The implosion of the PARCC assessments

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sotweed factor

As they say, where there is smoke, there may be fire.

EdWeek was reporting last week that the Partnership for Readiness in College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, one of the two state consortia developing national assessments, announced its product pricing.  At $29.50 a student, it was in line with Massachusetts’ pricing for the MCAS test, but it is two and three times the amount in many of the member states.  There are also big questions about the assessments viability.

In recent months, a number of states have pulled out of PARCC.  After the pricing announcement, Georgia pulled out of PARCC.  Just now came a press release from Indiana:


Indianapolis – Governor Mike Pence today issued a letter to Mitchell Chester, Governing Board Chair of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), in regard to withdrawing Indiana as a member of the PARCC Governing Board, effective August 12, 2013.

On May 11, 2013, the Governor signed HEA 1427 into law, which provides for a comprehensive evaluation, and allows for reconsideration, of the Common Core State Standards that were adopted by the State Board of Education in August of 2010. The legislation also curtails the state of Indiana’s participation in a consortium such as PARCC.

“Indiana’s educational standards must be rigorous, enable college and career readiness, and align with postsecondary educational expectations to best prepare our children to compete with their national and global peers,” said Governor Pence. “Assessments must also align with these high standards. I support the legislative intent of HEA 1427 and firmly believe it is the right and responsibility of the state to make independent, fiscally responsible decisions regarding standards and assessments for the good of all the people of Indiana.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz must also submit a letter of intent to PARCC’s Governing Board Chair in order for the state’s withdrawal from the PARCC Governing Board to go into effect.


But there is more.  Consider this item included in a National Journal article on the Common Core, which starts with the line “It’s been a bad month for the Common Core State Standards” and only gets worse as it goes along:

Meanwhile, a Washington Post analysis of Maryland’s latest test scores shows a steep drop in math and reading as classrooms are transitioning to the Common Core curriculum but still using old tests. The drop doesn’t necessarily mean that the kids aren’t learning as much, but it does mean that the tests don’t match the teaching—precisely the opposite effect that educators want when they seek accountability in schools. These are growing pains.

“It means we are in transition,” said Maryland Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery.

What?  One wonders what Lowery has been smoking.  Is she arguing that more difficult standards translate into lower standardized test scores?  Just imagine if Massachusetts adopted new standards and saw its ranking on the MCAS or the NAEP fall.  As a reasonable people, capable of reading, writing, and therefore thinking, we would stop the nonsense and change direction.

Lowery’s statement reminds me of the following quote taken from John Barth’s classic satirical novel, The Sot-Weed Factor, which is set in the Old Line State before it acquired that name:

The difference here ‘twixt simple and witty folk, if the truth be known, is that your plain man cares much for what stand ye take and not a fart for why ye take it, while your smart wight leaves ye whate’er stand ye will, sobeit ye defend it cleverly.

So now you have Pennsylvania putting its participation on hold; Indiana, Georgia and Oklahoma are out; and PARCC is in deep trouble in Florida and Ohio.

The number of states in PARCC is getting a far too close to the 15-state threshold outlined in its $160 million federal grant.  The departure of Indiana cannot help and the likely departure of Florida makes the argument that there is broad comparability across states and school environments through PARCC less and less true.  (That argument always struck me as a little silly — after all, who cares from a reform perspective if you can compare the schools in Athol, Mass., to those in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but…).

Moreover, if the Smart Balanced Consortium is the only one left standing after PARCC implodes, this becomes an almost too delicious thought to entertain: Soon, the Fordham Institute, Achieve, Inc., and other proponents of Common Core will need to coalesce behind Linda Darling-Hammond’s testing consortia if they want to see Common Core fully implemented.  Good luck selling that brand of smokes.

Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.