Arkansas’ education secretary said Friday that a new website intended as a “one-stop shop” for Arkansas residents looking for information about the state’s educational reform is now available to the public.
Education Secretary Jacob Oliva presented the site during a working session of the Arkansas Board of Education at the state capitol, where the board also received an update on working groups that will develop recommendations for Learning Act rules and policies and discussed plans to modernize the state’s testing system.
The hearing came a day after the Marvell-Elaine school district’s board meeting, during which they took control of the district and directed Oliva to explore entering into a “turnaround contract” with a third party to run the district.
Oliva said in February that he expects to develop an information dashboard to keep the board and the public updated on the implementation of the learning system. The Minister for Education said that one of the goals of the portal was to help people “see how all these puzzle pieces fit” together by providing information in one place.
The mobile site can be visited at learns.ade.arkansas.gov.
At the time he initially introduced the site, the agency’s chief information officer, Arijit Sarkar, walked across the board through its specific features.
Sarkar said the agency quickly realized that the portal had to be the one-stop solution not just for the time being, but for years to come.
The site includes an overview of LEARNS and “transparency dashboards” with real-time statistics, details on working groups, a breakdown of action items, and reports on the law. The site also includes a section for education-related executive orders.
The home page of the portal displays interactive information panels, which are divided into three categories: Scope of Enrollment, School Discourse, and ESSER. Below the dashboards are statistics about students, districts, and staff. The homepage also includes links to the text of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ executive order, which laid the groundwork for education reform and the text of the law itself, Section 237.
During his presentation, Sarkar also highlighted the four tabs at the top of the site:
The portal’s “Overview” page describes the goals of the law, and it’s broken down by topics that make up the LEARNS acronym: literacy, empowerment, accountability, preparedness, networking, and safety. Each section of the overview describes the goal related to that topic, as well as the DOE’s obligations in those areas.
The “Accountability” section, for example, says the law aims to “reward good teachers with smart incentives, such as higher wages,” and that the agency is committed to “launching teacher residencies, waiving initial licensing fees for first-time teachers, increasing transparency and efficiency of licensing, and updating management provisions.” workforce “.
The Executive Orders page provides a link to each of the listed executive orders, as well as summary reports and the ability to download orders.
The Action Items page, again organized by the acronym LEARNS, lists action items for each topic, along with due dates and relevant reports if the deadline has passed.
The Reports page also provides quick access to reports based on each work item.
Board member Adrienne Woods, who has expressed interest in the number of students choosing private or home schooling under the learning system, asked if the portal would include information on private and home school students. Sarkar replied that the information could be integrated into the dashboard.
Oliva said information about early education will also be available under the dashboard. However, he added, the transition to relaying that information “was over in a few months.”
Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education, also updated the board on working groups being established with the purpose of developing recommendations for comprehensive reform rules and policies.
The agency received about 1,300 applications, with about 1,000 individuals applying. According to Pfeffer, about 300 of the applications submitted were duplicate applications that may have come from people who applied for more than one group. The working groups will be divided into specific themes: school safety; early education; parental empowerment; education and learning; Teacher Workforce and Career Readiness, according to a previous memo from the agency.
Pfeiffer said the agency hopes to each have working groups of about 10 people.
Some topics, such as teaching and learning, are likely to have several working groups formed “under that single umbrella,” said Stacy Smith, who is also the state’s deputy commissioner for education.
Pfeffer said she expects to announce the first working groups and launch in May. Workforce and parental empowerment groups are likely to be among the first to start, according to the deputy commissioner.
She added that it is possible that the rest of the groups will be formed during the summer.
According to Pfeffer, it is likely that experts from various fields of education will participate in the working groups as well.
She also said that educational cooperatives are also being encouraged to set up similar working groups to review the implementation process, as some aspects of learning will not begin until the 2025-26 academic year.
“This is something that will continue for some time,” she said.
During the working session, Oliva also described the agency’s efforts to review state standards and the assessments used to measure the extent to which those standards are being met.
“With the new standards we are writing a new scheme,” Oliva said, adding that the scheme will be shared with the provinces.
Oliva highlighted a new state testing system for grades three through ten that will replace the ACT Aspire in the 2023-24 school year, and which will be developed by Cambium Evaluation Incorporated, or CAI.
CAI was selected from among six companies that responded to a request for proposals to help develop state-required tests in literacy, mathematics, and science. Cambium’s selection was announced by Smith and Hope Worsham, State Director of Emergency Relief for Elementary and Secondary Education, in February 2022.
Aspire online tests were discontinued after the 2022 and 2023 spring testing seasons by the ACT, which produces the college entrance examination.
“Cambium is the seller, but it would really be for Arkansas to have a say in their investment and allocation for us,” Smith said during the 2022 announcement. The seller has a lot of matching evaluation questions [to Arkansas academic content standards] But we made that really clear in the RFP — because we really listened to teachers who said they wanted a say and “we want to make sure we have the alignment parts.” “
During Friday’s working session, Oliva said Cambium-based assessment will ensure teachers have access to “real-time information” to make decisions about student education, which he described as a priority for the agency.
Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democratic-Gazette.