Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a measure passed by the General Assembly that would put off state implementation of a math-and-English testing program affiliated with the Common Core State Standards.
The governor made the bill a law on Wednesday.
Under the terms of a legislative agreement reached in conference committee between the House and Senate last month, schools won’t begin subjecting students to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers until 2015-16.
Instead, the state will continue using the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. The new law also outlaws “intrusive data tracking,” declares that the state shall continue maintaining authority over education standards and mandates that, “The state of Tennessee shall not adopt Common Core State Standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts.”
The Senate approved the PARCC delay 27-0. In the House, the vote was 85-8.
Also as part of the legislation, the state’s Department of Education is directed to seek competitive bids to administer any new standards-testing programs. The Joint Fiscal Review Committee will then review the bids and make a recommendation for adoption.
“Whatever is selected shall be tested before it is implemented,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican from Knoxville who sponsored the legislation.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said the PARCC delay is a “victory” on at least two fronts for Common Core opponents. It both gives critics more time to try and expose and publicize Common Core’s shortcomings, and it sets the stage for the state rejecting PARCC in favor of some other standardized-testing system not so closely associated with Common Core.
“PARCC is very expensive, and there will be other providers of standardized tests that will compete for our business, and that will cost a lot less,” said Casada. He said that if PARCC is ultimately rejected by Tennessee, then students won’t necessarily be taught a curriculum that’s skewed toward the Common-Core standards measured by PARCC.
“I do think (the PARCC delay) is a blow to Common Core as it was intended to be implemented,” said Casada.
That Haslam signed the PARCC-delay legislation wasn’t unexpected — he’d already indicated that he would. “The important thing is that the Common Core standards that we feel so strongly about are staying in place, and that’s what will be taught in our classrooms,” Haslam told reporters last month.
“I think a test like PARCC — and I think that there are several others that are more attuned to the Common Core standards that are being taught — I think would have been preferable,” the governor continued. “That being said, the Legislature wanted to do (a Request for Proposal), we signaled that we can live with that, and we’ll try to get that done as quickly as possible and have the best result that we can to bring back to the Legislature.”
But the governor’s top education official, Kevin Huffman, has expressed displeasure that the state wont be pushing ahead immediately with embracing all the components of Common Core. Huffman, who serves on the governing board of PARCC, said last month that the delay has him “concerned that children in other states will have access to more advanced assessments before Tennessee children.”
The ranks of Common Core opponents have generally been growing, and are politically diverse. Conservatives worry that Common Core represents a takeover of Tennessee education from forces outside the state, and that it’ll have a “dumbing-down” effect on students. Teachers both here and nationally are also becoming increasingly suspicious of Common Core and want to see implementation slowed down.
While the Tennessee Education Association has declared that it “is supportive of (Common Core) standards, particularly with the focus on higher order thinking, problem solving and constructed response assessments as opposed to all multiple-choice,” the organization also supported the delay of PARCC and listed passage of the moratorium as one of its “legislative victories” for the year.
“We’ve been concerned about schools and school districts and teachers and students being prepared for the new assessment,” TEA President Gera Summerford told TNReport Friday. “Hopefully the delay will allow some time to do things well and do things better. I have heard from school districts as well as individual teachers that a lot of the districts have felt like they weren’t ready.”
Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative organization that’s become increasingly active in the state’s politics over the last year, has made opposition to Common Core — along with resistance to the Affordable Care Act and promotion of tax cuts — a central issue of focus.
At a series of town-hall meetings around Middle Tennessee that the group hosted this week, AFP Tennessee’s director, Andrew Ogles, said the PARCC delay is clearly a win that Common Core critics can rally behind.
Ogles said one of the more objectionable things he hears Common Core supporters argue is that the system doesn’t have anything to do specifically with school curriculums. But if PARCC and Common Core are closely associated with one another, it’s inevitable that themes and priorities emphasized on the test are going to find their way into the classroom, he said.
“I like standards and I like testing,” said Ogles. “But they need to be standards that are created, owned and operated by Tennessee and the state Legislature. Right now, you have a system of standards that are basically under the control of the federal government — there are federal dollars tied to implementation. And you have a test, the PARCC test, which is copyrighted and owned by a private corporation.”
Ogles worries that if the state fully signs on to Common Core and adopts PARCC testing, parents and teachers will lose the ability to hold state and local elected leaders accountable for making changes to the system.