Eyeing New Tests, Colorado Risks Following in the Costly Footsteps of Other States That Have ‘Gone It Alone’


Members of the Colorado Board of Education signaled Wednesday that they may explore scrapping the state’s PARCC assessment and starting from scratch, Chalkbeat Colorado reports. In an informal 5-2 vote, the Board agreed to take up the issue formally later this year.

“If we don’t do anything now, we won’t do anything,” said Board Chair Steve Durham. A spokesperson said the state Department of Education has asked the state Attorney General for guidance about whether additional legislation would be needed to develop new tests.

The proposal to replace PARCC runs counter to Colorado’s pledge to measure student performance to college- and career-ready levels, and would set the state on a path of disruption that has plagued other states that took similarly ill-advised action.

A Chalkbeat article earlier this year notes, “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

Across the board, states that replaced exams specifically aligned to high standards are quickly learning the perils of “going it alone.”

“Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process,” Jim Cowen explains.

Evidence makes clear PARCC is a high-quality assessment that accurately measures student development. Separate studies by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conclude that PARCC outperforms most states’ old tests and even newer next-generation assessments. Both reports note PARCC aligns well with good classroom instruction, is challenging and age-appropriate, and serves as a good indicator of readiness for college and careers.

“Unlike old ‘bubble tests,’ the consortia exams require students to explain their logic, and the adaptive format drills down on how well they understand the material before them,” writes Pam Riley, an Illinois Teacher of the Year and participant in the NNSTOY research. “I can say with confidence these new assessments are the kind we should want our kids to take.”

Likewise, Maryann Woods-Murphy, a New Jersey Teacher of the Year, explains PARCC does “a better job of measuring student understanding, based on what they need to know to become ready for college and careers” and “better reflects what teachers are teaching to meet higher academic standards.”

With PARCC, Colorado is giving parents and teachers accurate, actionable information to support their children’s learning. According to the Honesty Gap analysis this year, Colorado narrowed discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) by 23 points in fourth-grade reading and eight points in eighth-grade math. The study recognizes Colorado as a “Top Truth Teller” for now having proficiency rates that closely mirror NAEP.

Policymakers in the Centennial State now face a decision. They can continue forward with PARCC, and further build on the results it is delivering, or they can upend the work teachers and students are doing to pursue new exams. Evidence indicates the latter option is likely to bring uncertainty, testing disruptions and significant costs, and could produce a weaker test. That outcome is not in the best interest of Colorado students.