Plan for ev­ery kid now aim of ex­ams

Schools to widen fo­cus via scores

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

A new Arkansas law that went into ef­fect last week al­ters the way the state and its school dis­tricts — in­clud­ing the newly des­ig­nated Level 5 Lit­tle Rock School District — will use the 2017 re­sults from state-man­dated stu­dent ex­ams.

Act 930 of 2017 calls for mul­ti­ple mea­sures of stu­dent achieve­ment and aca­demic growth that will be the ba­sis of “suc­cess plans” de­vel­oped for ev­ery eighth-grader and above — re­gard­less of aca­demic prow­ess — to pre­pare the stu­dents for col­lege and ca­reers.

The old sys­tem fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual im­prove­ment plans only for stu­dents who needed help to achieve at their grade lev­els.

The state, school district

and cam­pus-by-cam­pus re­sults on the ACT As­pire ex­ams, which were given last spring to more than 287,000 third-through-10th-graders in five sub­jects, were made pub­lic in July by the Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. The in­di­vid­ual stu­dent score re­ports will be dis­trib­uted to stu­dents and their par­ents af­ter school starts later this month.

The state’s new school ac­count­abil­ity law doesn’t fo­cus solely on the stu­dents who score be­low pro­fi­cient, or their grade lev­els, in a sub­ject, said Stacy Smith, the Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner for learn­ing ser­vices.

“With the new vi­sion for stu­dent-fo­cused learn­ing for the state, it’s re­ally about ev­ery stu­dent,” Smith said re­cently. “We want to get to the point in the state where …. we have plans for ev­ery one of our kids, not just this kid or these kids be­cause they failed one test. We’re tran­si­tion­ing away from ‘one test, one plan’ to ‘all stu­dents and mul­ti­ple mea­sures.’”

The change in the state ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem comes at a time when Arkansas stu­dents over­all achieved higher on the As­pire tests in 2017 than in 2016. The As­pire ex­ams are given in 48 states, but only four states have re­quired that the tests be given statewide.

In Pu­laski County — the state’s most pop­u­lous county and home to four tra­di­tional school sys­tems, 12 open-en­roll­ment char­ter school sys­tems and one on­line vir­tual char­ter school acad­emy — the 2017 As­pire re­sults were mixed from sys­tem to sys­tem.

Within the tra­di­tional dis­tricts, test re­sults also var­ied greatly, with some cam­puses show­ing very high per­cent­ages of stu­dents meet­ing the de­sired “ready” or bet­ter lev­els, to other cam­puses with low per­cent­ages of stu­dents meet­ing the stan­dards.

Arkansas stu­dents took the As­pire tests — cre­ated by the same com­pany that pro­duces the ACT col­lege en­trance exam — for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year this spring. They took the Part­ner­ship for Assess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reers, or PARCC, exam in the spring of 2015 and the Arkansas Bench­mark and End of Course ex­ams for many years be­fore that.

The now former Arkansas Com­pre­hen­sive Test­ing, Assess­ment and Ac­count­abil­ity Pro­gram law re­quired school em­ploy­ees to write in­di­vid­ual aca­demic im­prove­ment plans for just the stu­dents who fell short of scor­ing at

pro­fi­cient or bet­ter lev­els on the state-re­quired ex­ams in math or lit­er­acy.

A pro­fi­cient score in­di­cated that the stu­dent had demon­strated knowl­edge and skills ap­pro­pri­ate for his grade level.

The old aca­demic im­prove­ment plan re­quired a de­scrip­tion of the par­ents’ role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, as well as the con­se­quences for a stu­dent who failed to par­tic­i­pate in the plan. The im­prove­ment plans, sub­ject to Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­view, had to be up­dated an­nu­ally to as­sist stu­dents in reach­ing pro­fi­cient achieve­ment lev­els.

Ad­di­tion­ally, school lead­ers had to use the in­di­vid­ual im­prove­ment plans as re­sources in cre­at­ing and re­vis­ing com­pre­hen­sive school im­prove­ment plans.

Act 930, passed by law­mak­ers ear­lier this year, calls for the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion staff to col­lab­o­rate with school dis­tricts dur­ing the 2017-18 school year to move to an ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem that pushes for achieve­ment and aca­demic growth for all stu­dents, Smith said.

“We’ve been trav­el­ing the state do­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment this sum­mer on what does it mean to have a stu­dent-fo­cused sys­tem,” Smith said. “By the end of the 2018-19 school year, school dis­tricts are re­quired to have for every­one in eighth grade and above, a stu­dent suc­cess plan.”

That plan is sup­posed to put stu­dents on the path to high school grad­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing the course­work a stu­dent needs, as well as the need for any re­me­di­a­tion of skills or op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­cel­er­ated learn­ing. It should also in­clude col­lege and ca­reer plan­ning com­po­nents.

The stu­dent suc­cess plan, ac­cord­ing to the law, is to be a per­son­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion plan to as­sist stu­dents with achiev­ing readi­ness for col­lege, ca­reers and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

“We will be talk­ing to the stu­dents about ‘Where are you head­ing?’” Smith said, ad­ding that while the new sys­tem will ab­so­lutely con­tinue to rely on the re­sults from state ex­ams, it will also take into ac­count sub­ject-area grades, re­sults from other tests and stu­dent work sam­ples.

It is “big­ger than one test,” she said of the sys­tem, and the ap­proach could dif­fer from district to district.

The new ac­count­abil­ity law au­tho­rizes the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion to es­tab­lish rules and cri­te­ria for iden­ti­fy­ing the level of state sup­port that a district needs to sup­port its cam­puses.

