LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas educators and members of the general public will have a variety of ways to provide input as the Arkansas Department of Education works to develop a new accountability system for public schools, agency officials said Thursday.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in December, replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and authorized states to develop their own school accountability systems to replace the nationwide system that critics said was inflexible and unrealistic.
Arkansas education officials have been working with stakeholders for more than a year to develop a plan to be known as the Arkansas Accountability System, which they plan to present to the U.S. Department of Education for approval next July.
“This is not an effort that is just going to happen within the Department of Education,” state Education Commissioner Johnny Key said at a news conference in Little Rock. “Working with our stakeholders all over the state will be critical to the success of this work.”
Tina Smith, special projects director for the department, said 10 community listening forums will be held in cities across the state between Sept.13 and Oct. 25 to share and gather information. Also, a steering committee will meet at the department’s headquarters in Little Rock on the last Wednesday of each month between Aug. 31 and June 28, with the meetings to be open to the public and live-streamed on the Internet, she said.
Schedules for the listening forums and the meetings of the steering committee can be viewed by visiting the state Education Department’s website at arkansased.gov and clicking on the box labeled Every Student Succeeds Act.
Also available on the website are a survey for educators, a survey for the general public, an email address for posting comments and a log of past meetings, presentations and feedback.
State Board of Education member and 2015 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Ouida Newton, a member of the steering committee, said, “I encourage you to let your voices be heard, no matter who you are — business leadership, community leadership, school administrators, teachers, students, parents.”
Key said that under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government requires states to determine what their expectations are for K-12 schools and identify the schools that are the lowest-performing in terms of those expectations.
“When those are identified, then it becomes the responsibility of those local districts, those local boards, those local communities to develop improvement plans,” he said. “Our role then will be to support them in making those improvement plans become a reality. So it really is a step back from the federal government with respect to the K-12 education.”
Key said the Education Department wants the state to become a leader in student-focused education.
“When we talk about student-focused education, we’re talking about educators collaborating with students and parents to identify students’ interests and needs and tailoring the instruction to meet those needs,” he said.
That tailoring could include allowing greater flexibility in schedules and allowing students to work on special projects, Key said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not attend the news conference but said in a statement, “Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science education, and we can provide the same leadership role in education as a whole by providing a more student-focused education starting with every child in Arkansas.”