The End of the Testing Consortia As We Know It?

I think there’s now a one in three chance that we’ll look back in a year and say that this story was the beginning of the end of the Common Core testing consortia.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced were designed to serve as the cornerstone of the new standards: They were to ensure that the new standards were actually taught, that we collectively set the expectations bar at college- and career-readiness, that states lost the incentive to lower their cut scores, and so on.

Alabama’s decision to drop out of both consortia and choose a battery of ACT exams is enormous. This is the “Plan B” that many states—concerned about the reliability and cost of the consortia-developed tests—have been looking for. It enables a state to remain committed to tough standards and rigorous assessments without putting all of their eggs in the basket of a fragile multi-state entity.

From this point forward, more and more states may reason that ACT is likelier to have its tests ready to go come spring 2015 at a price that is certain and without all of the potential problems inherent in a multi-state procurement-practice-policy initiative.

Translation: There’s a nontrivial chance that we’re about to see an exodus from PARCC and SB. If that happens, the implications will be profound and the questions numerous.

How many and which states remain? Will the consortia be financially sustainable? Will we be able to compare state results? Do states also start to fragment when it comes to the standards themselves?

To be clear, the ACT route may turn out to be equally (or even more) rigorous as the consortia. But this is a development that was not intended five years ago.

Lastly, one of the most fascinating aspects of this entire story is that, under this scenario, the testing consortia are ultimately undermined not by charges that they are part of an effort tantamount to unlawfully nationalizing curriculum but by the combination of a competing assessment system and state chiefs acting rationally.

—Andy Smarick

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

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