Commissioner’s Communication Memo Number LS-06-110, posted on April 25, 2006, was written and posted to reaffirm the State Board of Education’s resolve and commitment to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Rules Governing Standards for Accreditation for Arkansas Public Schools and School Districts (Standards for Accreditation Rules) concerning Section 10.0, which articulates the minimum required 178 calendar days of student-teacher interaction time. Commissioner’s Communication Memo Number LS-06-110 (Memo) stated that “beginning with the 2006-2007 school year and for succeeding school years, this practice will no longer be allowed or approved by ADE” meaning that any waivers of the minimum required 178 school days of student-teacher interaction time can no longer be allowed or approved by the Arkansas Department of Education. The Memo was intended to be specific to waivers of the minimum required 178 school days of student-teacher interaction time.
Inadvertently, kindergarten screening was specified because of the increase in requested waivers for this process. The intent of the Memo was not to say that the practice of kindergarten screening (evaluation of students) could no longer occur, rather the previous Memo was intended to communicate that the ADE did not have the authority to grant any waivers of the Standards for Accreditation Rules. Instead, only the State Board of Education, pursuant to Section 27.0 of the Standards for Accreditation Rules, has the authority to grant waivers of only certain standards, which are not curriculum, student or school performance, or other standards required by law. In addition, such waivers can only be granted for up to one (1) school year. Given the high-stakes accountability and the fact that many school districts have received waivers in the past regarding the 178 school days of student-teacher interaction time, it is unlikely that the State Board of Education would consider granting any additional waivers of the 178 school days of student-teacher interaction time. Therefore, as mentioned, the previous Memo was only intended to communicate that the ADE will no longer grant waivers of the 178 school days of student-teacher interaction time. That Memo was not intended to communicate that districts are barred or prevented in conducting pre-kindergarten screening or other events, but rather that students that did not attend school during such events should be marked as absent on those official school days.
Local school boards of directors have the flexibility to determine how best to meet the needs of its student population and the patrons served; however, in doing so it must also maintain compliance with the requirements of Arkansas law and the Standards for Accreditation Rules. Therefore, the inability to waive the 178 days of student-teacher interaction time simply means attendance must be accurately reported on these days inclusive of, but not limited to kindergarten screening, Career Action Planning (CAP) conferences, and official release of graduating seniors. Section 27.0 of the Standards for Accreditation Rules outlines the State Board of Education’s waiver authority and the waiver process.
Most importantly, Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-213 requires a record of pupil attendance be kept by each school district of the state in a format prescribed by the ADE. This basic record, showing the daily attendance and absence of each student for the school year, shall be kept by a teacher or other officially designated person who visually notes the physical presence or absence of each student on a daily basis. This attendance record in each of the school districts of the state shall be the official data used in computing certain types of state aid for the following year.
All Arkansas public schools and school districts are required to be in compliance with the Standards for Accreditation Rules and Arkansas law. Failure to comply with the Standards for Accreditation Rules and Arkansas law could result in a recommendation by the ADE to the State Board of Education for an accredited-cited status, an accredited-probationary status, or loss of accreditation as described in the Standards for Accreditation Rules.