LITTLE ROCK — National education standards designed to help American students compete with others around the world will better prepare Arkansas students and reduce the need for remediation in college, but not right away, supporters told legislators Tuesday.
After hearing a day of scorching criticism Monday, members of the House and Senate education committees heard Tuesday from advocates of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Among those who testified was Megan Witonski, assistant commissioner of learning services with the state Department of Education, who said the standards would help reduce the amount of money paid for college remediation courses.
In January 2012, the state Department of Higher Education reported just over 1 in 3 freshmen who enrolled at Arkansas universities the previous fall and 49.5 percent of first-year students overall needed remediation, among the lowest remediation rates in a generation.
However, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, cautioned Tuesday that implementation of the Common Core standards could actually raise the remediation rate in the short term as students adjust to the tougher requirements.
"I don’t want to leave the impression that immediately when we implement Common Core remediation is going away because the opposite is probably true in the short term, " said Elliott, vice-chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a retired teacher.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said ACT scores currently are used to determine whether a student needs remediation, but that ACT scores are not a true assessment of college readiness.
"ACT is not based upon a set of standards for any state," he said, noting that the Common Core standards will be the same in every state.
"Our colleges and universities … are looking now at what is a better indicator of what our kids know and are able to do," Kimbrell said. "So, there obviously is a transition that would occur that may set that benchmark at a place that we won’t know for sure if that’s really that total indicator or not."
The Common Core standards for grades K-12 are internationally benchmarked, meaning that they seek to ensure that students in this country learn at the same pace as students in other parts of the world who have been outperforming them.
Development of the standards was coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, which are to be fully implemented in Arkansas during the coming school year.
Among the supports of the initiative is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate in 2008. On Tuesday, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, read a letter Huckabee wrote to Oklahoma lawmakers recently in support of the national education initiative.
The Oklahoma Legislature voted earlier this month to continue implementing Common Core, but for the state to design its own assessment test.
"These standards … have been near and dear to my heart since I served as governor of your neighboring state of Arkansas," Huckabee wrote in the letter. "And it’s disturbing to me there have been criticisms of these standards directed by other conservatives, including the RNC (Republican National Committee).
"Like many of you, I have heard the argument that these standards ‘threaten local control’ of what’s being taught in Oklahoma classrooms," Huckabee continued, adding "This is simply not true."
He said the standards developed as governors and state leaders talked about how states could raise standards on a voluntarily basis without Washington interference.
"In fact conversations about these standards began long before President Obama occupied the White House," Huckabee wrote.
Critics of the initiative testified Monday that it would dictate teaching methods and would involve excessive testing, to the detriment of overall student learning. They urged lawmakers to abandon the initiative.
Kimbrell and several others testified Tuesday that those fears are unfounded.
"If you look at the standards … there’s nothing in here that says you will use this method or that method," Kimbrell said.
Gary Ritter, director of the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy, told the panel, "I certainly don’t think we have any idea that the Common Core standards are going to lead to more hours or fewer hours of testing. I don’t think we know that yet."
Reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.