One of the most compelling reasons offered at the time for developing new Common Core–aligned tests was that they would allow educators and policymakers to compare the effectiveness of schools across state lines. And nearly all states initially wanted in: At their inception, forty-six states originally joined one of the two consortia established to create common CCSS-aligned tests, PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Eight years down the road, however, consortia membership is faltering, and fewer than half of states remain members in either group.
A new resource released last month by Education First (in the form of PowerPoint slides) summarizes this dramatic rise and fall of consortia membership over the past decade, assesses the current state of state assessments, and identifies national trends to determine where the field is headed.
As the report describes, the once narrowing national testing landscape is rapidly diversifying: “Every year between 2013 and 2015, five to six states left PARCC and three states left Smarter Balanced.” States are instead opting to partner with vendors such as American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Pearson to develop their own tests, particularly for K–8 assessments. States are also increasingly moving to use the SAT or ACT as their high school accountability tests, despite serious concerns about whether these “aptitude” tests are well-aligned to state standards and contain sufficient accommodations for students with learning disabilities and English language learners. Still other states, such as Massachusetts and Louisiana, are opting to use assessments that comprise both state- and consortia-created test items.
This increasingly diversified landscape raises several concerns. For one, it makes it virtually impossible to compare schools’ student achievement results across the country. (The National Assessment of Educational Progress provides a regular snapshot on national, state, and large city performance, but can’t get more granular than that.) And because the vast majority of states are still implementing the Common Core State Standards or a close variant thereof, it’s also concerning that so many are walking away from tests that were explicitly designed to assess those standards—and that have been found, by Fordham and numerous others, to be high-quality, reflective of the most important content needed for college and career readiness in both ELA/literacy and mathematics, and more rigorous than prior state tests.
Nearly a decade after the creation of Common Core State Standards and accompanying consortia tests, the national assessment landscape is clearly still in flux. In addition to the dramatic decline in consortia membership in recent years, an additional “twenty-two states have nonconsortia assessment vendor contracts that expire in 2017 or 2018.” Education First’s report is therefore a timely, if cautionary, look at the rapidly evolving national testing landscape.
What’s not clear is whether the new tests are actually new—or just PARCC or Smarter Balanced in different packing. We also don’t know whether they are well-aligned to state standards—a critical gap in our understanding that should be filled pronto.
As we at Fordham have always stressed, good tests matter. Whether states are abandoning consortia tests for political, time, or cost-related considerations, it’s critical that replacements closely align to state learning standards, and that they’re are equally rigorous and, above all, high quality.
SOURCE: “Whatever Happened to All Those New and Better State Tests? The State of State Assessments,” Education First (February 2018).