UPDATE, 1:02 p.m.:
Although the Legislative Council met today, the testing issue didn’t come up. When I asked Rep. David Meeks on Twitter whether it might, he said, “I understand [the State Board o Education] asked for an emergency review of the PARCC contract and it was denied.” Meeks said the contract would first go to either the chairs of ALC or the chairs of one of its subcommittees. I’m asking the state board for some clarity about how that will work, considering the short timeline we’re under to renew Arkansas’s contact with PARCC. Education Department officials told the state board yesterday that the contract must be renewed by July 1.
Yesterday’s vote by the State Board of Education to nix Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to replace the PARCC test with the ACT Aspire has attracted the anger of some Republican legislators, who say they intend to fight the state board’s decision in a committee with power over agency contracts.
Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle), said in an email, “A number of legislators are reviewing the particulars of whether renewal of the PARCC contract will require Legislative Council approval in order to go through. If so (and we believe it does require review and approval) it is the intent of a number of us to vote against renewing the PARCC contract.”
Lowery sponsored legislation during the 2015 session that would have halted PARCC testing immediately. Had it passed in its original form, it would have stopped Arkansas schools from using the test this spring. Instead, a compromise version that eventually passed the General Assembly required the state board to enter into statewide testing contracts on a year-by-year basis. That final bill signaled displeasure with PARCC but stopped short of barring the state board from using the test in the coming school year.
The Arkansas Legislative Council is the body that coordinates the business of the legislature during the interim. It may indeed have the power to block a contract of the Arkansas Department of Education. It does not, however, have the power to force ADE into a contract. That’s the domain of the State Board of Education.
So, while Legislative Council might be able to stop the state from using PARCC in the coming school year, it can’t force ADE to embrace ACT Aspire. If that sounds like a recipe for a showdown, well, we shall see.
Some legislators are already talking about a different option: Another special legislative session. Rep. David Meeks (R-Greenbrier) said on Twitter last night, “For the record, I would support a special session to pass legislation to use the ACT test instead of the PARCC.”
Let’s be clear: The state board yesterday did not deliver a ringing endorsement of PARCC, but rather a rebuke to the decision to switch to ACT Aspire. PARCC is simply the default option at this point, in part because the state’s contract for PARCC for the 2015-16 school year must be renewed by the end of the month if we are indeed using that test.
This is far from over. Teachers on social media are abuzz; many are distilling the complex situation down to something like “the governor wanted to end PARCC and the State Board just brought it back.” That doesn’t play well. Educators generally dislike PARCC and don’t want it to continue, from what I’ve seen. Other teachers, though, are cautioning that ACT Aspire is an unknown quantity and would constitute yet another change in the testing regimen.
The governor issued the following statement in response to yesterday’s state board decision. He doesn’t indicate whether he’d support legislative action to force a showdown. Given Hutchinson’s cautionary style, it seems more likely he’ll soon be seeking to meet with the state board in private.
“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.”