Illinois Will Step Back from PARCC Test. Is New Jersey Next?

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 22, 2018 2 min read
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Illinois has begun to move away from the PARCC standardized test, which underpins school accountability in the state.

The state board of education last week authorized the release of a proposal request seeking a new test developer to create a replacement for the PARCC test, formally known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It’s given in grades 3-8 and measures students’ grasp of the Common Core State Standards.

The state doesn’t plan to totally cut the cord with PARCC. Instead, it will still include a core of PARCC test items on the new tests so that it can maintain some level of year-to-year comparability in student results as it transitions.

In a letter to school district leaders, Illinois Superintendent Tony Smith said that, among other things, the state would preserve features of the test, including “complex writing tasks that require strategic reasoning and extended investigation to solve problems.”

Here’s a link to the board document with more details on PARCC’s replacement (scroll to p. 54). Among other things, the state wants the replacement exam to give teachers results quicker. It also wants to use an “adaptive” test model, which means that the test would adjust to each test-taker, giving a student harder questions if he or she has mastered more of the content standards, for example. (PARCC gives all students the same set of questions.)

Generally speaking, said Scott Marion, the executive director of the Center for Assessment, adaptive testing means you need many more test questions—potentially costlier than a “fixed form” test like PARCC.

If you’re doing an item-level computer-adaptive test, you need a big item bank—five, maybe ten times larger than it takes to build a fixed-form test. And item development drives cost,” he said.

But, he added, there are also other kinds of adaptive testing that might not require as many questions. Perhaps the bids that come in will propose using those models.

Will New Jersey Be Next?

The news from Illinois also means that, after this spring’s testing cycle, there will be only three states using a “pure” PARCC test: Maryland, New Jersey, and New Mexico, plus the District of Columbia.

Of those states, New Jersey also remains a big question mark, because Gov. Phil Murphy and state Superintendent Lamont Repollet have both said recently that they wanted to get rid of the PARCC test. Neither has announced any firm plans to do so, however, and the state education department declined an interview request.

See also: Smarter Balanced Test Results Are Mostly Flat. Is That a Problem?

At one point, the consortia that created PARCC had as many as 22 member states, although some of those dropped out long before the first test administration, in the 2014-15 school year. Still, complaints about the cost and length of the exam have taken their toll over the last few years—as has politics, in the form of legislators who wanted to move away from perceived Obama-era reforms. (PARCC got started thanks to a federal grant program.)

Where the count of PARCC states get tricky is that a few states, taking advantage of flexibility announced in 2015 by the consortium, decided to blend some PARCC questions with their own state-designed ones, in an attempt to keep the “trend line” going on their exams.

Colorado, for instance, uses a mix of items, as do Massachusetts and Louisiana.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.