Replacing Consortia Exams, Some States Face Uncertainty and High Costs


Consortia exams aligned to Common Core State Standards are “losing ground at the high school level,” Education Week reports. Over the last year, three states stopped using PARCC assessments for high school students. Among those states is Illinois, which recently announced it will replace PARCC with the SAT for high school students.

The “high school PARCC exam won’t be missed,” the Northwest Herald opines. “Illinois educators, frustrated with PARCC, applaud its ‘execution’ – the high school version, at least – and look forward to better results through the SAT. We hope they’re right.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot to suggest those policymakers are wrong. Numerous studies show PARCC is a strong indicator of college and career readiness, and that the exam outperforms other next-generation assessments.

A two-year study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found PARCC and Smarter Balanced both did a better job of measuring students’ grasp of core content than the MCAS and ACT Aspire, both of which are widely considered leading “next-generation” assessments. The report notes PARCC and Smarter Balanced have the strongest match to states’ education standards and align closely with classroom instruction.

Likewise, research by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) finds PARCC assessments reflect the range of skills students need to become college and career ready; align well with good teaching practices; provide accurate measures of student development; and are both rigorous and grade-level appropriate.

Pam Reilly, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year and participant in the NNSTOY study, wrote, “Because the consortia tests align with what educators are already teaching in their classrooms, they help to eliminate the need to ‘teach to the test.’…I can say with confidence these new assessments are the kind we should want our kids to take.”

In addition to the quality of the consortia exams, one of their chief benefits is the ability to compare student progress across state and district lines. Unlike PARCC and Smarter Balanced, independent assessments (and even nationally recognized tests like the SAT and ACT) do not offer an apples-to-apples comparison. As a result, parents and teachers are less able to measure their kids’ progress relative to others across the country.

Jim Cowen explained recently that states should be leery to “go it alone” on student assessments. “Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges…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.”

A Chalkbeat article reiterates that reality: “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.”