A study group recommended changing the state’s Common Core test provider before it made its other recommendations because of timing issues and certainty, the group’s chairman, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, told members of the House and Senate Education Committees Monday.
Earlier in the day, 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, will be asked to approve the new arrangement Thursday.
The change comes as the result of a recommendation by the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, chaired by 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 charge is to provide both initial and final recommendations and that this initial recommendation needed to be made apart from others to be “helpful.”
Education Commissioner Johnny Key later told educators that the Department of Education has been planning for various testing alternatives, including continuing with PARCC and using another provider such as ACT. Professional development training on PARCC was scheduled to begin this week but now will be rescheduled.
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.
Asked by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, why the council had recommended ACT over PARCC, Griffin said the PARCC takes too much time from classroom work and has logistical issues. ACT is a well-respected brand familiar to both teachers and students that has been used in Arkansas for decades, and it brought together those who both supported and opposed PARCC.
“ACT, I think, represents a lot of common ground between both sides and allows for a new start with a known quantity,” he said.
Griffin said that while Hutchinson had asked for final recommendations in the fall, “I’m shooting by the end of June, this will be done. Speed matters in this particular instance.”
Griffin said the council has listened to 40 hours of testimony and is in the process of conducting listening sessions across the state, with stops in Batesville, Pine Bluff and Fort Smith remaining. Attendance at the listening sessions has been disappointing.
“We have had people at these events. I wish we had more,” he said. “I wish we had a lot more, but we have not.”
He said many of the public’s concerns – though certainly not all – are related to communication and implementation. He estimated that about 75% of the criticisms he has heard involve members of the public mistakenly associating other problems with the Common Core.
For example, many complaints about Common Core math are really about a type of math known as Cognitively Guided Instruction that is aligned with the Common Core, but is not required.
The Common Core standards were originally adopted by 46 states as well as the District of Columbia. Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota were among the states that didn’t adopt the standards. Since 2010 when Arkansas adopted the standards, several states, including Oklahoma, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky have repealed the standards or the use of the accompanying assessment, PARCC or Smarter Balance.
Several educators in the state recently told The City Wire that they hope officials give them more time to assess Common Core.
“This isn’t something that just happened. It’s been four-year implementation process.” Bentonville has created parent understanding and buy-in during that time through collaboration,” said Bentonville Superintendent Mike Poore.
Educators who spoke to The City Wire also made it clear that PARCC and Common Core are not connected. Some of the opposition to Common Core seems to intertwine Common Core with PARCC.
“Don’t confuse Common Core with PARCC,” said Barry Owen, assistant superintendent for instruction in the Fort Smith School District. “Common Core is like a Cadillac being driven down a dirt road, called PARCC, which is now being paved.”