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Posted: 11:58 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, 2013

Common Core tests: Will Georgia's go-it-alone version be PARCC like or PARCC lite?  

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By Maureen Downey

Georgia announced in July it was pulling out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a collective of 18 states and the District of Columbia that joined forces to develop Common Core-aligned tests.

Gov. Nathan Deal and Superintendent John Barge blamed the decision on the cost of the new assessments, which could have been as high as $27 million, slightly more than the state's entire K-12 testing budget. "Georgia can create an equally rigorous measurement without the high costs associated with this particular test," said Deal and Barge in a joint statement.

At the time that Georgia withdrew from PARCC, I asked state Barge for a comment about the decision:

Among his remarks:

While Georgia will be pursuing other options for developing its own state assessments in English language arts and math at the elementary, middle and high school levels, these tests will be very similar to what the PARCC tests will be like. The same level of difficulty and complexity will be reflected in our new tests as is seen in PARCC tests.

 Our new tests will not look like our current Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and End-of-Course Tests (EOCTs), where we know the level of expectations must be increased. Case in point, our new Coordinate Algebra EOCT results showed a much lower passage rate this year than we are accustomed to seeing on other EOCTs. That happened because what was expected of students to pass was increased to be more in line with what expectations will be on the new PARCC tests and, simply, the test was much more complex.

Those new PARCC tests will be field tested this spring without Georgia.  So where are we on developing our own PARCC-like tests?

The AJC’s education reporter Wayne Washington did an update:

He writes:  

Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability, said Georgia will have a new test in place for the 2014-2015 school years, when it would have offered the PARCC test. But a year from when the new test is supposed to be offered, it's not clear who will design it or how much it will cost.

Fincher said the state is developing a request for proposals from firms that will bid to develop Georgia's new test.

Gov. Nathan Deal and Barge pulled Georgia out of PARCC in July, because of concerns about how much its test could cost.

Still, state Sen. Fran Millar, a Republican from Dunwoody who once served as chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, said he's not sure the price tag for the PARCC test was too high. "We spend nearly $8 billion a year on education,” he said. "Was $30 million really, at the end of the day, too much?"

The PARCC test is expected to cost about $30 per pupil, about double the per-pupil cost of assessments in Georgia. Half of the states in PARCC spend less than $30 per pupil; half spend more.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, said states get what they pay for when it comes to assessments. He questioned the wisdom of Georgia's decision to offer its own assessment instead of the one being developed by PARCC, a decision he called "a huge mistake."

"I think Georgia can do it alone,” he said. "I don't think Georgia can do it on the cheap."

Petrilli said Georgians should be concerned about whether the test Georgia offers will provide an honest assessment of how students are performing or the rose-tinted view offered by the current assessment, the CRCT.

In 2011, CRCT results showed that 88 percent of Georgia's fourth-graders met or exceeded the state standard for reading. About 81 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded the state standard for math. That same year, however, the National Assessment of Educational Progress --- frequently referred to as "the nation's report card" --- showed that 66 percent of Georgia fourth-graders were at or above a basic level in reading. Only 32 percent were at or above a proficient level in reading.

In math, NAEP showed that 80 percent of 4th-graders were at or above basic. Only 37 percent were at or above a proficient level. The gap between what Georgia's test showed and what a national assessment showed was large for eighth-graders, too.

The 2011 CRCT showed that 96 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the state standard in reading. NAEP showed that 74 percent were at or above a basic level in reading, and 28 percent were at or above a proficient level.

"We've had so much fiction over the years,” Millar said. "I have no faith in state government giving realistic information to parents about their kids."


Maureen Downey

About Maureen Downey

Maureen Downey is a longtime reporter for the AJC where she has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy for 12 years.

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