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Just when things were looking bad for PARCC, they got worse

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Chief executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett talks about PARCC testing at the Sept. 22 Chicago Public School Board meeting.

Just when things were already looking bad for PARCC, one of the two multi-state Common Core testing consortia, they just got worse.

The chief executive of the Chicago Public School system said that she wants to delay the use of the Common Core test being developed by PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) — even though she knows state education officials don’t want to take that action. That’s how concerned she is about the test.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that last July the Illinois Board of Education declared that it could not grant Chicago schools an exemption from using PARCC this year, as scheduled, because federal funding to the state could be jeopardized.

But on Wednesday, Barbara Byrd-Bennet, the district CEO, said that she still has big concerns about the test and doesn’t want to administer it to students this spring:

“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction. At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.”

Whether or not that is the purpose of standardized assessments — and a lot of people would say it isn’t — Byrd-Bennet’s concerns reflect continuing problems for PARCC, which, along with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, received a combined $360 million from the Obama administration to develop new tests aligned to the Common Core state standards. The idea was that many states would use these tests — which were supposed to be more sophisticated and better able to assess student abilities — thus making cross-state comparisons of student performance possible.

Things haven’t been going well for PARCC. In 2010 there were 26 states aligned with PARCC;  now the consortium has 12 states plus the District of Columbia after some key defections this year. It is unclear whether all of the dozen states will use the PARCC exam this year; New York may not use, and questions remain in Massachusetts — where the commissioner of education, Mitchell Chester, is also chairman of PARCC’s governing board. The SBAC still has 22 states planning to use its test this academic year.

And even if Chicago is forced to use the PARCC exam this spring against Byrd-Bennet’s desires, her comments reflect long-standing concerns among testing critics that the PARCC and SBAC exams won’t be the “absolute game-changer in public education” that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said they would be back  in 2010. Education experts have noted that design and time constraints as well as financial problems and other issues have combined to make this leap into the next generation of assessments less dramatic than hoped.

The Sun-Times reported that Byrd-Bennet is in contact with the state education board and will reach out to the U.S. Education Department. The newspaper quoted her as saying she wants to  “discuss the possibility and logistics of expanding our PARCC pilot period by one year as well as the number of schools in the pilot so that we have an opportunity to learn more about this important new assessment prior to full-scale implementation across our district in future years.”

The administration of PARCC and SBAC tests last spring to millions of students around the country were not billed as being a “pilot” but rather “field tests” of exams so the testing companies could evaluate specific questions.

Could PARCC collapse? Consortium officials have said no. Others aren’t so sure.