Oklahoma Drops National Common Core Tests

Published July 17, 2013

Oklahoma students will not participate in national tests corresponding to Common Core K-12 standards. State Superintendent Janet Barresi cited high costs, technological unpreparedness, and parent and teacher concerns over the testing length as her reasons.

In 2010, 45 states agreed to trade their standards for Common Core. The next step is developing tests that track whether students are meeting the standards.

Two groups are designing two different sets of standardized exams to replace state tests in 2014-2015: the Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced (SBAC). Twenty-one and 24 states will administer each test, respectively. Oklahoma will remain a PARCC member state to retain a connection to its “knowledge base,” but it will not administer the tests, said Tricia Pemberton, an Oklahoma Department of Education spokeswoman.

Alabama and Utah have also recently dropped national Common Core tests.

Cost, Control Issues
Nonparticipating states may believe their standards are higher than the Common Core, or worry the federal government is becoming too involved in education, said Andy Smarick, a partner at the nonprofit consulting firm Bellwether Education. “States have always done their own tests, and have always had control at the local level. Some people equate national to federal,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education tied grant money to Common Core and the assessments, and awarded the two testing consortia $330 billion.

Technology and costs are a major concern, as PARCC requires states to administer all its tests online. Oklahoma was one of at least five states that experienced widespread computer crashes this spring when students attempted to take the test online. This invalidated thousands of test results. Only 28 percent of Oklahoma school districts have the infrastructure necessary for PARCC exams, Pemberton said.

National Standards
Common Core marks the first time multiple states have the same standards and tests, with the exception of a few New England states. National tests are necessary, Smarick says, because the current system of federal mandates encourages states to lower their standards in order to look better.  

“States are used to reaching for the bottom, testing for the lower third. If a state has lower scores than a neighboring state, they can make their tests easier,” he said. Multiple standards and tests make it very difficult to compare one state to another, he said, so offering the same test with “proficient and advanced questions” is essential “for true comparability.” The more states that participate, the better the data, he said.

However, a well-respected way to judge states and school districts using the exact same nationwide measure already exists, said University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene in a public speech the same week. It’s called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Greene said calls for national standards and tests foolishly assume there is only one way to educate all children and we know what it is.

Show Me the Money
Barresi said writing Oklahoma’s tests in-house, with its existing test development company, can save taxpayers $2 million each year. This would duplicate federal funds already spent on PARCC, said Ron Dietel, assistant director of research and communications at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing (CRESST). The two consortia have spent four years developing their tests, and now Oklahoma only has one year to do so, he said.

Delaying tests because of technical difficulties  makes no sense because schools will need to update their technology to at least that level soon, Dietel said. “That’s the future. It’s like Edison and the light bulb.”

“Testing is a complex activity, more so than people realize,” Smarick said. Writers have to consider how many questions, how hard, and should they change as the student takes it to offer harder or easier questions, or should every student get the same questions? He describes the students at either end of the bell curve: “How do we differentiate between the super smart kids? They might get all the answers right, but we won’t know exactly what they know. Do we ask more questions?”

Dietel said the way Common Core assessments measure students will be unique. It will be difficult to make a similar test.

Image by Matt Gibson.