Tennessee, Arne Duncan’s Show Horse, Set to Delay PARCC Tests for One Year

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 18, 2014 2 min read
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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is fond of using Tennessee as an example of where American education should be heading. Last year, in fact, he said the state is “leading the nation” in terms of education policy changes.

So it has to be disappointing to Duncan and others that Tennessee is on the verge of approving a one-year delay in administering the test from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The requirement to delay the test until the 2015-16 academic year is heading to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for approval, after both the state Senate (27-0) and House (86-8) adopted it. Haslam has indicated that he’ll sign it, according to The Tennessean. Even if Haslam, a Republican were to veto the plan, the vote counts in both chambers would be more than enough for a veto override in Tennessee.

There’s another aspect to the proposal, however. For the 2015-16 academic year, Tennessee’s education department would have to open up a competitive-bidding process for the state assessment. While the state could end up choosing the PARCC test in the end anyway, it puts the test from the common-core testing consortia on less secure footing than it was just a few months ago. (Remember, unlike the common core itself, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia received federal funding to develop the tests totaling $360 million.)

This mirrors what South Carolina Superintendent Mick Zais says he wants for South Carolina as he pushes for the state to move away from Smarter Balanced: a chance for the state to explore new common-core testing options in a competitive market.

Common core supporters in Tennessee can take heart that earlier plans in the legislature called for the state to delay the use of the common core itself for two years belly-flopped. Dave Mansouri, the executive vice president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a coalition in Tennessee that supports the common core, expressed this view:

But state Commissioner Kevin Huffman was saddened by the looming PARCC delay.

“I think our students are as ready as students anywhere in the country for the assessment transition, and I am concerned that children in other states will have access to more advanced assessments before Tennessee children,” he said in an email to Volunteer State superintendents, as reported by The Tennessean.

My colleague Michele McNeil has bird-dogged the question of what happens to states in possession of waivers from No Child Left Behind if they subsequently ditch common-core aligned tests from PARCC or Smarter Balanced. That issue naturally crops up again for Tennessee, although it’s of a slightly different taxonomy because this is a delay, not a complete abandonment. The state’s NCLB-vintage test for federal accountability is the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.