Arkansas has until this fall to rewrite a wide-ranging education plan under the new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act, and the department is taking public comment on the plan on its website through the end of the month.
It replaces the Bush Administration era’s No Child Left Behind. In contrast to its predecessor, the law shifts away from ranking schools based on standardized tests and toward state control and a more diverse set of metrics. Test scores, once 70-80 percent of a school rank, will be counted closer to 50 percent. The state proposes to weigh students’ growth as heavily as their one-time test scores in order to rank school performance.
And under the proposed plan, administrators will score teachers’ performances. In Arkansas’s proposed plan, teachers won’t be evaluated until their fourth year on the job.
The Arkansas Department of Education says a lot of stressed out teachers quit between their third and fifth year on the job, and it’s one way to lower the pressure.
Arkansas, like many states, has a shortage of teachers.
According to Arkansas 2016 Teacher of the Year Meghan Ables, educators will also have new incentives to stay in the field, higher statuses for teachers that get extra training.
“So that’s so exciting, that teachers will have a ladder, just like all other professions. So we’re really going to keep and retain those teachers,” she says in a Facebook outreach video published by the department.
Arkansas will continue using the ACT Aspire test, but student scores won’t be as important in how schools are graded.
“It’s not the end all be all. It’s not the only thing that tells us how your child is doing,” said Hope Allen, Arkansas Department of Education Director of Student Assessment about standardized testing.
New quality measures, along with absenteeism rates, will count for the first time towards schools' evaluations.
“We want to focus on what really matters most for learning,” said Denise Airola, Director of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s Office of Innovation, who is an advisor on the plan.
“So how are these kids growing over time? But also, looking at that snapshot — how are these students doing right now? Putting those pieces together and intentionally weighting the growth over the achievement. Because, again, we want to incentivize.”
High school graduation rates and the success of English language learners will count and scores will be broken down by demographic.
Schools with pockets of low-performing students will have 3 years to improve on their own before the district and then the state get involved.
The worst performing five percent of schools will work on interventions with the department.
“You’re going to have this set of information that comes together to give us this overall performance rating. That’s how we’re going to understand schools that are really struggling, or student groups within schools that are really struggling,” said Airola.
A final plan will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education this fall.
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