Third in a series of articles intended to make the contents of the Arkansas LEARNS Act accessible to the ordinary reader.
Places the requirements of the new Rewarding Excellence in Achievement plan above any other state law [including The Teacher Fair Dismissal Act] that relates to the compensation of public school teachers.
Repeals 6-15-2804 that related to requirements for “schools of innovation”
Amends Arkansas Code 6-15-2907 [student assessment].
Screening for grades K-3 will be conducted by “high-quality, evidence-based literacy screeners for kindergarten through grade three.” These screeners may be the same ones “used for dyslexia.”
Screenings will take place during the first 30 days of the school year, midyear “if indicated,” and at the end of the school year. Results will be published.
Assessments will measure English language arts, mathematics, and science.
“A public school that serves a student in grades 10-12 shall administer college and career readiness assessments.”
This section requires IEPs for all children, beginning in eighth grade. They are called “student success plans.”
[In the past, IEPs (Individualized Education Program) were written plans required only for children with learning or other disabilities.]
The plan is intended to “guide the student along pathways to graduation.” It is to “address accelerated learning opportunities, academic deficits and interventions, and include college and career planning components.
Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, each plan shall include the recommended sequence of courses.
Plans can be changed with the input of parents and students. Plans shall be reviewed annually. The goal of the plan is to qualify the graduating students to enter postsecondary education or the workforce. The plan, and any subsequent changes to it, must be signed by the student and parent or guardian.
Every school district shall “provide career awareness and exploration activities to all students grades six-8 that create links between what a student does in school and what a student wants to achieve in life.” Districts will hold “informational meetings” for parents of children 6-12.
This section permits “underperforming” public schools to escape sanctions by contracting with charter schools “or other entities.”
“A public school district with a “D” or “F” school rating or a school district classified as in need of Level 5 (Intensive support by the State Board of Education) shall be eligible for an exemption from sanctions or action” if they contract with “an open-enrollment public charter school, or another entity, as approved by the State Board of Education.”
For the first two years of the operation of a “transformation campus,” the state will not assign failing grades and will provide financial assistance as needed.
I have heard complaints that the requirement of 75 hours of community service to be applied toward graduation is new. In fact, it dates back to the 1996-1997 school year (AR Code §6-16-60):
Beginning with the 1996-1997 school year and ending with the graduating class of 2025-2026, a student who has completed a minimum of seventy-five (75) clock hours of documented community service in grades nine through twelve (9-12), as certified by the service agency or organization to the school, shall be eligible to receive one (1) academic credit that may be applied toward graduation.
A local school district board of directors may grant a waiver of this requirement for an individual student with notice to the state board.
Section 12: Requiring parents to be part of the planning process is a very good idea. Better than merely having them sign the plan would be a compulsory annual school/student/parent conference to review the plan.
Yes, schools already hold parent/teacher conferences during the school year, but not all parents make use of them. Like many of my colleagues, I have sat for three to four evening hours, waiting for the parents I most wanted to see to come with their children. Generally speaking, the most motivated, high-achieving students have parents who never miss a parent/teacher conference. Could there possibly be a connection?
Section 14: Nothing in this section specifies action to be taken if the school that has been placed in charge of a charter school receives a D or F rating at the end of the two-year state of grace. This is just one of several aspects of this Act that contribute to shifting responsibility for public education to private enterprise.
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The next installment of “Translating the Arkansas LEARNS Act” will begin with Section 16, which specifically prohibits the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT).