THE LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL BOARD: Education Commissioner Johnny Key. Brian Chilson

A bill that would have allowed the state to keep the Little Rock School District under state control for up to four more years may have failed in the legislature, but that doesn’t mean a return to local control is near for the district — even though state law limits Education Department control of a local district to five years. The state disbanded Little Rock’s locally elected school board and took control of the district January 2015, so the five-year window should close in 2020. But no.

In February — more than four years after the state took over the district — the Education Department announced exit criteria for the LRSD to return to local control. After all this time, the state says it largely comes down to the results of one test, the ACT Aspire, which Little Rock students began taking on Monday.


During a public comment period at a meeting of the State Board of Education today, several LRSD parents voiced their concerns about testing delays and interruptions, echoing reports from social media of problems districtwide.


Angela Alexander, a parent of a Pulaski Heights Middle School 6th grader, said her daughter waited to take the ACT Aspire Test for two periods on April 8 before testing that day was scrapped. On April 9, students were able to start the test, but it was suspended after 15 minutes. Her daughter and about half the students were not able to resume until late that day. Another PHMS parent reported similar issues. Alexander asked that students who experienced the interruption be allowed to retake the test, or that the results of the test be removed from the exit criteria.

A representative from the state Education Department said the widespread issues were limited to Hall High School and PHMS and were related to anti-virus software. The official said issues elsewhere were scattered and quickly resolved.


The state’s exit criteria requires the eight LRSD schools that have an “F” grading under the state’s accountability system — Bale Elementary, Romine Elementary, Stephens Elementary, Washington Elementary, Clovderdale Middle, Hall High, J.A. Fair High and McClellan High — to achieve at least 80 on their growth scores on the ACT Aspire test being administered now. It also requires that more than 50 percent of students in each “F” school score at levels designated “close,” “ready” or “exceeds” — as opposed to “needs support.”

It’s widely assumed that the schools won’t reach those goals.

During testimony on the bill that would have allowed the state to retain control of the LRSD for up to four more years, Teresa Gordon, head of the Little Rock Education Association, noted how unrealistic the exit critieria is. Of the 48 charter schools in the state, 30 didn’t achieve an 80 last year. Of the 1,061 public schools, 467 scored below 80, Gordon said. “None of them are being taken over.”

At Thursday’s Board of Education chairman Jay Barth said, “Obviously, it’s been disruptive to the learning processes. … Have any concerns about the reliability of the scores?”


The Education Department rep said no.

Beth McAlpine, another Little Rock parent, said she was there to speak for all the parents who couldn’t at the meeting, who were busy working. She said the district was full of parents and students who were engaged and working hard. She encouraged board members to visit schools and said that they would see a district ready to be freed from the state.

State law says that if a district hasn’t met criteria to return to local control, the state must either annex, consolidate or reconstitute the district. Annexation and consolidation are thought not to be options because of federal desegregation orders. Reconstitution isn’t defined in state law. Education Commissioner Johnny Key has been vague on what that might mean for the district.