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Oliva: New LEARNS website to be ‘1-stop shop’ for information on education overhaul

Overview, statistics, more in ‘1-stop-shop’ by Josh Snyder | April 15, 2023 at 7:29 a.m.
The homepage of the website, billed as a "one-stop shop" for Arkansans looking for information about the state’s education overhaul, is shown in this screenshot taken Friday, April 14, 2023. Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, shown on the site with Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, introduced the site during an Arkansas Board of Education work session at the state Capitol. (Courtesy photo)

A new website meant to be a "one-stop shop" for Arkansans looking for information about the state's education overhaul is now publicly available, Arkansas' education secretary said Friday.

Education Secretary Jacob Oliva introduced the site during an Arkansas Board of Education work session at the state Capitol, during which the board also received an update on work groups that will develop recommendations for the LEARNS Act's rules and policies and discussed plans to update the state testing system.

The session came one day after the board met at the Marvell-Elaine School District, during which they took control of the district and directed Oliva to explore entering into a "transformation contract" with a third party to operate the district.

Oliva said in February that he anticipated the development of an information dashboard to keep the board and public up to date on LEARNS' implementation. The education secretary said one of the portal's goals is to help people "see how all these puzzle pieces" fit together by providing the information in one place.

The mobile-compatible site can be visited at

While he initially introduced the site, the agency's chief information officer, Arijit Sarkar, walked the board through its specific features.

Sarkar said the agency quickly realized the portal needed to be that one-stop solution for not only the present, but for years to come.

Included on the site are an overview of LEARNS, "transparency dashboards" with real-time statistics, details on work groups and a breakdown of action items and reports related to the law. The site also includes a section for education-related executive orders.

The portal's home page displays the interactive dashboards, which are divided into three categories: enrollment range, school letter and ESSER. Below the dashboards are statistics about students, school districts and staff members. The home page also includes links to the text of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' executive order, which laid the groundwork for the education overhaul, and the text of the law itself, Act 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 is broken into by the topics that make up the LEARNS acronym: literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety. Each section of the overview describes the goal related to that topic, as well as the Education Department's commitments in those areas.

The "accountability" section, for instance, says the law is intended to "reward good teachers with smart incentives, like higher pay," and that the agency is committed to "launch teacher residencies, waive initial licensing fees for first-time teachers, increase licensing transparency and efficiency and update workforce management provisions."

The "executive orders" page provides a link to each of the listed executive orders, as well as summary reports and the ability to download the orders.

The "action items" page, which is again organized by the LEARNS acronym, lists action items for each topic, along with due dates and, if the deadline has passed, related reports.

The "reports" page also provides quick access to reports based on each of the action items.

Board member Adrienne Woods, who expressed interest in how many students opt to private or home schooling under LEARNS, asked whether the portal would ever include information on private and home schoolers. Sarkar answered that the information could be integrated into the dashboard.

Information about early education would also be available under the dashboard, Oliva said. However, he added that the transition to migrate that information "is a few months out."

Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner for the Education Department, also updated the board on the work groups being created for the purpose of developing recommendations for the overhaul's rules and policies.

The agency received about 1,300 applications, with about 1,000 individuals submitting applications. According to Pfeffer, about 300 of the submissions were duplicate applications that may have come from people who applied for more than one group. The work groups will be divided by specific topics: school safety; early learning; parental empowerment; teaching and learning; educator workforce and career readiness, according to an earlier memo from the agency.

The agency hopes to have work groups of about 10 people each, Pfeffer said.

Stacy Smith, who is also a state deputy education commissioner, said that some topics, such as teaching and learning, will probably have several work groups formed "underneath that individual umbrella."

Pfeffer said she anticipates the first work groups will be announced and get going in May. The workforce and parental empowerment groups are likely to be among the first to begin, according to the deputy commissioner.

The rest of the groups will probably be formed during the summer, she said.

Experts from different areas of education will likely be involved in the work groups as well, according to Pfeffer.

She also said that education cooperatives are also being encouraged to create similar work groups to review the implementation process, as some aspects of LEARNS won't get underway until the 2025-26 school year.

"This is something that's going to be ongoing for some time," she said.

During the work session, Oliva also described the agency's efforts to revise the state's standards and the assessments used to measure how well these standards are met.

"With the new standards we're writing out a new blueprint," Oliva said, adding that the blueprint would be shared with districts.

Oliva highlighted a new state testing system for grades three through 10 that will replace the ACT Aspire in the 2023-24 school year, which will be developed by Cambium Assessment Incorporated, or CAI.

CAI was selected from among six companies that responded to a request for proposals to help in developing the state-required tests in literacy, math and science. The Cambium choice was announced by Smith and Hope Worsham, state director for Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief, in February 2022.

The online Aspire tests are being discontinued after the 2022 and 2023 spring testing seasons by the ACT, which produces the college entrance exam.

"Cambium is the vendor, but this is really going to be Arkansas having a say in their investment and customization for us," Smith said during the 2022 announcement. "The vendor has a lot of assessment questions that are aligned [to Arkansas academic content standards] but we really made it clear in the RFP -- because we really listened to teachers who said they wanted a say and 'we want to make sure the alignment pieces are there.'"

During Friday's work session, Oliva said the Cambium-based assessment will ensure teachers have access to "real-time information" with which to make decisions about students' education, which he described as a priority for the agency.

Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: New website presents LEARNS Act details


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