Gov. Asa Hutchinson has directed the Department of Education to withdraw Arkansas from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, despite a vote June 11 by the State Board of Education to keep Arkansas in the consortium.
Hutchinson is relying on a memorandum of understanding dated Sept. 20, 2010, between Gov. Mike Beebe, former Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell, and State Board Chairman Naccaman Williams, which states, “In the event that the governor or chief state school officer is replaced in a Consortium state, the successor in that office shall affirm in writing to the Governing Board Chair the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by that official’s predecessor within five (5) months of taking office.”
In a letter to Johnny Key, education commissioner, Hutchinson wrote that neither he nor the education commissioner had taken action to reaffirm the state’s continued participation in the consortium since Hutchinson took office Jan. 13. Instead, Hutchinson has expressed his opposition to Arkansas remaining in the consortium, he wrote.
The PARCC test is an exam given at the end of the year that is meant to assess students against the Common Core State Standards and compare them to other states. This was the first year that Arkansas students had taken the test. At one time, 24 states were in the consortium, but that number has dwindled to nine, including Arkansas, plus the District of Columbia.
During this year’s legislative session, a bill by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, to withdraw Arkansas from PARCC passed the House but died in the Senate Education Committee until it was amended to limit Arkansas’ contracts to no more than one year at a time. On June 8, Hutchinson recommended Arkansas leave PARCC on the recommendation of the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, a task force he appointed.
On June 11, the State Board of Education voted not to leave PARCC, setting up a potential battle with legislators.
Hutchinson wrote Key that the ACT and ACT Aspire tests would be the best assessment tools.
“I recognize the role of the State Board of Education in assessment selection and that certain steps are required to make a change. Please coordinate with the State Board of Education to select a new assessment provider,” he wrote.
J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Hutchinson, said the governor had been aware of the memo’s existence, but was not aware of the specifics until they were brought to his attention by Key.
In a statement from his office, Key said, “I support Governor Hutchinson’s decision and will work with the State Board of Education to fulfill the governor’s goal of a high-quality assessment and long-term stability for students, parents and educators. We will notify PARCC of this decision, and the ADE team will immediately begin developing options for a new assessment to present to the State Board.”
Dr. Jay Barth, a member of the State Board of Education and a Talk Business & Politics contributor, said he had been unaware that the governor was considering this route until he had been informed a few minutes earlier by another reporter.
“I appreciate that he recognized the State Board’s authority over the ultimate selection of the test,” he said. “This basis of pulling out of PARCC is something that I’m just really trying to get my head around in terms of that MOU that it’s being based on.”
Barth said he couldn’t predict how the State Board would respond. He said the State Board had voted to extend Arkansas’ participation in PARCC “knowing that the landscape for assessments is in total flux right now and that we really don’t know at the end of the day which assessments will be viable alternatives.”