The lev­els of sup­port start at Level 1, which con­sists of gen­eral sup­port. The lev­els progress to col­lab­o­ra­tion at Level 2, co­or­di­nated sup­port at Level 3, di­rected sup­port at Level 4 and in­ten­sive sup­port at Level 5.

The state rules deter­min­ing the level of sup­port needed in a district must take into ac­count the per­for­mance of sub­groups of stu­dents at a school — as iden­ti­fied by race and eth­nic­ity, fam­ily poverty, English-speak­ing skills and hand­i­cap­ping con­di­tions — as well as the achieve­ment lev­els of schools that feed stu­dents into an­other school, grad­u­a­tion rates and aca­demic growth cal­cu­la­tions.

The Lit­tle Rock and Dol­lar­way school dis­tricts are both des­ig­nated as Level 5 dis­tricts be­cause they have been op­er­at­ing un­der state con­trol, with state-ap­pointed su­per­in­ten­dents and with­out lo­cally elected school boards. Act 930 in­cludes lan­guage re­quir­ing the in­ten­sive sup­port Level 5 des­ig­na­tion for such dis­tricts.

The Lit­tle Rock district has been op­er­at­ing un­der state con­trol since Jan­uary 2015 be­cause six of its 48 schools were la­beled as aca­dem­i­cally dis­tressed — the re­sult of three and four years of low stu­dent achieve­ment on state math and lit­er­acy ex­ams. The num­ber of such la­beled schools has since been re­duced to three — Hall High, and Cloverdale and Hen­der­son mid­dle schools.

Mike Poore, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Lit­tle Rock School District, has said that of the three, Hen­der­son is clos­est to meet­ing the stan­dard to be re­moved from the list. That stan­dard calls for 49.5 per­cent or more of test-tak­ers over three years to achieve at pro­fi­cient or ready lev­els in math and lit­er­acy. The state will do those cal­cu­la­tions later this year af­ter school dis­tricts iden­tify any er­rors in their test re­sults.

Hope Allen, Arkansas’ direc­tor of stu­dent assess­ment, said about 2 mil­lion stu­dents from 48 states took the As­pire ex­ams this spring. Test-tak­ers in four states — Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina and Wy­oming — are heav­ily rep­re­sented in that num­ber be­cause the ex­ams were given statewide in at least some grades, and not just in some school dis­tricts.

Wy­oming’s con­tract with ACT is for ninth and 10th grades only, said Allen, who also said Alabama will no longer give the As­pire ex­ams start­ing this school year.

Arkansas shifted from the PARCC ex­ams to the As­pire ex­ams in 2016 partly in an­tic­i­pa­tion of be­ing bet­ter able to com­pare the achieve­ment lev­els of Arkansas stu­dents with those of stu­dents na­tion­ally.

“I hope to see more states come on in dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties that would al­low us bet­ter com­pa­ra­bil­ity,” Allen said. “There are sev­eral states that I have spo­ken with that are con­sid­er­ing As­pire, and ACT does re­spond to states’ re­quests for bids on test­ing pro­grams. ACT is 100 per­cent com­mit­ted to the As­pire assess­ment and is try­ing to ex­pand into more states.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Allen noted that the As­pire ex­ams are de­signed for pro­gres­sion from third grade to the long-stand­ing ACT col­lege en­trance exam that is taken by many stu­dents in grades 11 or 12. The ACT exam re­sults are a good way of com­par­ing Arkansas stu­dents with stu­dents na­tion­ally, she said.

The As­pire ex­ams in 2016 and 2017 pro­vide an ap­ples-to-ap­ples com­par­i­son of stu­dent achieve­ment be­cause so lit­tle changed in the on­line test­ing pro­gram, Allen said.

The state used the same min­i­mum nu­mer­i­cal “cut scores” in 2017 that it did in 2016 to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween stu­dents achiev­ing at the “needs sup­port,” “ap­proach­ing,” “ready” and “ex­ceed­ing” lev­els on ex­ams. The Arkansas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion set those cut scores for the four cat­e­gories last year. Stu­dents scor­ing at the ready level are con­sid­ered to be achiev­ing at their grade level and ready to move to the next grade in school and on track to score well on the ACT exam.

The one change in the test ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2017 was ad­di­tional time for stu­dents to re­spond to the writ­ing prompt, Allen said. That ex­tended time was pro­vided to test-tak­ers across the na­tion, not just in Arkansas. Arkansas stu­dents, who on av­er­age scored bet­ter in 2017 than in 2016, did best in English but made the great­est im­prove­ments in writ­ing.

The state writ­ing re­sults for 2017 ranged from 19.2 per­cent ready or bet­ter in third grade to 59.3 per­cent in sixth grade. The English re­sults ranged from 60.1 per­cent ready in the 10th grade to 78.6 per­cent ready or bet­ter in seventh grade. Read­ing ranged from 37 per­cent ready at third grade to a high of 48.9 per­cent ready at the eighth grade. In math, 24.7 per­cent of 10th-graders scored at ready or ex­ceed­ing lev­els, as com­pared with 62.1 per­cent of sixth-graders.

Na­tion­ally, the per­cent­age of stu­dents scor­ing at ready or bet­ter lev­els in writ­ing ranged from 17 per­cent in third grade to 52 per­cent in 10th grade.

In English, the na­tional re­sults ranged from 61 per­cent ready or bet­ter in ninth grade to a high of 75 per­cent in seventh grade. Read­ing was lower, rang­ing from 38 per­cent ready at third and 10th grades to 50 per­cent in eighth grade. In math, the na­tional re­sults ranged from 32 per­cent ready or bet­ter in 10th grade to 60 per­cent ready in third grade.

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