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State Capitol in review - April 2, 2014

Arkansas Board of Education approved waivers for 75 school districts that had canceled classes because of snow and ice. The state requires 178 days of instruction but the waivers could limit the number of days that have to be made up to 13.

In 2015, the legislature will consider options for public schools to re-schedule snow days. One possibility is to allow schools to schedule longer days to make up for lost days. Some educators want to study the pros and cons of offering online classes to make up snow days.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will be the replacement of the Augmented Benchmark and End of Course exams beginning in the 2014-15 school year. These exams measure individual student achievement. The new tests will also be used to determine whether a public school should be labeled as “achieving” or “needs to improve.”

Additionally the exam results will be a factor in evaluating teacher effectiveness.

Nearly all of the Arkansas school districts volunteered to field test portions of the new exams this spring to help prepare for the spring 2013 version of the test. As a result some 20,000 student in the state will participate in the tests. The goal in field testing is to determine if questions are clearly worded and whether a school’s computers can handle the demand, since the tests are given online. The field test will not produce any scores for the state.

Not all the kids in a school that volunteered will take the same parts or all of the tests. In the midst of the field tests, Arkansas public school students also will be taking the long used Benchmark and end-of-course exams in math and literacy in grades three through eight and in Algebra 1, geometry and 11th grade literacy one time final. These will count.

The Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness is one of the two multistate groups that are developing exams based on the Common Core. The other is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The assessment is funded with a $186 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The new assessment’s website is www.parcconline.org. It includes a section on frequently asked questions about the groups and the development of the exams. and there are also sample questions.

Officials of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department met with legislators to discuss the massive traffic jams caused by sever winter storms in early March. The problems were particularly bad in eastern Arkansas along stretches of Interstate 55 and Interstate 40.

Officials reported that snow and ice removal cost the department more than $18 million this winter. Last year the department spent less than $5 million on removal. Some people were upset with the state in comparison to the removal of the snow and ice in Missouri. However, Missouri’s annual highway budget is $2.8 billion compared to $1 billion in Arkansas.

Missouri’s highway department employs 1,500 more workers than the Arkansas highway department. Missouri has 570 belly plows just for its two southernmost districts that border Arkansas. Arkansas has 700 trucks that can be fitted with snow plows, but only six that can be fitted with the bellow plows.

Highway officials outlined several areas where Arkansas can improve its response to snow and ice. Additional training of employees in how to manage a snow plow will increase the number of drivers who can be transferred around the state to meet local needs. Better communication with local police departments and local governments will help.

The 2014 county health rankings were reported last week. It uses multiple health factors in doing the rankings including alcohol and drug use, access to care, education, access to housing, diet and exercise. Crawford County ranked 27th.

If you would like to contact me, email my office at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov, call the office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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