PARCC Restructures, Allows States to Customize Test

By Catherine Gewertz — November 12, 2015 3 min read
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PARCC announced Thursday that it will now offer states the option of buying parts of its testing system and choosing their own vendor. Previously, states could purchase only the entire system, and they had to use Pearson for test administration.

The restructuring comes as testing plans for 2015-16 show a dwindling number of states using PARCC’s assessment. A new analysis by the Education Commission of the States lists only six states and the District of Columbia as planning to use PARCC this school year. Eleven states and the District of Columbia used it in 2014-15. (The ECS analysis doesn’t mention a new PARCC member, the Department of Defense schools, with 74,000 students.)

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, which used PARCC last year, are not doing so this year. Massachusetts, which allowed its districts to choose between PARCC and its previous state test, the MCAS, last year, is due to decide on Nov. 17 which test to adopt statewide.

PARCC officials made no mention of the decline in membership when they announced the restructuring. New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, a member of PARCC’s governing board, said in an interview that PARCC had made the change in response to feedback from states that have been asking for more options. They timed the new choices so that states could consider them as they enter the procurement cycle for assessments for 2016-17, she said.

Responding to States’ Interest

PARCC Chief Executive Officer Laura Slover said in an email that is the consortium is “beginning to see renewed interest” among “new states and agencies” in joining PARCC, and is ready to respond to that interest by “providing different tiers of participation and opportunities for customization.”

The new tiered structure will allow states several ways of using PARCC. They can use the entire system with Pearson as test administrator, or customize it by adding their own test questions. They can use the PARCC blueprint and test content, but choose their own vendor to administer it. They could also choose to buy test questions from a “freestanding” item bank.

States can also buy “blocks” of test items, giving them the ability to design their own tests with PARCC questions. PARCC officials said that states would still be able to compare their results to those of other states on those blocks of items, but presumably would be unable to do so on other items in the test. States that use the “block” approach could use their own vendor to give the test, but would have to adhere to PARCC guidelines for test administration.

Here’s a look at the different options:

PARCC has not yet decided whether different price structures will be offered for the various tiered options, Skandera said. PARCC has used a single price structure from the start, charging member states one price for the summative tests and all other instructional and diagnostic resources. Smarter Balanced, on the other hand, allows states to pay one price for the summative tests only, and a slightly higher one if they add the interim, formative, and instructional resources.

The PARCC board said it will soon be deciding whether and how to create “a new entity” to enable states to work together to create test content and “offer greater flexibility and greater access” to that content for any state. No further details on that new entity were available.

Expanding Access

John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education, who fought a battle with Gov. Bobby Jindal over the use of PARCC, said in an interview that some states want more flexibility in creating their own tests. Louisiana used PARCC last year, though it was administered by a different vendor, he said. This year, Louisiana is using some PARCC content in its own test, White said. (A release issued by PARCC said that “nearly half” of Louisiana’s test this year will be PARCC items.)

“I talk to states weekly who want [test] results that are comparable with other states, they want the cost savings that come with sharing development of test questions across multiple states, but at the same time they want to maintain control of their own test,” White said. “We’re in that camp.”

In a statement issued by PARCC, Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s former education commissioner, who worked to develop PARCC as part of the consortium, but then opted not to use the test, said that the past year has shown that “states have complex and dynamic needs,” including for “high quality tests and test items like those found in PARCC,” and for “flexibility in creating testing products.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.