- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas will change its provider of standardized tests, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday, the first shake up from an ongoing review of whether to retain Common Core education standards.

The state will terminate its agreement with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and instead contract with ACT and ACT Aspire for the 2015-16 school year, Hutchinson said. A team assembled by the governor to review education, headed by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, recommended the change after receiving input from teachers, testing coordinators and others.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests were fully implemented only one year in Arkansas and were in line with Common Core standards, which have been heavily scrutinized, primarily by conservatives.

It’s unclear whether the state will continue with Common Core standards, the math and English benchmarks that have been adopted by more than 40 states. Griffin said he wants to have a final recommendation by the end of the month and that the standardized testing change will give the state more flexibility.

The council, he said, recommended the change in part because of ACT’s national recognition and shorter testing times.

“ACT is a known brand not only among educators but among kids taking the test,” Griffin said. “They know it. They trust it.”

It’s unclear how many days the new tests will take up, but Griffin said he expects “significantly less testing time.”

The change received tepid approval of the Arkansas Education Association, which said the testing had been the most troubling component of Common Core standards for teachers.

“Time to teach students is very important and the amount of testing done in the classroom has seen significant impact on instructional time,” association president Brenda Robinson said in a news release. “Adopting a new test system should involve serious evaluation of test-time vs. instructional time.”

Griffin said cost wasn’t a major factor in the move. An Arkansas Department of Education spokeswoman said the amount that the state paid PARCC wasn’t immediately available.

“Testimony didn’t indicate clearly that there would be a cost savings,” Griffin said. “At worst, it would be comparable. At best we could actually save some money.”

The council hasn’t made a final recommendation on the Common Core standards and is wrapping up a nine-city listening tour. Griffin has said the group will also examine math and English standards as well as student data privacy.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key said the state’s current contract expires June 30, but that he plans to ask the State Board of Education on Thursday to consider formal action approving the transition to ACT and ACT Aspire.

“Our primary goal is for all students to graduate from high school ready to enter either college or a career,” Key said in a news release. “We believe ACT and ACT Aspire assessments will be effective tools to measure how well we are meeting that goal.”

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Allen_Reed

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