school systems.

The number of identified low-performing schools will depend on the minimum number of students that state education leaders say constitutes a subpopulation of students. State leaders are considering 15 as the minimum number of students for a subgroup. A school would be held responsible for the performance of each subgroup of students as well as the overall student body.

Arkansas’ draft plan sets a 12-year time period for schools and districts to achieve the goal of 90 percent of all students and student subgroups scoring at proficient on state-required math and English/language arts tests. Another goal to achieve is a four-year graduation rate of at least 94 percent. Measurements of interim progress toward those goals — or checkpoints —would occur every three years, according to the draft.

“Just as unemployment rates are never expected to reach zero — a state of full employment for the workforce— Arkansas recognizes that long term goals must be aspirational and reflect the reality that individual indicators include some variation that can be minimized, but not completely eliminated,” the plan says.

The state’s draft for complying with the new federal law also includes plans for an annual School Performance Rating, which will incorporate results from state-required tests, achievement growth on those tests, progress toward English language proficiency and four- and five-year high school graduation rates.

In the rating system, student achievement would be “weighted” to give schools partial points or whole points for moving students out of the lowest performance level on state required ACT Aspire tests The performance levels on the Aspire are “in need of support,” “close,” “ready and “exceeding.”

Schools would receive a half point for a student who moves out of the “in need of support” level to the “close” level. The school would receive 1 point for each student at the “ready” level and the “exceeding” level. However, the school would receive 1.25 points for every student performing at the highest “exceeding” level that is greater than the total number of students at the lowest performance level.

If, for example, there are two students achieving at the lowest level and five achieving at the highest level, the school would receive 1 point each for two of the high level achievers and 1.25 points each for the remaining three. The weighted system is intended to motivate schools to focus on students at all levels of achievement, and not just those who are closest to moving into the “ready” level on the exams.

Additionally, the rating system would use a “value-added model” for calculating a student and a school’s achievement growth over time.

Each student’s achievement on state-required tests would be compared with that student’s achievement history. If a student has a value-added score with a negative value, then the student didn’t meet expectations for growth as compared with his past performance. The value-added scores for all students at a school would be averaged to determine whether students overall met, exceeded or did not meet expected growth.

Still other components of the annual School Performance Rating system include calculations related to high school graduation rates and progress toward English language proficiency for students who are not native English speakers.

The annual rating system also will include school quality measures such as data on chronic student absenteeism, third-grade reading achievement, middle school science achievement and growth, and the percent of high school graduates with Advanced Placement course credit or concurrent college credit.

Arkansas will use the School Performance Rating to identify schools in the lowest-performing 5 percent of all schools for comprehensive support and improvement in 2018-19, according to the plan. Schools will be ranked by grade span — kindergarten through five, six through eight, and nine through 12 — to prevent the over-identification of high schools and under-identification of elementary and middle schools. High schools will also be identified if they have a graduation rate below 67.7 percent.

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