Reach of PARCC, Smarter Balanced, Drops Sharply in 2015-16

By Catherine Gewertz — March 28, 2016 3 min read
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Only 32 percent of U.S. public school students live in states that are using the federally funded PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests statewide to measure mastery of the common core. That’s a big drop from only a year ago, when 46 percent of students did.

Here’s a look at the states using PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or some other test for the common core. There’s a fourth column for three states that are taking different approaches: They’re giving districts a choice of what test to use (Massachusetts) or blending PARCC or Smarter Balanced questions with their own, state-designed items (Louisiana and Michigan).

Keep in mind that the numbers in this chart show states’ total preK-12 populations, not the number of students in the grades mandated for testing under federal law (grades 3-8 and once in high school). The chart also uses two sets of data that don’t completely align: We combine the most recent federal figures, from fall 2013, with 2015-16 survey data done by Education Week on which tests states have chosen. (For the full survey results, shown in an interactive format that lets you filter in a variety of ways, see EdWeek’s national testing survey for 2015-16.)

In the chart posted here today, there is a small slice of the U.S. student population (three states, with 6 percent of U.S. students) that we’ve put in their own category. Those three states are not in the PARCC or Smarter Balanced columns, but that doesn’t mean their students are untouched by those tests, either. In two of those states, Louisiana and Michigan, students in grades 3-8 will be answering PARCC or Smarter Balanced questions, blended with questions designed by their own states. In a third, Massachusetts, students in grades 3-8 will be taking the PARCC in some districts, and in others, they’ll be taking the state’s legacy exam, the MCAS. We’ve put these three states in their own column (and set them aside this way in our national interactive chart, too) because they are states that are not giving the entire PARCC or Smarter Balanced statewide, to every student, in every mandated-testing grade.

There’s another thing that a quick look at this chart doesn’t tell you: how PARCC and Smarter Balanced strength has eroded at the high school level. Some of the states listed in those columns are giving the PARCC or Smarter Balanced test only in grades 3-8, or, in one case, 3-9. (Edweek’s national survey of states’ tests has filters for this, so you can see where states are giving a consortium test in grade 9 or lower, but chose another test for high school.)

For the reasons I’ve discussed, the chart I’m posting today is not a representation of the number of students who are taking PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or some other test this year. It’s an estimate of the proportion of U.S. students whose states have chosen specific testing options. As such, it’s a gauge of the national reach of the consortium tests, and other assessment options.

Last year, we took a similar approach and found that in 2014-15, 46 percent of students lived in states that had decided to give the PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests.

Flipping back and forth between last year’s and this year’s charts, you can see more states trading PARCC or Smarter Balanced for other tests:

  • In 2015-16, 11 percent of students live in states giving the PARCC exam to all students. In 2014-15, 18 percent did.
  • In 2015-16, 21 percent of students live in states giving the Smarter Balanced assessment to all students. In 2014-15, 28 percent did.
  • In 2015-16, 61 percent of students live in states giving statewide assessments other than PARCC or Smarter Balanced. In 2014-15, 51 percent did.
  • In 2015-16, 6 percent of students live in states that let districts choose which test to give, or blend PARCC or Smarter Balanced items with state-designed questions. In 2014-15, 2 percent of students lived in the one state (Massachusetts) that let districts choose which test to give. No state gave tests in 2014-15 that were a blend of state-designed and PARCC and Smarter Balanced items.

Stay tuned here as we continue to update you on the shifts in the national assessment landscape. As we’ve reported, key shifts are going on at the high school level, too, as states increasingly switch to the SAT or ACT as their required high school assessment.

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