The number of states participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Common Core-aligned testing consortium has fallen from 26 plus Washington, DC in 2010 to just seven states and Washington, DC today, according to the Pioneer Institute.
Ohio abandoned PARCC on June 30, making it the latest state to back out of the consortium. Ohio officials decided in July to use the assessments created by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), which has partnered with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. AIR already administers Ohio’s standardized social studies and science tests.
Robert Holland, a senior fellow for The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says this trend also applies to other Common Core-aligned tests.
“Smarter Balanced has been losing states as well as PARCC,” Holland said. “Large numbers of parents in Oregon and Washington State opted their kids out of Smarter Balanced testing in spring 2015, and the governor of Oregon, a Democrat, signed a bill allowing parents to opt out of standardized testing for any reason.”
Central to Opposition Efforts
Ze’ev Wurman, a U.S. Department of Education official under George W. Bush and currently an executive with MonolithIC 3D, a California-based technology company, says getting rid of PARCC is necessary if Common Core opposition is to have any real effect.
“It is very important to dismantle the consortia,” said Wurman. “They are federally funded in contravention to federal laws prohibiting the Department of Education to involve itself in curriculum and testing. … Their stated purpose, [according to] their own ‘architects’ like Linda Darling-Hammond, is not to measure how children are doing but rather to change the way teachers are teaching.”
Holland agrees getting rid of the testing consortia is an important first step toward taking down Common Core.
“I know Bill Gates and PARCC leaders have celebrated the connection between the national tests and national standards, [as well as] how this connection will drive a unitary curriculum,” Holland said. “It makes sense: You teach to what is tested. If PARCC is in a death spiral, as appears to be the case, and possibly the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium as well, it surely would be a great victory for parents, teachers, and others opposing Common Core. Although the other side, with all its riches, could try to steer the states toward adopting comparable assessments.”
Wurman says Common Core cannot function without nationally standardized tests.
“They are the actual whip that [pushes] states toward Common Core,” Wurman said. “Without them, Common Core is mostly a dead letter on paper. To get their grants, they had to sign a contract with the Department of Education forcing them to provide individual-student-level data to the feds on an ongoing basis. Nothing states do [to try] to claim ownership of their students’ data will help as long as they are consortia members. Federal law trumps state laws.”
Public Backlash Against Testing
Many states have been dropping out of PARCC in response to a widespread public backlash against the nationalizing impulse behind Common Core, technical problems during testing, and complaints by parents and activists who say too much classroom time is devoted to test preparation instead of useful learning.
Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, says the fight against Common Core has made strange bedfellows.
“Pressure from two different but overlapping grassroots movements converged to make so many states back out of the PARCC consortium,” said Schaeffer. “Both Common Core critics and assessment reform advocates opposed PARCC testing. Though the groups differ on many issues, they agreed Common Core tests had to go. Widespread test administration failures increased the momentum for change. Together, they built sufficient political pressure to force policymakers to reverse direction.”
Wurman says the end of the federally backed testing companies would be a crucial step toward regaining local control of curricula.
“Once the testing goes, the Common Core becomes empty words on a piece of paper,” Wurman said. “Once each state is able to direct its own test any way it wants, it will also be able to modify the standards as it wants. Nothing will force it to stick to Common Core … anymore.”
‘An Ill-Supported Idea’
Wurman says the nationalization of education standards is a big mistake.
“There is no reason or evidence that the U.S. needs nationalized education, and data show no correlation between national standards and educational achievement,” said Wurman. “Further, we have no idea if there is even such a thing as ‘the best’ way to teach or test children, and even if there is, we certainly have not found it.
“The top-achieving countries in the world, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, all have quite different curricula and testing regimes from each other, yet they are all very successful on international benchmarks,” said Wurman.
Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.
Image by Josh Davis.