In a letter this afternoon, Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed Education Commissioner Johnny Key to withdraw the state from PARCC, the multi-state consortium that Arkansas used for its standardized tests in public schools this last academic year.
Hutchinson previously “recommended” on June 8 that the state switch from PARCC to the ACT Aspire, another assessment, for the 2015-16 school year. I put “recommended” in quotes because it was clear the governor expected his word to be the final say on the matter. But later that week, on June 11, the State Board of Education threw a wrench in those plans by rejecting the proposed contract with ACT. The state board said it was concerned about the process by which the decision was being made and the quality of the ACT Aspire itself. Several members on the board said they didn’t necessarily endorse PARCC, but that they felt jumping into a new test (the third in as many years) would be a bad idea. The surprise 7-1 vote united progressives on the board with members who are typically more sympathetic to business and choice-based education reforms.
It was implied in the state board’s decision that ADE would likely be renewing its contract with PARCC — which expires at the end of this month — for at least another school year. But the governor’s letter today tells Key to do just the opposite.
Hutchinson cites the MOU by which Arkansas originally joined the PARCC Consortium, a paragraph of which states:
“In the event that the governor of 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”
The point here, I suppose, is that the governor effectively has the authority under that MOU to unilaterally withdraw the state from PARCC by declining to affirm a “continued commitment.” This obviates the need for any maneuvers by an interim legislative committee to nix the PARCC contract.
But unless I’m missing something, this changes nothing in the underlying equation. The governor can stop PARCC; he can’t start ACT Aspire. It’s the State Board’s responsibility to create a new contract (or renew an existing one). Here’s what Hutchinson said about that in his letter:
In my judgment, ACT and ACT Aspire are the right assessment tools to accomplish the goal of national comparison of student achievement and long-term stability. 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.
Those “certain steps” that are required? A vote of the State Board of Education to accept a new contract for assessment. That’s their mandate. I’ll be looking for responses from State Board members next.
This is the governor’s letter: