Growing dropout of states in Common core testing

Growing dropout of states in Common core testing

(Colo.) Five years after 43 states and the District of Columbia officially adopted a new set of national education goals, fewer than half will actually administer assessments this year fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

New research out this month reveals that not only are fewer states administering exams tied to the new standards but that membership has declined in the two national consortia that developed those tests – Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career.

In fact, that drop in membership is very likely behind an announcement last week by PARCC that it is restructuring its testing system to provide access options to more states, including non-member states, said researchers from the Education Commission of the States, a non-partisan education research and policy tracking agency based in Denver.

“That, I think, is at least partly in response to some states exiting and some of the political backlash over the assessments,” said ECS’s Julie Woods, the lead researcher on a report identifying state summative assessments being given in all 50 states. “Both of the consortia have started to sort of open up a little bit to more flexibility and I think you see that in PARCC’s announcement.”

The analysis comes even as student assessment systems in many states are still evolving. In just the past year alone, at least 15 states have made significant changes to their assessment systems, said Woods in an interview last week. That number, she said, includes states that have left one of the two testing consortia and have developed their own assessments or those that have taken their own “unique route” and created tests that blend elements of their consortia’s exam with state-specific items.

“It’s really difficult, frankly, to keep track of,” Woods said. “I know this piece we just put out will probably be out of date within a month.”

For now however, just six of PARCC’s 12 member states and the District of Columbia plan to administer the consortium’s full assessment this year, ECS found, and 14 of Smarter Balanced’s 15 member states (the U.S. Virgin Islands and select schools in the Bureau of Indian Education are with Smarter Balanced as well) will give that consortium’s full range of tests.

At least 25 states will administer state-specific assessments while the remaining handful is still in development stages.

Louisiana, a former PARCC member that dropped out due to political controversy over the Common Core standards, announced on Friday that it would use PARCC content for just under half of a new state assessment system it is developing.

Massachusetts allowed its districts last year to choose between administering PARCC assessments or its existing MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). There continues to be debate and state education commissioner Mitchell Chester announced last week a  recommendation that the state create a “Next Generation MCAS” adding items from PARCC to the current MCAS to be first used in spring of 2017.

Michigan, a Smarter Balanced member, did not administer the consortium assessment last year but is planning to give new exams this year that combine elements of Smarter Balanced with its own state tests.

According to Smarter Balanced spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier, the new PARCC assessment model is similar in many ways to Smarter Balanced’s model, which since its inception has allowed options for both member and non-member states to use the group’s testing packages. PARCC’s initial model required states to purchase only the entire system and to use only Pearson as the test administration vendor.

“From the outset, Smarter Balanced was designed to be administered, scored and reported by multiple vendors,” Gauthier said in an email to Cabinet Report. “Each state has the flexibility to select its own testing vendor. Currently members contract with one of four vendors to administer the Smarter Balanced tests online. Because members contract with their own vendor, delivery is readily customizable including the option of adding their own items to their tests.”

Gauthier said about six million students will be taking the Smarter Balanced tests in the coming year.

With the variation in assessments, the next big question on the education testing front is likely to be how to compare student results across states, although Woods said there are other exams like the SAT, ACT and National Assessment of Educational Progress that will provide that information.

And the fact remains, the researcher said, that while the assessment picture presents somewhat of a mixed bag, academic curriculum in all but seven U.S. states is still based on the Common Core standards, designed to raise the bar for student achievement and align learning goals for K-12 students across the country.

“When you’re talking about the purposes of the Common Core – to hold all students accountable to higher standards and potentially provide more comparability across states of how students are performing – then, yes, there’s some complication with comparing the PARCC exam, for example, to another state that’s not using it,” Woods said. “But that doesn't mean all students aren't being held to higher standards.”

The ECS report, which includes a 50-state comparison chart of the summative assessments being administered, found that all states are meeting federal mandates that require math and English testing in grades three through eight and once in high school, as well as science exams at specific intervals.