That’s How the Consortia Crumble

On Monday, PARCC released the cost of its tests—and right on cue, another state, Georgia, dropped out of the testing consortia. This is a disaster.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall.

There will be plenty of time for postmortems, and there will be plenty of blame to go around. But what I find most frustrating is that those backing common assessments seem to have unforgivably underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests. This strikes me as technocratic hubris at its very worst: We have a solution to the problem; simply apply it and all will work out.

Six months ago today, foreshadowing Georgia’s press release, a simple blogger warned that this was not the case:

Holding the consortia together is going to be tough sledding, as there are multiple centrifugal forces that will try to pull them apart: disagreements over cut scores, new political leadership in the states, possible cost overruns, problems with technology, and, probably most powerful of all, inertia—the fact that states have generally run their own standards-and-assessments regimes without much external meddling….

The costs—political, practical, financial, and otherwise—are about to hit. I think that the chickens will come home to roost when states have to budget for the first time for the costs of the consortia. That’s not far away, and it will force them to do some calculations about whether the upsides of being a member of PARCC or SBAC outweigh the downsides.

I’m not predicting anything dire yet. But fast forward to a year from now.

There will be lots of governors and state chiefs in office who ascended after CCSS was adopted and will therefore feel less loyalty to it. They will be aware that the new standards are tougher, that their teacher education programs aren’t adequately preparing graduates for this shift, and that professional development programs aren’t up to snuff.

They’ll be told that their schools’ test scores are about to fall off a cliff and that huge numbers of teachers, thanks to new evaluation systems, are about to be rated as ineffective.

Then they’ll be told, “Oh, by the way, please cut a big state check to pay for this wonderful new reality.”

I can’t help but wonder: If some dude blogging from a coffee shop could see this coming, why in the world didn’t Common Core’s and common assessments’ powerful, well-staffed, and deep-pocketed backers get ahead of this?

-Andy Smarick

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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