Joint Education Committee Hears Overview of AESAA and ELL State Categorical Funding
Category: Joint Education Committee
By Christina Fowler
LITTLE ROCK – The Joint Education Committee heard reports on the Arkansas Educational Support and Accountability Act (AESAA) and English Language Learner (ELL) State Categorical Funding during its meeting on Tuesday.
AESAA contains Arkansas’s state accountability system that runs parallel with the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) system to set expectations for the achievement of all students; communicate on whether those expectations are being met; celebrate those schools and school districts that are meeting or exceeding expectations and prompt action in those that are not; and provide additional resources to struggling schools.
Legislative Analyst Julie Holt, Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research, provided the committee with an overview of the history that led to the passage of Act 930 in 2017 and the establishment of AESAA. At the time, there was a desire for an accountability system that provided more flexibility and autonomy, and placed an emphasis on support rather than labeling and sanctioning struggling schools. In addition, AESAA established a level of “soft” accountability with the establishment of the grade levels reported through the School Report Cards.
With many of the committee members not present, follow-up concerns were raised by primarily two members – Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-District 90, and Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-District 31. The concerns were around the use of A through F letter grades oversimplified the information on how a school is performing, and whether or not the public truly understands what the grades mean.
“ADE has done so much work trying to make a massive amount of data to fit a teeny-tiny letter score. There is a massive amount of data that is rolled up and try to make sense of for us and the public to rank A, B, C, D and F. I’d like to this committee to consider that going forward. It’s too simplified,” Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-District 90, said.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-District 31, cited at the time the School Letter Grade legislation was passed, the idea of ranking schools by letter grade was an effort for parents to have a better understanding of how schools are performing, and the thought was everyone could easily understand the A through F grade ranking system.
“Well, clearly everyone does not understand what an A through F is, because most of us don’t and we’re the ones that passed the law,” Elliot said.
In other business, Nell Smith, administrator for the Bureau of Legislative Research, provided an overview of ELL State Categorical Funding. For the 2018-2019 academic year, approximately 38,500 English Language Learners were enrolled in traditional school districts and open-enrollment public charter schools – approximately eight percent of the student population. This is just slightly below the national average of 9.6 percent.
Arkansas has experienced a decline of ELL students, as a result of more students reaching English proficiency and exiting ESL programs. The state saw a reduction of 3,300 students for the 2018-2019 school year.