Assessment

PARCC Expands States’ Options on Testing

By Catherine Gewertz — November 17, 2015 3 min read
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PARCC will now offer states the option of buying parts of its testing system and choosing their own vendor. Previously, states could purchase only the entire system, and they had to use Pearson for test administration.

The restructuring, announced Nov. 12, comes as testing plans for 2015-16 show a dwindling number of states using PARCC’s assessment, which was designed to align with the Common Core State Standards. A new analysis by the Education Commission of the States lists only six states and the District of Columbia as planning to use the consortium’s exam this school year. Eleven states and the District of Columbia used it in 2014-15. (The ECS analysis doesn’t count a new PARCC member, the Department of Defense schools, with 74,000 students.)

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, which used the test last year, are not doing so this year. Massachusetts, which allowed its districts to choose between PARCC and its previous state test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, last year, is due to decide on Nov. 17 which test to adopt statewide.

A Changing Landscape

Officials of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers made no mention of the shift in membership when they announced the restructuring. New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, a member of the group’s governing board, said in an interview that PARCC had made the change in response to feedback from states that have been asking for more options. The consortium timed it for release now, so states could consider it as they enter the procurement cycle for assessments for 2016-17, she said.

PARCC Options for a Customized Test

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has decided to allow states to use all or just some of its test. States have such options as:

BRIC ARCHIVE

Chief Executive Officer Laura Slover said in an email that the consortium is “beginning to see renewed interest” among “new states and agencies” in joining PARCC and is ready to respond to that interest by “providing different tiers of participation and opportunities for customization.”

The new tiered structure will allow states several ways of using PARCC. They can use the entire system with Pearson as test administrator or customize it by adding their own test questions. They can use the PARCC test’s structure and content, but choose their own vendor to administer it. They could also choose to buy test questions from a “free-standing” item bank.

States can also buy “blocks” of test items, giving them the ability to design their own tests with PARCC questions. Consortium officials said that states would still be able to compare their results with those of other states on those blocks of items, but presumably they wouldn’t be able to do so on other items in the test. States that use the block approach could use their own vendor to give the test, but would have to adhere to PARCC guidelines for test administration.

How Much?

The group has not made a decision yet on whether different price structures will be offered for the various tiered options, Skandera said. PARCC has used a single price structure from the start, charging member states one price for the summative tests and all other instructional and diagnostic resources. On the other hand, Smarter Balanced, the other state testing consortium, allows states to pay one price for the summative tests only and a slightly higher one if they add the interim, formative, and instructional resources.

The PARCC board said it will soon decide whether and how to create “a new entity” to enable states to work together to craft test content and “offer greater flexibility and greater access” to that content for any state. No further details on that new entity were available.

John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education, who battled with Gov. Bobby Jindal over the use of PARCC, said in an interview that some states want more flexibility in designing their own tests. Louisiana used PARCC last year, though it was administered by a different vendor, he said. This year, Louisiana is incorporating some PARCC content into its own test, White said.

“I talk to states weekly who want [test] results that are comparable with other states, they want the cost savings that come with sharing development of test questions across multiple states, but at the same time, they want to maintain control of their own test,” White said. “We’re in that camp.”

In a statement issued by PARCC, Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s former education commissioner, who worked to develop PARCC as part of the consortium, but then opted not to use the test, said that the past year has shown that “states have complex and dynamic needs,” including for “high-quality tests and test items like those found in PARCC” and for “flexibility in creating testing products.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 02, 2015 edition of Education Week as PARCC to Let States Buy Parts of Tests And Select Vendors

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