Arkansas schools have an A through F rating system that grades testing assessments and other criteria that relate to student performance. This system is designed to let the public, administrators, legislators and others know how well school districts are performing in comparison to one another.
State House legislators are moving to suspend that system for the 2020-21 school year on Wednesday (Jan. 27). HB 1151 was approved by a 91-4 vote with two voting present. It will now move onto the State Senate.
The bill notes that ratings were not conducted during the last school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the conditions that stymied student assessments last year are still in place this school year.
State Rep. Stu Smith, R-Batesville, a career educator, said he supported the temporary halt of the grading system. He noted that schools might perform better or worse simply based on how bad the pandemic impacts teachers and students and that it seemed to be too arbitrary during a unique circumstance.
“I believe in the grading of our schools. … I don’t believe it’s fair during a pandemic,” Smith said.
Opponents of the bill argued it would remove a layer of information to inform parents how well schools are performing.
State Rep. Brian Evans, R-Cabot, told House members the data will still be collected and will be made available to schools, parents, legislators and the public. The bill will only suspend the grading system for this current school year.
“During this pandemic, we don’t have a playbook. … We’re creating it,” he said.
The House approved several other bills during a light session at the mid-week mark.
HB 1003 would remove certain language from state law when identifying those who are deaf or have hearing problems. The bill would identify those who are clinically deaf and speak through sign-language and designate them as Deaf, while those who suffer hearing loss but don’t speak through sign-language as deaf. These terms are used nationwide. It passed 94-1 with one present vote.
HB 1009 allows school districts to give away uneaten food instead of throwing it away. It passed 97-0. HB 1033 stripped the words digital magazines from the state tax code and clarified language in a bill concerning car wash sales that was passed during the previous legislative session. It passed 97-0. HB 1042 removed references to long-term vehicle rental taxes in state code. The state hasn’t charged a tax for this type of rental in several years, but the language needed to be removed.
All House bills have to be reconciled with the State Senate before they can be signed into law.
In Senate business Wednesday, lawmakers passed the governor’s office budget after two failed attempts.