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Can Any State Use PARCC or Smarter Balanced Test Items?

Some states don't plan to use the common-core tests being developed by PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests, but still would like to draw on those consortia's item banks to build their own tests. Are the consortia obliged to let them do that? 

That's the question before U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan right now, in a letter delivered to his office.

The June 9 letter from Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday asks Duncan to clarify whether any state—regardless of consortium membership—has the right to use items from the item banks of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. He wrote that states need this question cleared up, because "several" states he does not name have asked the consortia to use items and "have been denied access" or told they would have to pay for such access.

Holliday sent copies of the letter to PARCC and Smarter Balanced leaders, to every state schools chief in the country, and to Chris Minnich, the executive director of the national commissioners' group, the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The letter quoted from the Federal Register, which published the government's original 2010 notice seeking proposals from state consortia to design the tests, with funding from the Race to the Top program. The excerpts said that the two consortia would have to "make all assessment content (i.e., assessments and assessment items) developed with funds from the competition freely available to states, technology platform providers, or others that request it for purposes of administering assessments consistent with states' needs." It went on to say that any state could avail itself of those resources.

"We believe that these requirements will ensure that assessment content developed with funds from this competition is widely available, including to states that are not part of consortia receiving funds under this competition as well as to commercial organizations wishing to further develop, extend, and incorporate the content into assessment products intended for state use."

Holliday notes in his letter that Kentucky is a state that's chosen to hire a vendor to develop its own state tests, and would like to gain access to the consortia item banks as part of that test-building process.

Here's the letter:

Asked by Education Week about its policy on this issue, PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the question hasn't yet been resolved in that consortium.

"The PARCC state education chiefs see a great opportunity for engaging interested states and others on this issue and they are in discussions about that now," he wrote in an email.

Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft said he would love to know which states have sought and been denied access to that consortium's item pool, because the group has a policy that makes its items available. The bottom line? Non-members have access to Smarter Balanced's item pool, as long as they adhere to the group's item and test security requirements. But they must pay the same fee as their members do. 

The Smarter Balanced fee structure is broken down into two components: a membership fee, called "consortium services," which covers the continuing work of the consortium, such as updating its item banks; and the projected cost for states to procure their own contracts for test administration, scoring, and other related things.

sbaccost.JPGIt's the membership fee that non-member states would have to pay to gain access to items, Smarter Balanced spokeswoman Jacqueline King said. For access to summative items, that amount would be $6.20 per student. To gain access to items from the entire suite of tools, such as the digital library and interim tests, it would be $9.55 per student.

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