Maryland Will Be the Next State to Drop the PARCC Common-Core Test

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 11, 2018 3 min read
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Maryland officials will drop the PARCC exam after the 2018-19 school year, reducing the number of states administering the full exam after that year to just two: New Mexico and New Jersey, plus the District of Columbia.

The state education department confirmed the news, which was first reported by The Baltimore Sun. State board members have discussed moving away from PARCC in the last six months, a Maryland education department spokesman said, and have already put out an RFP seeking a new test vendor.

PARCC was one of the original tests created to assess students’ grasp of the Common Core State Standards, the shared expectations in use in more than a dozen states, including Maryland; it is also comparatively more difficult than many of the other tests that emerged in the last decade, including other common-core tests.

Maryland’s move highlights the continued move away from the idea of shared tests since 2010, when the federal government announced the seed funding for PARCC and another group offering a common-core test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (SBAC still has 12 states using its test in at least one grade level.)

At the time, part of the hope was that the tests would allow for better comparison among states. But technical challenges about states’ different accommodations and schedules for administering the shared tests, coupled with the reluctance of states and the consortia to publish comparable growth data from each state, has made that more difficult. With more states dropping the full PARCC assessment, it could soon prove to be all but impossible.

PARCC ran into problems after parents and teachers complained about its length and the need to find computers for students to take it. To an extent, it’s also been a casualty of the general anti-test sentiment that grew beginning around 2013-14.

A Complicated PARCC Landscape

Here’s one tricky thing: The PARCC consortium doesn’t exist in the same way it once did, with a governing board managed by states. In 2015, its leaders decided to go in a new direction, allowing states to license content like specific test questions, rather than having a rigid membership model in which member states gave the whole test. By 2017 a new contractor, New Meridian, won an RFP to manage this new arrangement.

What that means is that as states’ testing contracts expire, they are, like Maryland, revisiting how—and whether—they use the PARCC exam moving forward.

“One of the real strengths is that it solves one of the biggest pain points for states as they develop state tests, and that’s the content development,” said New Meridian CEO Arthur VanderVeen in a recent interview. “Most are designing new custom state tests using the shared content; it has the benefits of a consortium without any of the rigidities of the consortium model.” New Meridian also now offers a shorter version of PARCC.

So here’s the current lineup for 2018-19 and beyond:

  • Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia plan to administer the PARCC assessment, either the original or the shortened one.
  • Two additional states, Colorado and Louisiana, blend PARCC questions with their own. Massachusetts formerly did so, but New Meridian does not have a contract with them yet for 2018-19, according to VanderVeen.
  • Illinois stepped away from PARCC in February but retains a license with New Meridian for 2018-19, which means it may incorporate some of the PARCC questions with its newly designed test. It’s unclear how or whether they’ll use that content.
  • New Jersey has made noises about dropping PARCC (that was a campaign pledge of Gov. Phil Murphy), but it has not formally done so and is not expected to devise a replacement until 2020-21 at the earliest.

As for Maryland, the state superintendent, Karen Salmon, Gov. Larry Hogan, and the Maryland State Education Association all support the move to ditch PARCC.

The Baltimore Sun also reported that Maryland is seeking a computer-adaptive test in the future. Those tests adjust questions based on how each test-taker answers the first set of questions, presenting easier or harder questions as they narrow in on each student’s specific skill level.

(One of the interesting things is that New Meridian itself is now working to craft an adaptive test; it was not immediately clear whether it was bidding in Maryland’s RFP. I know, I know—it’s endlessly complicated.)

Some prominent state educators including board member David Steiner and Sonja Santelises, the CEO of the Baltimore district, cautioned that Maryland’s new test should be as rigorous as PARCC and maintain a similar performance standards, the newspaper also reported.

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