- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Board of Education on Thursday agreed to the governor’s choice for a new standardized test to replace one linked to the controversial Common Core standards, less than a month after rejecting the same switch.

By a 4-2 vote, the panel voted to contract with ACT tests for the coming school year. Two members of the nine-person board opposed to the switch abstained from the vote, a move that meant only four votes were needed rather than an outright majority of the panel.

The ACT and ACT Aspire tests will replace the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Consortium that the state had been using. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month ordered state education officials to withdraw from PARCC, days after the board rejected switching to the ACT tests.

Hutchinson praised the board for the change, saying it would provide stability and align the state with a nationally recognized testing program.

“Its willingness to move away from PARCC and seek this new contract is an indication of the board’s continued dedication to putting Arkansas’s students first,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office.

The PARCC tests are based on the Common Core standards, which are math and English benchmarks that have been adopted by a majority of states and describe what students should know after completing each grade. They were developed by states to allow comparison of students’ performance. The Obama administration embraced the standards and encouraged states to use them, but Common Core has faced increasing criticism, primarily from conservatives.

Hutchinson had called for dropping the PARCC tests based on a recommendation from the task force he formed to review the state’s involvement in Common Core. The task force hasn’t issued a final recommendation on the Common Core standards. Since last month’s vote, Hutchinson has appointed three new members to board, all of whom supported the switch to the ACT tests.

Thursday’s vote drew complaints from board members who said the push for switching test providers gave them no options other than the governor’s choice, given the narrow time frame before next school year.

“It feels so frustrating to not have an option on the table that feels like the right thing to do,” said board member Jay Barth, who opposed the switch last month but abstained from Thursday’s vote.

Some board members had called for sticking with PARCC another year or opening the testing contract up for bids.

“To hurry to do something now would not serve the students or the parents or the patrons or the educators well,” said Diane Zook, who opposed switching to the ACT tests.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key said issuing a request for proposals would have been a four- to five-month process and given the state little time to prepare for administering the new tests next spring.

“Time is not a luxury that we have,” said board member Charisse Dean, who voted for the switch.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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