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Assessment Group Cuts Back Diagnostic, Formative Work

One of the two big groups of states that are designing tests for the Common Core State Standards has pared back its plans to produce diagnostic and formative assessment tools because it had to use more of its available funding to create summative tests.

The budget shift was disclosed at yesterday's quarterly meeting of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Updating the governing board on the progress of the diagnostic and formative work, two consortium leaders said that the $19 million allotted to design diagnostic tools for grades 2-8 and formative assessments for grades K-1, along with a test of the standards' speaking and listening skills, has been cut back to $17.7 million.

The latest figures reflect a changing budget landscape within the various pieces of PARCC's work. The amount of money the group had to build the "non-summative" pieces of its work—the computer-based, on-demand diagnostic tools; the model formative assessments and the speaking-and-listening tests—had actually increased to $19 million from its original level of $15.8 million. The newest adjustment, to $17.7 million, represents a cutback, but is still more than what it was originally awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

When $19 million was available, the development of the diagnostic tools and the speaking-and-listening assessments was budgeted for $9.5 million, according to a presentation made at the meeting. The formative tools for kindergarten and 1st grade teachers were also budgeted for $9.5 million, but that amount was cut back to $8.2 million earlier this year in reallocation necessitated by the cost of the consortium's centerpiece project: summative assessments for accountability.

"It was primarily because our priority was and continues to be delivering world-class summative assessments," Bob Bickerton, who serves on PARCC's leadership team as the senior associate commissioner of education in Massachusetts, told the governing board during the meeting.

In the wake of that reallocation, funding for the diagnostic tools and model formative-assessment lessons currently totals $12 million, according to the PARCC presentation. An additional $2 million is reserved to design a test of students' speaking and listening skills. The remaining $3.7 million can be used on those projects as well, barring any cost overruns, Doug Sovde, who is overseeing this part of PARCC's work, told EdWeek later.

During the governing board presentation, Sovde told the group that the computer-based diagnostic tests will focus more narrowly within mathematics and English/language arts than had originally been envisioned.

This basket of work within PARCC is part of a "supplemental" Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education. You probably already know that PARCC and another group of states, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, each won Race to the Top grants of $160 million to $170 million to design suites of summative assessments that can be used for accountability, teacher evaluation, school effectiveness, and to chart student progress.

Shortly afterward, each testing consortium won "supplemental" grants of $15.8 million to develop a constellation of supporting pieces, including formative and diagnostic tests designed to give teachers feedback to adjust instruction.

It was an update of that "non-summative" work that Sovde and Bickerton were presenting at the board meeting yesterday. They were seeking the board's approval of the revised budget and overall scope of the work so the consortium could issue a request for proposals on it. The board granted that approval. The tentative timeline shows the RFP going out next month, with a contract awarded in March and completed in June.

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