Friday, June 18, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK - State education officials were pleased with this year's results of standardized tests, which showed Arkansas students continuing to improve their scores in math and literacy.

They also are pleased that for the fourth consecutive year the academic achievement gap between white students and minority students continues to narrow.

The state Education Department released scores from Benchmark Exams, Stanford Achievement Tests, Metropolitan Achievement Tests and Grade 11 Literacy Exams. The Arkansas Commissioner of Education, who directs the department, emphasized that all the standardized tests are rigorous and thorough, so the higher scores reflect true improvement in students' academic ability.

He attributed much of the improvement to higher school standards adopted by the legislature after a state Supreme Court ruling in the Lake View school funding lawsuit. In 2002 the court required the state to provide all Arkansas students with an equitable and adequate education.

The legislature met in special session and enacted laws requiring a tougher and broader curriculum, higher standards for graduation and stricter financial and academic accountability for school districts.

You can find a breakdown of test results on the Education Department's web site. Search for "ArkansasEd".org and click on the right side of the page where there is a link to 2010 test scores.

The Benchmark Exams indicate whether students are at grade level in math and literacy. They were given to students in grades three through eight. Also this year, exams in science were given to fifth and seventh graders.

This year our third graders led the field in math - 84 percent scored at grade level, which was better than all other grades. Fourth graders were next best - 80 percent tested at grade level in math.

Our seventh graders showed the most improvement - 75 percent scoring at grade level in math, which is seven percentage points better than last year. No other grade improved so dramatically.

Test scores identify which students need extra help. Scores also identify schools that are failing to educate students. Schools that over several years consistently fail to bring up deficient test scores will be sanctioned by the state Education Department.

DNA Data Base

According to a national organization called the Innocence Project, 254 people in the United States have been freed from prison because DNA testing proved they were innocent. Of those inmates, 17 were on death row.

Arkansas is one of 20 states where law enforcement collects DNA samples from people accused of certain felonies, even before they have been convicted. Anyone charged with capital or first degree murder, first or second degree sexual assault or kidnapping must submit a DNA sample that goes into a national data base. The samples help the police solve crimes, and at the same time exonerate innocent people who were wrongly convicted or accused.

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