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Assessment Consortia: Membership Begins to Shift

We are seeing the first shifts of membership in the two big state consortia that are designing assessments for the common standards.

Updating ourselves last week, we learned that New Hampshire has dropped out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium, but remains a member of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Georgia did the opposite; it withdrew from SBAC and stayed in PARCC. And Wyoming, which hadn't taken up with either group, joined SBAC.

What does all this mean? And why should we care about it?

A minute for a refresher course: these two big groups of states have some $360 million in federal Race to the Top money to design assessments for the common standards that have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. Those assessments stand to exert a powerful influence on education in nearly every state in the country by shaping curriculum and setting performance standards for the new learning expectations. The two consortia's work will overlap, and some elements of their plans are similar. But each has a different enough vision that it is instructive to track which states are opting for each approach. (I've blogged previously about all the different ways you can absorb the two consortia's plans: graphic depictions, Power Point versions, and more extended descriptions of each group's plans from its Race to the Top proposal.)

Before the grants were awarded, and states didn't know which would be funded, about a dozen put their eggs in both baskets and signed on with both groups. Consortium honchos joked that these were the "polygamous" states. Polygamy allowed them to avoid commitment to one approach, hedging their bets while waiting to see how funding and plans shaped up. The tradeoff was that they couldn't be "governing" states within any consortium, meaning that while they could influence test design, they couldn't wield the decision-making authority of governing states.

Federal guidance on consortium membership says that before the grants were actually awarded, states could belong to consortia without promising to use the final tests. But once the grants are awarded, they've got to commit to using the summative tests at the very least. (All you wonks who want a reference: check out C-8a and C-9 on page 17 of that guidance.)

So this—and the obvious logistical difficulty of trying to blend both approaches later on—would appear to be a key force drawing more monogamy from promiscuous or uncommitted states. New Hampshire and Georgia, which had been dating both consortia, each chose only one. Wyoming, which had been too shy to date, apparently, stepped up to partner with SBAC. Georgia used its new monogamy to make a major commitment: it switched from being a "participating" state in PARCC to being a "governing" state. (Arkansas had joined only one consortium, but chose to step up its commitment as well; it converted from participating to governing state in PARCC.)

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