School dis­tress changes fa­vored

Op­tions pushed for in­ter­ven­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN FANNEY

Arkansas would use more than stan­dard­ized tests to as­sess a school’s per­for­mance un­der a col­lec­tion of bills that ad­vanced in the Leg­is­la­ture on Mon­day.

And if a school fell short, the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion would have more op­tions to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the leg­is­la­tion.

The changes were pro­posed as the state adapts to the Every Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act — fed­eral leg­is­la­tion signed by then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama that re­placed the No Child Left Be­hind Act and shifted some fed­eral ac­count­abil­ity to the states.

Un­der Se­nate Bill 647 by Sen. Jane English, R-North Lit­tle Rock, the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion would have greater flex­i­bil­ity in how to in­ter­vene in aca­dem­i­cally fail­ing schools.

Un­der cur­rent state law, schools go into aca­demic dis­tress when 49.5 per­cent or fewer stu­dents test “pro­fi­cient” or “ad­vanced” on state-man­dated math and read­ing ex­ams over the pre­vi­ous three years.

There would be no more “aca­demic dis­tress” un­der

SB647. In­stead, schools would be as­signed lev­els of as­sis­tance with vary­ing roles for the state and the dis­trict.

The bill also would al­low the state to de­ter­mine a school’s suc­cess on mea­sures beyond test scores. That means test scores would no longer be the hard and fast mea­sure by which schools go into dis­tress.

“This opens the door to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways that a dis­trict can show that they are on track of im­prov­ing and the other thing it does is it gives the state board more tools re­gard­ing what type of in­ter­ven­tion,” Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key said in an in­ter­view. “With this, you could ac­tu­ally leave a board in place or put it back in place in a much quicker time frame.”

SB647 was ap­proved by the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee on Mon­day with­out dis­sent after it was amended. It heads to the Se­nate for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

The bill orig­i­nally al­lowed schools to be in the high­est level of state sup­port for seven years. That was changed to five years at the urg­ing of Sen. Linda Ch­ester­field, D-Lit­tle Rock.

At the end of five years, the dis­trict has to be an­nexed, con­sol­i­dated or re­con­sti­tuted un­der cur­rent law.

“When we start talk­ing about tak­ing away com­mu­nity in­volve­ment for seven years, it gives me great pause be­cause if you need a mill­age in­crease, you’re not go­ing to get it. If you need a bond ex­ten­sion, you’re not go­ing to get it,” Ch­ester­field said. “If the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion hasn’t fixed it by then … that’s what con­cerns me.”

She added: “You can put lip­stick on a pig. It’s still a pig. This is still aca­demic dis­tress. We’re just call­ing it No. 5.”

Un­der the bill, level 5 sup­port means the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion would as­sume con­trol of a pub­lic school dis­trict and could re­move the su­per­in­ten­dent, fire em­ploy­ees, re­move the school board, call for the elec­tion of a new school board or di­rect the ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sioner to take over some or all of the school board’s au­thor­ity.

Key said the bill’s changes are dif­fer­ent from the sta­tus quo be­cause it “puts more of a re­spon­si­bil­ity and bur­den on the depart­ment to work with dis­tricts than just to leave the dis­tricts on their own.”

He said the bill would in­clude dif­fer­ent lev­els of state sup­port and op­tions at level 5.

“This gives the state board dif­fer­ent op­tions when it comes to the no­tion of state takeover,” Key said. “They could leave the board in place.”

Later Mon­day, the House ap­proved House Bill 1608 by Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers. The bill would ex­pand the mea­sures by which schools are rated by the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

“What has driven the A through F [rat­ings] has been a sin­gle test score taken one time dur­ing the year,” Della Rosa said. “What I’m look­ing to do is fun­da­men­tally change the way that we hold our schools ac­count­able for ed­u­ca­tion.”

Un­der cur­rent law, schools are rated by aca­demic per­for­mance and stu­dent growth as mea­sured by stan­dard­ized tests. Sec­ondary schools also are rated by their grad­u­a­tion rates.

HB1608 would add a re­quire­ment that the depart­ment in­clude ad­vance­ment of English lan­guage learn­ers in its met­rics and it would give the depart­ment the op­tion of in­clud­ing up to nine other met­rics.

Those in­clude: clos­ing the achieve­ment gap; aca­demic growth of stu­dent sub­groups like poor stu­dents, those with dis­abil­i­ties or eth­nic sub­groups; per­cent­age of stu­dents with ad­vanced place­ment credit, con­cur­rent credit, in­ter­na­tional bac­calau­re­ate credit or in­dus­try rec­og­nized cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; stu­dent ac­cess to preschool; and com­mu­nity part­ner­ships.

Rep. John Walker, D-Lit­tle Rock, spoke in fa­vor of the bill.

“It is an un­der­tak­ing to change the way busi­ness is done in Arkansas in ed­u­ca­tion,” he said. “You have, within your power, to rise above where we are and to cause an ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem to be put in place that will cause all of our chil­dren to be able to learn.”

The bill passed 85-0. It heads to the Se­nate for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

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