A lot has changed with the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests since they were first launched in 2015. Here are a few things to know about them.
PARCC isn’t just a test now. It’s an item bank, too.
Whenever people I know talk about PARCC, they’re talking about a test. What’s an item bank?
Fair enough. Let me explain. PARCC did start out as a full-length test that students take at the end of the year. But the PARCC consortium changed its business model in 2015, recognizing that fewer states wanted that full-length test anymore. It decided to let states take a more customized approach.
Under the revised model, states can now license the full PARCC exam, or just some individual questions. That allows them to build a test that’s a mixture of PARCC questions and questions they write themselves. In 2017, the states in the PARCC consortium hired a nonprofit called New Meridian to oversee that collection of 10,000-plus test questions—known as an item bank.
Does that mean states are now giving a “partial PARCC” test?
Yes and no. A few states still give the full PARCC exam. A few others are licensing questions from the item bank that contains all of PARCC’s original content. But New Meridian has developed test questions for the item bank, too. Some of those questions are also in circulation.
Then can we still call these things “PARCC” tests?
Right now, most of the questions in the New Meridian item bank were designed by the PARCC states. But by the spring of 2020, most items that states license will likely have been designed by New Meridian, in consultation with state departments of education and teachers.
Smarter Balanced is still a full-length test, and only a full-length test.
So Smarter Balanced doesn’t let states use just some questions from its item bank?
No. Smarter Balanced offers states two options: buy the full test by itself, or buy the full test plus a package of other resources, such as formative tools—exercises that are designed to support and gauge learning as it happens—and interim tests.
I thought PARCC and Smarter Balanced were tests. What are these consortia?
They are tests. But those tests got their names from the big groups of states that designed them.
States? That rings a bell. Refresh my memory.
The U.S. Department of Education wanted to create tests that states should share to measure students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards, which came out in 2010. The feds handed out $360 million in grants for that project. But they required that big groups of states band together to design the tests.
Two consortia of states won that money: The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career.
They each got nicknames: PARCC and Smarter Balanced.
Do the consortia exist anymore?
There is still a consortium of 12 Smarter Balanced states that share decisionmaking about test design and other business. All 12 administer the Smarter Balanced assessment.
The PARCC consortium disbanded in 2017 after transferring all of its test questions to the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization that represents state school superintendents.
The only “PARCC” that still exists is in the form of test content: those legacy questions in the New Meridian item bank.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Common-Core Testing 2.0: Get Updated in 7 Questions