NORTH FULTON, Ga. — In a move that came as little surprise to many, state officials announced that Georgia is withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test assessments, citing financial reasons as the factor.
Georgia had been part of a consortium of 22 states which joined together several years to develop a student assessment in mathematics and English/Language Arts that would measure achievement under the Common Core educational standards. The test would have been administered for the first time this year as a pilot test, then rolled out nationwide in the 2014-2015 school year.
But last week, State School Superintendent John Barge cited the per pupil cost for the test as prohibitive, indicating the state would rely on current state tests for the time being. At $29.50 for each assessment, testing even half of the state’s 1.64 million students in public schools would cost more than $23 million, higher than Georgia’s annual test budget of $22 million.
A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) said the decision to opt out of the PARCC assessments was for financial reasons only and should not be seen as a departure from the Common Core standards. Those standards were adopted by governors from 48 states in 2010 to provide a single set of core standards for students, nationwide, in grades kindergarten through 12.
“This [opt out] is not a suspension of our current standards,” said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the GDOE. “As Dr. Barge has said all along, we feel that our standards are strong. However, if educators feel we need to make adjustments to the standards then we want to have that right to make changes and not have a test penalize Georgia for doing that.”
Barge was on the governing board for the PARCC consortium, and said he frequently voiced concerns about the cost of the assessments.
“After talking with district superintendents, administrators, teachers, parents, lawmakers and members of many communities, I believe this is the best decision for Georgia’s students,” Barge said. “We must ensure that our assessments provide educators with critical information about student learning and contribute to the work of improving educational opportunities for every student.”
Barge also expressed concerns over the technology requirements for PARCC’s online tests. Many Georgia school districts do not have the equipment or bandwidth to administer the PARCC assessments.
Fulton School Superintendent Robert Avossa said the decision from the state was not unexpected given the recent controversy over the Common Core standards, however, he hopes the state will keep its commitment to develop a meaningful test that measures Georgia students against their peers across the nation.
“I do regret that Georgia – and Fulton – will lose some of the opportunities to benchmark against other states,” said Avossa. “Right now, many parents don’t have a real basis for comparison. In elementary schools, the ITBS does provide some national comparison but its significance has been waning the last few years. And in high schools, the first real comparison is when students take the SAT or an Advanced Placement test.”
He added he wants Fulton students to be nationally and globally competitive, and this begins with knowing how they compare to others.
Cardoza said for the time being the state will continue to measure annual achievement with the CRCT in elementary and middle school grades, and the End of Course Tests (EOCTs) in math and English/Language Arts in high school. He noted the tests will align with the new standards and said the rigor of the tests will increase.
“We will [also] be working with other states to see if we can develop some assessments together,” said Cardoza. “We will still aim for a new test for 2014-15 [for grades 3 through 12], but the exact timeframe will be more clear as we get into the work with some other states.”
Recently, anything with connection to the Common Core standards has come under fire from those who fear the curriculum is controlled at the national level and will only lead to more standardized testing. The Common Core standards were actually initiated at the state level by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and adopted by states beginning in 2010.
Information from the Common Core website stresses Common Core only sets goals, with each state, or local school system, determining how to reach those national goals.
“The standards are not a curriculum,” noted the organization’s website. “There are a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”
Forsyth County School Superintendent Dr. L.C. “Buster” Evans said the county’s district supports the Georgia Department of Education’s decision to not participate in the national PARCC, and instead work on developing assessments at the state level.
“We had concerns over the costs related to these English/language arts and math assessments and the short time frame given for us to prepare for implementation, as well as the technology infrastructure and support that was required to deliver them,” Evans said.
Evans said the funds and time can now be focused on classroom support and resources, and not an additional assessment.
This article appeared in the July 31 issue of the Milton Herald.