WBAB / WBLI COMMERCIAL
by Blake Neff
Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the two major test consortia creating new standardized tests aligned to Common Core, are pushing back against claims they are a front for corporate profiteering.
Radio host Glenn Beck’s recent national town hall event, “We Will Not Conform,” which was broadcast in some 700 theaters across the country Tuesday night, leveled harsh criticism against Common Core in general, but was particularly critical of the standardized tests it is associated with.
During the event, Beck and other participants said that new standardized tests being created in accordance with Common Core were a “gigantic business” being designed by a “cabal” of corporate interests who desired to make money in the education sector. One tactic used by this “cabal,” Beck said, was to make standardized tests significantly harder, with the goal of making more students fail so they would have to retake the tests, thus enriching test providers.
Such a claim doesn’t comport with the facts, said Jackie King, director of higher education collaboration at Smarter Balanced, one of two multi-state consortia coordinating the design of Common Core-aligned tests. She said that in most cases the new standardized tests will be more difficult, but only because they reflected the implementation of higher standards.
“The tests will be more challenging because they’re aligned to college readiness,” King told The Daily Caller News Foundation. When each state made its own tests, she said, a large number were very easy and produced extremely high proficiency rates. A state might achieve 80 percent proficiency in a subject according to its own tests, she said, but then have less than 40 percent proficiency on the more challenging national NAEP tests.
Furthermore, she said, “students do not have to retake Smarter Balanced assessments based on their results.” States could choose to hold certain students back, she said, but that would purely be a matter of state policy unrelated to any expectations of Common Core.
David Connerty-Marin, communications director for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the other national testing consortium, agreed with King. He said tests were harder, but said it is solely a reflection of the desire to honestly assess whether children are preparing sufficiently for college.
“It’s not a pass-fail thing…The tests are designed to measure whether students are on-track for the next material, and ultimately whether they are on track for college-level coursework,” Connerty-Marin told TheDCNF. “You’re not doing students a favor if you’re telling them they’re ready for college and they’re not.”
Connerty-Marin added that test difficulty was controlled exclusively by the states participating in PARCC, and that private vendors hired to help produce the test had no ability to independently make the test more challenging. He compared the system to a city building a new library.
“If you’re gonna build a public library, you hire a builder, but you decide what you want, what’s it’s going to look like,” he said.
King and Connerty-Marin also took pains to emphasize that there is no “corporate” element to their consortia’s existence. Both are non-profits primarily staffed by lifetime education professionals, they said.
“The testing consortia…are groups of states that came together to build common assessments that can be used across states, aligned to the Common Core, that would replace those prior exams,” King said. “The staff of Smarter Balanced is about ten people.”
Most work by the consortia in creating tests, she said, is contracted out to a variety of test-making companies, many of them for-profit. However, she said, this is not a new reality inaugurated by Common Core, but the continuation of a system that has existed for many years.
Each state is required under No Child Left Behind to administer standardized tests for grades 3-8 as well as grade 11, and even when making their own tests, she said, almost all states contracted out the creation of questions.
“In some ways, there’s less business being generated now,” King remarked, pointing out that the creation of multi-state consortia means fewer unique tests need to be created. Such economies of scale, she said, also mean that the per-student costs of standardized tests are less. She says Smarter Balanced estimates the cost of testing to be $22.50 per student, which she said is lower than the amount paid before for at least 2/3 of participating states.
Similarly, Connerty-Marin said that PARCC estimated its tests would cost about $24 per student, below what most states were paying before. He said that PARCC, far from encouraging costlier tests that would enrich private firms, achieved higher efficiency that allowed states to have more sophisticated tests at lower cost.
“The states have no financial incentive, except to save money,” he said. “They are 100 percent in control of this process.”