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Testing Consortium Reorganizes for Long-Term Survival

The two big groups of states that are designing tests for the common standards have a lot more on their minds than the thorny work of test design. They're trying to figure out how they can survive once their federal funding runs out in the fall of 2014, before the tests are even administered.

One sign of this focus cropped up when PARCC announced that it had reorganized itself as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This move facilitates the receipt of foundation funding, among other things, something that has been under consideration as a mode of survival once the group runs out of federal money.

As we've reported to you, PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have teamed up to do some thinking about sustainability. They've got a heavy-hitting consulting firm working on sustainability plans, and the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—the folks who spearheaded the common-standards drive four years ago—are playing roles as well.

The governing states of Smarter Balanced are scheduled to vote on their plan when they meet here in the Washington area next week. PARCC states will do likewise in the coming months. For a glimpse into some of the thoughts that have been rattling around inside PARCC, see a Power Point presentation on sustainability that was shared with PARCC's governing board last spring.

The sustainability question is key to the long-term work and goals of the consortia. Right now, no one really knows who will update the tests, for instance, as secure item pools dwindle. The research agenda is in question, too, and that's pretty huge. Without a multiyear inquiry into how students at various cut scores actually perform in college, it's tough to validate the test as being a sound proxy of college readiness. These—and many more—questions ride on the question of sustainability.

There is a near-term question of sustainability, as well. The groups are mindful that in order to protect the $360 million in federal funding they won, they each need to have at least 15 member states. With 24 in SBAC and 22 in PARCC right now, that doesn't seem to be a looming issue. But if enough states get skittish and drop out, federal officials could—according to their own regulations—cut off the funding that is meant to carry the consortia's work through the fall of 2014. The sensitivity to preserving membership showed up not long ago in PARCC's contracting scuffle with ACT, as you might recall.

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