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LRSD backing at-home testing

State being askedto appeal to D.C. by Cynthia Howell | February 27, 2021 at 4:27 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

The Little Rock School Board is asking the Arkansas Department of Education to seek federal permission to allow virtual-learning students to take the ACT Aspire and other tests this spring at places other than school-designated sites.

The resolution, approved 6-2 Thursday by the board, does not specifically say it wants children to have the option to take the tests at home, but that is the intent.

The School Board will send the resolution to the state agency's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Board member Ali Noland said she introduced the resolution in response to parents who have asked that their children who have been learning at home this year be allowed to take state and federally required tests at home and not be required to enter school campuses.

Education Department leaders have said repeatedly that the mandated tests, which were not given last spring because of the covid-19 pandemic, will be given this spring. And while the state leaders have said there can be flexibility in scheduling tests and in setting locations, tests won't be given at students' homes.

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The state has expanded the window of time for giving the tests and has suggested they could be given after school hours or on Saturdays at places such as community centers as a way to test smaller groups of students who can be physically distanced.

State lawmakers have suspended for this year the application of the A-to-F letter grades to schools that are based on the results from the Aspire tests in math, literacy and science.

Until this week, state education leaders have said the U.S. Department of Education had offered no test waivers and that Arkansas would not apply for waivers even if available.

But this week the U.S. Education Department issued new guidance to the states saying it would consider requests for remote, shortened and/or delayed exams because of the pandemic.

That new federal guidance, paired with parent requests, prompted Noland to draft the resolution, she told her board colleagues.

"Be it therefore resolved the Board of Education urges the Arkansas Department of Education ... to seek all necessary waivers from both state and federal law in order to allow the Little Rock School District to administer spring 2021 summative assessments remotely for students who are utilizing the district's virtual learning option and who elect not to physically enter a school building in order to take the exams," the resolution states.

The resolution notes that approximately 42% of the students enrolled in the 21,000-student Little Rock district are currently receiving instruction remotely.

Noland said the School Board can't tell the state what to do, but the resolution is a way for the board to "express its will collectively" to the state. She also said the state can't obtain a waiver if it doesn't ask.

In response to board member questions, Superintendent Mike Poore said he could not gauge what the state reaction to the resolution might be. He said the state agency has been very determined to have the spring testing, and that the district is responsible for getting all eligible students to take the tests.

Board member Greg Adams questioned the validity of the results if tests are given in different settings or if families are given an out.

Allowing students to test away from school sites would be a way to at least get some data on students who will opt out of the testing program if not allowed to test away from a school, Noland said.

Noland also warned that principals telling parents and children they must take the tests has the potential to damage principal and family relationships.

Board member Jeff Wood questioned whether the district could be penalized this year if fewer than 95% of eligible students take the tests. Typically, schools are penalized in calculating their school numerical and letter grades if fewer than 95% take the mandated tests.

Board members Noland, Michael Mason, Sandrekkia Morning, Leigh Ann Wilson, Vicki Hatter and Adams voted for the resolution. Norma Johnson and Wood voted against it. Evelyn Callaway had left the meeting by the time of the vote.

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