LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education voted Thursday to authorize state education officials to pursue a sole-source contract for ACT and ACT Aspire standardized tests for the 2015-16 school year, as requested by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education voted Thursday to authorize state education officials to pursue a sole-source contract for ACT and ACT Aspire standardized tests for the 2015-16 school year, as requested by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.


The 4-2 vote, with two members abstaining and the chairman not participating, effectively reversed the board’s previous rebuff of the governor’s request. On June 11, the board voted 7-1 to renew the state’s contract with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, despite Hutchinson’s desire to drop the PARCC exams.


But since the June vote, Hutchinson has appointed three new members to the board to replace two whose terms ended and one who resigned to take a position with the Walton Family Foundation. All three of the newly appointed members — Charisse Dean, Brett Williamson and Susan Chambers — voted Thursday to switch to ACT, along with member Joe Black, who previously voted to stick with PARCC but reversed his position Thursday.


Hutchinson said in a statement Thursday, "I applaud the Board of Education for its vote in switching from PARCC to ACT/ACT Aspire. The board members were thoughtful and deliberate on this issue and reached a final decision that I think is best for our students and teachers over the long term. It provides stability and aligns Arkansas with a nationally recognized testing system."


Board members who did not support the switch expressed frustration.


"This is the first time in my 20-some-odd-year experience in education seeing an assessment be created and developed in this manner, without a procurement process, without the ability for educators across the state to really weigh in and ask questions, without the benefit of us seeing and hearing from the Technical Advisory Committee, without understanding the pros and cons of other tests," Vickie Saviers, one of the board members who abstained, said during the meeting.


Hutchinson requested the switch on the recommendation of a task force that he created earlier this year. Saviers said Thursday the board members had been told that there is no time to go through a normal procurement process, and that if they approved a contract with any entity other than ACT, the contract would not receive legislative approval.


"I feel just in a corner," Saviers said.


Board member Jay Barth, who also abstained, said he believes there are positive aspects to the ACT tests but said he has concerns about their reliability and whether they are adequately aligned with the Common Core State Standards. He said the best thing to do would be to use the PARCC exams or something similar for the coming school year and to request proposals from vendors for a contract starting with the 2016-17 school year.


"That’s what feels right; that’s not an option. At least that’s what we’ve been told," he said. "It feels so frustrating to not have an option on the table that feels like the right thing to do."


Board members Diane Zook and Mireya Reith voted against switching to ACT.


"To hurry to do something now would not serve the students or the parents or the patrons or the educators well," Zook said.


Dean, who made the motion to switch to ACT, said she believed the board should approve the switch "if we want to help the teachers to be able to move forward in a quick manner and to salvage what we can."


Alice Mahony, who cast the only vote for the switch to ACT last month and whose board term ended June 30, spoke from the audience Thursday in favor of the ACT exams, as did two other audience members. One audience member, Dana Breitweiser, a former state Department of Education employee and a former employee of PARCC, spoke in support of keeping PARCC for at least one more year.


State Education Commissioner Johnny Key told reporters after the vote, "There have been pitfalls and difficulties in the last six months regarding assessments. Hopefully, this will give us the opportunity to move beyond all that controversy and get something in place."


Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, chairman of the Council on Common Core Review, which recommended the switch from PARCC to ACT last month, said in a statement Thursday, "Today’s vote will serve our children well and bring quality, relevancy and certainty to the testing process."


The task force has not yet made a recommendation on whether the state should retain the Common Core State Standards.