Arkansas Board of Education to retain PARCC testing, rejects Hutchinson request

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 164 views 

Not so fast on the move to end controversial PARCC testing in Arkansas. The Arkansas State Board of Education voted 7-1 Thursday (June 11) against allowing a state contract with the ACT and in favor of keeping the Common Core standards tied PARCC test it implemented this year.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office and the Department of Education announced that Arkansas would terminate its contract with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), only months after Arkansas students participated in the PARCC test for the first time this year. The state will replace the test with the ACT and the ACT Aspire tests. The State Board of Education, the final decision maker, was asked Thursday to approve the new arrangement. They rejected Hutchinson's request with the solid 7-1 vote.

Gov. Hutchinson issued this statement after the vote: “I’m disappointed the state Board of Education rejected the recommendation for student assessment for the next school year. The recommendation was based on the conclusions reached by the Common Core Review Council, a 16 member council made up of teachers, administrators, business leaders and students from all over the state.

“The legislature had directed through Act 1074 that the current PARCC contract not be renewed long term and for the State Board to consider a change for the 2016-17 school year. I determined it best to make the change for the next school year for the sake of long-term stability for the teachers, school districts and for the sake of our students.

“In the coming days, I will work closely with Commissioner Key and the Board to determine the best guidance we can provide our students, teachers and administrators as to the next steps in student assessments.”

State Education Board member Jay Barth said frequently changing tests makes it difficult to assess districts in distress.

“We knew it was going to be complicated with one transition in assessments. How can a board truly make a decision that is non-arbitrary when there have been that many alterations in assessments?” asked Barth.

Deborah Jones with the Arkansas Department of Education told the board the ACT would be a good assessment to use with Common Core.

“We have to make a decision and we have to be consistent for a number of years, if you do anything. And by years, seven years, let’s get a good quality assessment and let’s stick with that for a period of time,” said Jones. “As far as setting cut scores and determining school status, that can be done with the assessment. But we have to determine the assessment we want to give and not debate back and forth about it.”

Other board members expressed concern that Common Core math and other subject areas are not adequately aligned with the ACT. State Board member Vicki Saviers said the assessment vetting process had been rushed.

“You guys, you’ve got assessment folks who are very qualified at the department. … It’s a concern for me because at any moment, anyone might decide we need to change assessments for whatever reason and truthfully it feels a little political,” said Saviers.

Other board members expressed concern about pursuing a contract with ACT on such a short timeframe without undergoing a more standard bidding process with competing assessment providers.

The request to end PARCC and move to ACT testing was the result of a recommendation by the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, chaired by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. Hutchinson appointed the council earlier this year to consider changes to the Common Core, the controversial set of standards adopted by most states.

Griffin said the council’s decision to replace PARCC with ACT was “not unanimous, but not far away. We were pretty confident as to where we were going on this, and we knew that a decision was going to be made, and in order to be helpful, we wanted to make that.”

The Common Core is a set of standards shared by most states that has become a political lightning rod – especially the PARCC test, which originally involved 24 states but has since been reduced to nine, including Arkansas, plus the District of Columbia. A bill that would have ended Arkansas’ participation in PARCC passed the House this year but failed in the Senate Education Committee until it was amended to allow Arkansas to enter into no more than a one-year contract with PARCC.