Letter to the Unelected, One-Man “School Board” of Little Rock, Arkansas on the Occasion of the New Year: January 4, 2019

Dear Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key,

Yesterday, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) released its 2019 grading standards for Arkansas public schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Since you are both Asa Hutchinson’s Education Commissioner and the entirety of the school board for state-controlled districts like Little Rock (LRSD,) I am sure you are paying careful attention to these ESSA grading standards. (Here is my previous blog post on the subject, for your reference.)

It is imperative for school boards (like you) to act in the best interest of their students and schools, in accordance with the education-related laws established by our state legislature.

As I’m sure you’re aware, part of the School Quality and Student Success (SQSS) score assigned to each high school in Arkansas comes from the number of students who complete a Community Service Learning (CSL) course. This volunteer opportunity for high school students was established by Arkansas Act 649 of 1993 as an effort to “develop a spirit of civic engagement and volunteerism.” According to your department’s CSL guidebook, Act 649 “Allows students in grades nine (9) through twelve (12) who have completed 75 hours of Community Service Learning (CSL) to earn one (1) academic credit toward graduation.”

From the Arkansas Department of Education “Final Business Rules for Calculating the 2019 ESSA School Index Scores” http://adecm.arkansas.gov/Attachments/Final_ESSA_Decision_Rules_2018_19_rvd_120418_163414.pdf

Unfortunately, the LRSD course catalog currently does not offer a CSL class. It would be course #496010, but I can’t find it listed anywhere.

From the Arkansas Department of Education website on January 4, 2019: https://myschoolinfo.arkansas.gov/Schools/Detail/6001063?FY=28

That probably explains why almost every high school in LRSD scores an absolute ZERO on this portion of their school grade under ESSA. J.A. Fair is the only high school that gets any points in this category, but it’s still only 4.28. Not enough to get them out of the “F” school grading category.

Screenshot from LRSD website, January 4, 2019

I’ve also searched the LRSD website as a whole (not just the high school course catalog) looking for evidence of any “Community Service Learning” opportunities. Unfortunately, my efforts turn up no results. It really does appear that you have not implemented any plan for LRSD students to participate in CSL opportunities, or for LRSD high schools to improve their schools’ ESSA index scores accordingly.

If you truly want to help the students and schools of Little Rock School District improve their ESSA scores, here is the template (from your own ADE website) you can use in order to implement a Community Service Learning course in each of LRSD’s high schools.

Please implement a Community Service Learning program immediately, so that LRSD students, teachers, and schools have a fair chance to improve their scores under the current school grading system your Department of Education has established.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Lyon-Ballay

Edit January 10, 2019:

J.A. Fair’s documentation for student CSL credits in the 2017–18 school year lists the following service organizations in which its qualifying students earned their volunteer hours:

  1. Little Rock Saints Football and Cheer Organization
  2. J.A. Fair’s volunteer “guidance office monitor” program
  3. J.A. Fair’s volunteer “library monitor” program
  4. Baptist Health — Little Rock

Honestly, I doubt most of these would hold up to scrutiny, since the CSL Guidebook specifically excludes teacher/office aides from earning CSL credit hours for their work within the school.