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Federally funded Common Core PARCC test going prime time in six states

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After years of development and field testing and controversy, the new Common Core test known as PARCC is going prime time. Some 30,000 students in six states are sitting for the first official administration of the exam this month, the vanguard of some 5 million students who will take the PARCC later in the school year.

PARCC is the test created by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two federally funded multi-state consortia created to design new Common Core assessments in math and English. The other is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which has been developing a different Common Core exam that will be given to millions of students for the first time next spring. (Here’s a paper on the different designs of the two tests.)

Last spring, millions of students took “field test” versions of the PARCC and SBAC  in anticipation of the real assessments, which have been designed to be given on computers, though the students taking the PARCC this month will be given paper versions. PARCC released a report this year called “Lessons Learned” from the field testing, which said that “approximately 89 percent of the English language arts/literacy (ELA/L) questions and 78 percent of the mathematics questions were found eligible for the 2014–15 administration.”

The PARCC exam is being given this month to some students in Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio and Rhode Island who are on a “semester schedule.” My colleague Lyndsey Layton reported that, in Maryland, about 90 schools are taking part, with about 9,000 students in 10 of the state’s 24 school districts over the next three weeks.  School systems involved include Queen Anne’s, Cecil, Carroll, Caroline, Garrett and Frederick; a handful of students are taking the PARCC exam in Baltimore City and in Prince George’s, Washington and Wicomico counties.

When PARCC and SBAC began their work with $360 million federal funds, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that he was “convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education.”  The idea was that many states would use one of these two tests — which were supposed to be more sophisticated and better able to assess student abilities — thus making cross-state comparisons of student performance possible. None of that has panned out as planned, with a number of states deciding against using the exams being created. Furthermore, a lack of time and money have been cited as reasons for why the newly created exams will not rise to a ground-breaking level of assessment as hoped.

Things haven’t been going well for PARCC. In 2010, there were 26 states aligned with PARCC;  now the consortium has no more than a dozen states plus the District of Columbia after some key defections this year, and it is unclear whether all of those states will use the PARCC exam this school year. The SBAC still has 22 states planning to use its test this academic year. In October, Barbara Byrd-Bennet, chief executive of the Chicago public school system, said that she wanted to delay the first administration of the PARCC test to students because there are too many questions about how it will help students and educators (though the state government isn’t expected to comply with her request.)

A few states have administered their own Common Core-aligned exams to students designed by other vendors. New York, for example, paid Pearson to develop Common Core tests that have been given to students for a few years, prompting a growing “opt-out” movement by parents who don’t want their children taking the test. But this month marks the first time either of the federally funded tests are being officially given to students. A new testing era begins.