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At the Chalk Face: The Moratorium Miracle: Delaying PARCC Can Actually Help Save It

Today I read two articles regarding testing and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). After reading both, I am left with the same thought:

The events detailed in both articles promote CCSS survival– and by extension– PARCC survival.

The first is this press release regarding the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC):

Washington, D.C. — Management of the multi-state assessment consortium Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has moved to a new non-profit, but most of the names and faces will look familiar.

PARCC, Inc. spun off from Achieve, Inc., on Jan. 1 and assumed responsibility for management of the PARCC consortium, as well as the development of PARCC assessments and implementation in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The project was managed by Achieve since its start in September 2010. Members of the project team at Achieve are now employees of PARCC, Inc. and new staff members have been added to serve the states. [Emphasis added.]

(See this link for a listing of PARCC staff.)

CCSS also “spun off from Achieve.”

The idea of PARCC’s becoming a nonprofit is nothing new. It was in the news almost a year ago, in March 2013:

The sustainability question is key to the long-term work and goals of the [PARCC and Smarter Balanced CCSS testing] consortia. Right now, no one really knows who will update the tests, for instance, as secure item pools dwindle. The research agenda is in question, too, and that’s pretty huge. Without a multiyear inquiry into how students at various cut scores actually perform in college, it’s tough to validate the test as being a sound proxy of college readiness. These—and many more—questions ride on the question of sustainability.

There is a near-term question of sustainability, as well. The groups are mindful that in order to protect the $360 million in federal funding they won, they each need to have at least 15 member states. With 24 in SBAC and 22 in PARCC right now, that doesn’t seem to be a looming issue. But if enough states get skittish and drop out, federal officials could—according to their own regulations—cut off the funding that is meant to carry the consortia’s work through the fall of 2014. The sensitivity to preserving membership showed up not long ago in PARCC’s contracting scuffle with ACT, as you might recall. [Emphasis added.]

(The ACT “scuffle” has to do with ACT’s developing CCSS assessments while being part of CCSS development– testing company incest. In the end, ACT withdrew from PARCC development due to “reaction” from the “insular educational testing industry.”)

In March 2013, PARCC had 22 member states. Eleven months later, February 2014, and PARCC is down to 17 states.

Uh, oh.

PARCC needs 15 member states to keep its Arne Duncan cash.  Gotta stop those PARCC states from dropping out– which brings me to the second article I read today.

For PARCC survival, PARCC “delay” is better than PARCC withdrawal. And calling the PARCC delay a delay “of CCSS” is an even better sleight of headline.

Consider New York.

Though headlined as a “delay of CCSS,” this New York article is only a two-year delay of the CCSS tests;

Common Core standards for math and English have been adopted by most states — and have rankled parents who say they’re being implemented too quickly to give students a chance of hitting the goals.

In a statement, Silver and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) said while “New Yorkers share the same goal – to improve our schools and help prepare our students to be successful and college and career ready upon graduation,” the process is moving too fast.

“The use of Common Core aligned tests for high-stakes decisions for teachers, principals and students should be delayed, at a minimum, for two years,” they said, while the state Education Department works with local districts to develop a game plan. [Emphasis added.]

Interesting use of the term, “game plan” here, for “game of strategy” is exactly what comes to mind regarding PARCC and CCSS survival.

PARCC is losing its membership. On January 31, 2014, Kentucky dropped PARCC, bringing PARCC membership down to 17 states plus DC. Not one week later, on February 4, 2014, PARCC becomes a nonprofit. Its survival as a consortium is looking bleak.

However, there are those who are helping PARCC survive by promoting testing delay rather than dropping either PARCC or CCSS.

Enter New York, for example.  NYC had a terrible experience in August 2013 in which NYC students’ scores on pre-PARCC test devised by Pearson (a company connected to both PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia) plummeted due to then-Mayor Bloomberg’s unrealistic setting of cutoff scores, a fiasco that traumatized the city and shook the state. Then, in January 2014, the New York Parent Teacher Association conducts a survey  and “finds” that New York “supports” CCSS but not the testing. Given the NYC testing trauma, any CCSS survey item related to testing as “the” problem yields a “fish in a barrel” survey result as “the testing is the problem.”

(By the way, New York PTA is a branch of the corporate-reform-promoting National PTA an organization that accepted Gates money expressly to promote CCSS.)

So, NYPTA supports CCSS “but not testing,” as do both the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and AFT’s Randi Weingarten.

Notice that NYSUT still supports CCSS testing– just “not now”:

In a statement released over the weekend, the board of the NYUST said it would like to see the state make major changes in the Common Core’s implementation process, including putting a moratorium on consequences for students and teachers in connection to the program’s high-stakes tests. Other proposed changes include the release of test questions associated with the Common Core for teachers to utilize for instruction purposes, and more engagement with local parents. [Emphasis added.]

Now the beauty of this arrangement for those wishing to “save” CCSS is that promoting a testing delay actually serves to solidify CCSS permanence. Notice the the language in the above article. The testing delay is provided in order to assist with the CCSS implementation process. Thus, refocusing stakeholder attention on testing delays ensures two years of CCSS.

Furthermore, testing “delay” means that even though the consequences of the tests are delayed, the testing itself still occurs. I teach in Louisiana, where we have our own PARCC “delay” of using PARCC scores as part of value-added modeling (still in the courts); however, PARCC testing will continue as scheduled.

The PARCC piloting, which was supposed to begin in February 2014, has been pushed back to the end of March 2014– perhaps due to Florida’s dropping the PARCC field test in December 2013 and Maryland’s taking it over– reluctantly.

(Maryland is in a spot. It agreed to assume responsibility for PARCC piloting but then realized that it will cost the state $100 million in technology upgrades just to prepare for PARCC– not even to pay for the testing itself.)

So, PARCC has managed to save itself by becoming a nonprofit, which means that corporate-reform-minded philanthropies and companies can donate tax-free funds to its upkeep even as the states that “delay” testing (such as Louisiana, and perhaps New York) continue to pay for the tests as scheduled and even help pilot them. (My students have been selected to be PARCC piloting guinea pigs this March.)

In short, PARCC now has time to get its bearings, gather more data, develop more items, and gain a better corporate reform footing.

Those who push to Save the Core Yet Delay the Tests are inadvertently Saving PARCC by not Killing the Core.

The only way the CCSS tests will die is if CCSS dies. Recall that a criticism of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was that states “dumbed down” their tests. Therefore, anyone promoting CCSS as separate from common assessments either wishes for the useless days of NCLB (separate state tests) or has an ulterior motive to draw attention toward a temporary testing reprieve and away from CCSS’ “living to be tested another day.”

I’m going to go with the latter.

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Mercedes Schneider

Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods and has taught for th...