Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ohio Drops PARCC Tests – Now What?

Graders from Pearson testing company review students' answer sheets for Ohio's PARCC assessment. (Patrick O'Donnell/The Plain Dealer)

Ohio is the latest state to back away from common assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards. In the face of strong political opposition to the tests (and apparently a lot of criticism from educators and parents), Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a budget bill last week that effectively prevents Ohio from using the PARCC exams in the future.

But it’s one thing to drop the shared tests from PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the two state coalitions that received more than $350 million in federal aid to develop assessments pegged to the Common Core. It’s another in Ohio — and other states — to come up with a viable, high quality alternative to deliver the goods, especially at a time of new standards and high pressure and visibility when it comes to testing.

Over at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Patrick O’Donnell has the latest on what’s happening in the Buckeye State, where officials moved quickly to make new testing plans.

“The state’s new test provider isn’t immune from the glitches that drove out PARCC and Pearson Inc., the company handling tests for PARCC,” O’Donnell writes. “Along with some dissatisfaction here in Ohio over how [the American Institutes of Research] handled the new social studies and science tests, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit has been embroiled in testing controversies in several other states.”

A June webinar by the Education Writers Association on Common Core testing featured two journalists — Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week and Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — who have covered assessments closely this year. Among the issues they tackled during the webinar were states, such as Florida, that backed out of the shared assessments. In fact, Florida picked the same vendor as Ohio: AIR. (You can learn more about the panelists in this blog post.)

Most states this year completed their first round of testing aligned to the common standards in English/language arts and mathematics. (For an overview of the standards and their development, as well as a collection of news stories from across the nation, check out EWA’s Topics Page on the Common Core.)

In the EWA webinar, Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times discussed the complicated situation in Florida, where the decision to drop the exams developed by PARCC (short for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) raised many pressing issues for testing this past spring.

“It’s the testing story that keeps on giving,” he quipped during his presentation. Solochek noted many challenges for states “changing from one system to another with a short period of transition,” including technology issues, providing schools with adequate preparation materials for the exams, carving out ample time for field-testing, and ensuring the validity of the new exams.

“In Florida, we heard warning signs everywhere, and we just followed that,” Solochek said.

The testing landscape across states has shifted dramatically over the past year or so. Early on in the Common Core era, it appeared that the vast majority of states were going to use either the PARCC or Smarter Balanced exams. In the end, 28 states and the District of Columbia did so this academic year, according to Education Week. The number continues to dwindle with news from Ohio, as well as Arkansas, where Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vowed to block his state from using the PARCC exam next year, even though the state board of education wants to retain it.

Another June webinar by EWA brought together a political scientist and a pair of analysts from the National Conference of State Legislatures to dissect recent political and policy developments related to the Common Core, with a special emphasis on state legislative activity. One key conclusion was that changes to testing policy gained far more traction than efforts to repeal the Common Core. (According to Education Week, 43 states and the District of Columbia still are considered adoption states. Also, while both Indiana and South Carolina repealed the standards, their replacements are widely seen as very similar to the Common Core.)

Patrick McGuinn, a political science professor at Drew University who has studied Common Core implementation, said during the June 17 webinar that the standards have become a Rorschach test, with most of the opposition involving issues connected with the standards, whether concerns about over-testing, the use of exams, and concerns about federal overreach.

“We’ve seen a lot more states actually opt out of the aligned assessments of the Common Core than we have seen or will see opt out of the Common Core itself,” McGuinn said.

A key question, then, is how the alternatives these states pursue compare with the quality of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments (as well as prior state tests). Are they better, worse, or about the same? And how well do they align with the standards?