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PARCC and Smarter Balanced Choose New Management

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PARCC-NewMeridian-management.jpgUPDATED The PARCC consortium has chosen a new nonprofit to manage the business of maintaining and administering its test: New Meridian Corp., a brand-new organization led by people from various strands of the assessment world.

Friday's announcement marks yet another stage of transition for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which has lost most of its original state members. Only six states and the District of Columbia are using the test this year, and that number will drop by one more next year.

In February 2016, the PARCC governing board solicited feedback from the assessment field on how it might change its structure and approach to best meet clients' needs.

It issued a request for proposals last December, but received only two responses: from Parcc Inc., the nonprofit that's been managing the consortium since December 2013, and from New Meridian. New Meridian will begin its work in July. The term and total value of the contract were not yet available, since its terms are still being negotiated.

Prioritizing Flexibility

PARCC leaders told Education Week that the agreement with New Meridian reflects two years of discussions with states to reshape itself to respond best to their needs. New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, who chairs PARCC's governing board, called the agreement with New Meridian "a culminating moment" of PARCC's transition to an organizational model that prioritizes flexibility, educator input, state leadership, and quality test design. 

PARCC isn't the only assessment consortium making a transition. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—the other state group that, like PARCC, won federal grants in 2010 to design new tests for the common core—announced this week that it has switched fiscal agents. After three years of working with the University California-Los Angeles, Smarter Balanced will begin using UC-Santa Cruz's Silicon Valley Extension in June to provide financial, administrative, and human-resource services.

New Meridian's website shows a board of directors and leadership team with resumes in the worlds of assessment, accountability and program management. With support from two foundations, the organization formed in September 2016 to respond to respond to PARCC's anticipated request for proposals.

Its president and CEO, Arthur VanderVeen, who has spent the past 14 years at Compass Learning, the New York City Department of Education, and the College Board, told Education Week that he and his team interviewed the leaders of 14 states—current and former PARCC states, some who use Smarter Balanced, and some who haven't used either consortium test—to get a sense of their testing priorities.

State leaders said they valued the chance to brainstorm with other states about testing, and they emphasized their need to be able to customize the length and content of their tests, VanderVeen said. States familiar with PARCC gave it high marks for content quality, he said. Based on that feedback, New Meridian will put a high priority on flexibility and ensuring quality content, VanderVeen said.

New Meridian's project includes four subcontractors. Pearson will work with states on test-item development. The Center for Assessment will provide technical advisory services, including ensuring test results are valid and comparable across states. Odell Education will conduct quality assurance reviews of test content. The Human Resources Research Organization, known as HumRRO, will oversee PARCC's research agenda.

Staying in Business

Sustainability has been an issue for both consortia as the end of their federal funding near drew. That $360 million was meant only to support the design of the tests. Once they made their operational debut, in 2014-15, financial responsibility for sustaining the tests shifted to the states. Both consortia have lost membership, but Smarter Balanced has maintained a larger stable of states using its test—14 this year—than has PARCC.

Additionally, both consortia saw demand for their tests erode at the high school level. In the face of public opposition to lengthy tests, many states dumped PARCC or Smarter Balanced in favor of the SAT or ACT in high school. Increasingly, PARCC and Smarter Balanced are being used only in grades 3-8, as EdWeek has reported in its annual assessment survey.

VanderVeen said the consortium is "viable as is," even without adding more members, but it still will place a priority on recruiting new states.

As PARCC's "management vendor," New Meridian will oversee the group's new customizable licensing structure. PARCC announced that "tiered" system in November 2015, allowing states to buy parts of the test, or even groups of test questions, and to choose their own vendors for administration and scoring. Before that, PARCC states had to use the whole test, and also use Pearson for administration and scoring.

New Meridian will also oversee ongoing test-question development. States can develop their own items to contribute to PARCC's item bank, and Pearson will also work with states to create items.

Each PARCC state will now negotiate a separate contract with New Meridian to customize the services it wants. In Smarter Balanced, each state chooses its own vendor to administer and score the test, but the group does not currently offer states the option of buying just pieces of the exam. 

UPDATED Leaders of Parcc Inc. issued a statement saying they "are proud of our work to establish PARCC as a high-quality state assessment program and wish the PARCC states the best of luck in the next phase of this important work." The organization will continue its work, serving other contracts besides the one with the PARCC consortium, according to a Parcc Inc. spokeswoman.

For more stories on changes in assessment, see:

National Testing Landscape Continues to Shift


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