New school year brings testing changes

Comparing state results across the country will be more difficult as testing becomes more fragmented
By: | Issue: September, 2015
August 24, 2015

Public outcry over new standards-aligned tests led some states to cut funding, changing the exam landscape for 2015-16.

In 2012, nearly every state was part of either PARCC or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. As of this July, just 18 states remained in Smarter Balanced, and 10 (plus Washington, D.C.) had stuck with PARCC. Twenty-two states opted to use their own assessments.

“It’s important that whether a state is in a consortium or not, they administer high-quality assessments to students,” says Scott Norton, strategic initiative director for standards, assessment, and accountability at the Council of Chief State School Officers.

But it will be more difficult to compare state results across the country as the testing becomes more fragmented, he adds. “School administrators should continue their implementation of Common Core, and work to make sure students are ready for any assessment aligned to those standards,” Norton says.

New testing contracts

Amid widespread concerns over excessive testing, Ohio legislators in June cut off state and federal funding for PARCC exams, and charged state education officials to find a new assessment.

Ohio’s new Common Core-aligned assessments must be shorter and return results more quickly than PARCC, and must be offered during a single testing window.

State Superintendent Richard Ross announced in July that educators will work with American Institutes for Research to develop new English and math tests, to be administered in 2015-16. Schools will get test results within 45 days or by June 30, whichever comes first.

Ohio’s move is not unprecedented: When Florida dropped PARCC in 2013, it contracted with American Institutes for Research to build other assessments aligned with the state’s new learning standards. Students took those tests in the 2014-15 school year.

In June, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that the state would cut off funding for PARCC exams and contract with ACT and ACT Aspire for 2015-16. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order allowing parents to opt children out of the test.

Despite the testing upheaval, the Common Core currently remains in place in 43 states.

Funding cuts in Minnesota

Testing will change drastically in Minnesota, where in June legislators cut the state Department of Education’s testing budget from $42 million for the last two-year cycle to $19.9 million for the next, starting this school year.

The state will no longer require all 11th graders to take the ACT college entrance exam. The 2014-15 school year was the first that the state provided the test at no cost for every student.

“We believed it was a strong step toward equity, making sure every student had access to the ACT,” says Minnesota Department of Education spokesperson Josh Collins. “Especially for students who might not traditionally view themselves as college-bound, but by taking the test may have realized they have options they might not have considered.”

Now, districts will have to contract independently with ACT and apply to the state for reimbursement.

The state adopted Minnesota Academic Standards that are based on the Common Core. It developed its own tests, and is not a member of either consortium. Schools will stop offering ACT prep tests in earlier grades and the Minnesota Comprehensive GRAD exams in writing this year.