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story.lead_photo.caption In this Jan. 16, 2015 photo, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin is interviewed in his office at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. - Photo by AP / DANNY JOHNSTON

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday urged that anticipated revisions to the state's math and English/language arts standards include dropping the "Common Core State Standards" name.

Photo by Melissa Gerrits
Governor Asa Hutchinson prepares to speak to media regarding a review of Arkansas' child welfare services and the state Division of Children and Family Services compiled by Paul Vincent, director of the Alabama-based Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, during a press conference July 16, 2015 at the State Capitol in Little Rock.

The Common Core standards -- the basis for classroom instruction in the state's public schools -- were adopted by Arkansas and a majority of other states in 2010 at the urging of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Hutchinson's proposal to consider a name change for revised standards in the state came in a letter dated Wednesday that he sent to Arkansas Board of Education Chairman Toyce Newton of Crossett and the other members of that board.

The letter's purpose, Hutchinson wrote, was to formally submit to the Education Board the recommendations made last month by a governor's council that was specifically created to review those education standards.

The council proposed that the governor require a comprehensive review of the standards, that the review be done according to processes already established in state law and rules, and that the current Common Core State Standards be maintained until the revisions and improvements in the standards can be implemented.

"I have reviewed the recommendations with Commissioner [Johnny] Key," Hutchinson said in the letter, "and I understand that the Department of Education will initiate revision of the English/language arts and math standards according to [Arkansas law and Education Department rules]. The process allows the ADE to seek feedback from the public on the current and revised standards, and it allows ... Content Revision Committees ample time to review and revise the standards as necessary."

The governor did not alter or add to the nearly two dozen recommendations made by the 16-member council headed by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin -- other than to weigh in on a name change for the standards and encourage the Education Department and the Education Board "to facilitate and support increased communication" among parents, school districts and the Education Department on standards.

"I am instructing the ADE to examine any copyright issues with the Common Core State Standards," Hutchinson wrote. "To avoid any issues, I would recommend the ADE proceed with a new name for the standards, if need be."

Developers of the Common Core State Standards have said that individual states could add to the common set of standards by as much as 15 percent and continue to use the Common Core name. But the governor's council, without referring to any particular limitations to altering the standards, recommended that Arkansas maintain "complete and unfettered control over our educational standards."

The council also recommended that revisions and improvements to the standards be ongoing and not viewed as a one-time task.

Griffin, the council chairman, said the council's recommendation that the state take ownership of the standards and not be bound by an obligation to a national set of standards was one of the most significant aspects of the council's work.

"The biggest obstacle to getting our standards right is that people said the standards were ours but they didn't necessarily operate in a way that reflected that ownership," Griffin said at the time of the council's vote on the recommendations. "There was always a caveat. 'They are ours, but...,'" he quoted others as saying.

Griffin has cited states such as Texas and Indiana as examples of states that either didn't adopt the Common Core State Standards or backed away from them after initial adoption -- but have education standards that are similar to the common set of standards.

Key, who heads the Education Department, told the Council for Common Core Review late last month that the agency believes that the Common Core State Standards are "fundamentally sound" but also are not perfect and may be improved through already established processes for updating standards in any of the academic subject areas every five or six years.

The commissioner offered a timeline for making the revisions, which would start in October with a survey of the public about existing standards and the formation of content revision committees for math and English/language arts.

The committees would review and suggest revisions to existing standards over the winter and into the spring.

The timeline calls for the proposed new standards to be released for public review and comment in May 2016 and submitted to the Education Board for approval in July 2016. Implementation of revised standards could begin in schools in August 2016.

Key could not be reached Wednesday afternoon by email or through an agency spokesman for comment on the governor's letter.

The Arkansas Board of Education will meet with Key at 10 a.m. today for its regular monthly meeting at the Arch Ford Education Building, 4 Capitol Mall. The meeting will continue on Friday.

Plans for revising the state education standards are not an agenda item for the two-day meeting but could be raised in any one of a number of reports provided to the board by the commissioner, the assistant commissioners and the Education Board chairman.

In his letter, Hutchinson asked the Education Board to consider all the nearly two dozen recommendations made by the council, but he also said the board may decide some issues -- such as a call for appropriate funding and resources for schools with fewer resources -- might be better handled by the Legislature or other agencies.

"If this is the case, we can discuss what action should be taken," Hutchinson wrote.

The council's recommendations urged that attention be paid to the age-appropriate suitability of the standards for kindergarten and first grade pupils.

Council members proposed that the governor direct the Education Department to clarify the existing standards through the use of footnotes or other commentary to ensure there is consistency in their understanding.

It called for the development of a smartphone application for the standards so that Arkansans have quick access to the standards and related materials.

The council, which had earlier recommended that the state switch to the ACT Aspire student testing program, urged that the stay the course with that new test because it reduces student testing time and is aligned with college and career readiness standards.

"In regard to recommendations about special education testing, I recognize that the ADE will need to take into account federal regulations about special education," Hutchinson wrote in regard to still other council proposals.

"Lastly, I want to direct the ADE and the state Board to continue to utilize safeguards and protect student data," Hutchinson said.

The council recommended that the governor work with the Legislature to review laws governing personally identifiable student information and make such laws more restrictive where necessary.

The governor should ensure that all third-party companies and entities with which the state deals on student testing have "the most rigorous data protection provisions and policy," the council said.

A Section on 08/13/2015


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