Georgia education officials aren’t sure what tests students will take in 2014-2015 now that state leaders have rejected a new test tied to the controversial set of national education standards called Common Core.
Citing cost concerns, Gov. Nathan Deal and Superintendent John Barge decided last week that Georgia students wouldn’t take a Common Core test being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states that once included Georgia.
The decision to steer clear of that test, which could have cost as much as $27 million to administer in Georgia, leaves the state without a firm plan for 2014-2015, when new federal rules will require that states raise the standards of the tests they administer.
Georgia could take one of several paths forward. It could develop its own test. It could work with education officials in other states to offer a regional test. Or, Georgia could tweak end-of-course tests and the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test offered now so that they match up with Common Core.
Those options have drawn the concern of a pair of education groups in Georgia.
The Georgia Federation of Teachers believes it would be difficult to make old tests fit the new set of standards: “You can’t realign old tests to new standards,” said Verdaillia Turner, president.
The Georgia Association of Educators is cool to the idea of a new test offered only to Georgia students.
“Developing our own tests for the Common Core education standards should only be a temporary resolution,” GAE President Calvine Rollins said. “History has shown that individual state assessments do not give valid comparisons. Parents and educators in Georgia should be striving for comparisons with other states in order to obtain a true picture of how our children are faring.”
Rollins said she hopes the decision to reject the PARCC test was simply “a stopgap before reaching consensus to fully implement assessments that are valid.”
Georgia’s tests, like those offered elsewhere in the country, don’t offer a point of comparison with academic performance in other states.
End-of-course tests in a variety of academic subjects routinely show Georgia students to be performing at or above state standards. But on some national assessments, like the SAT, the ACT or tests associated with the National Assessment of Education Progress, Georgia students have not matched the performance of those in other states.
Barge has acknowledged that the thresholds used to determine the state’s standard in most end-of-course tests are too low.
Georgia and other states are fiercely protective of their ability to tailor their education systems to the needs of their own students. But with each state offering its own set of assessments, it is often unclear what state results mean in a national context.
Common Core was supposed to be one way to provide clear answers. The national standards were developed in consultation with officials in business and in higher education, who argued that the country’s high school graduates are too often unprepared for work or college.
Two consortia of states, PARCC and another called Smarter Balanced, are using $330 million in federal grant money to come up with a national test tied to Common Core.
Georgia had been a governing member of PARCC, meaning its education officials had voting power in the group. But in addition to rejecting the Common Core test being developed by PARCC, Deal and Barge pulled Georgia out of the consortium, explaining that officials in this state would be overseeing the creation of any test offered to Georgia students.
That stance is sure to please tea party activists who have opposed Common Core as a federal intrusion into state control over K-12 education.
Despite their decision not to offer the PARCC test, Deal and Barge have said the state remains committed to Common Core.
A new course tied to Common Core, coordinate algebra, was offered to Georgia students last year. Another new course tied to Common Core, analytical geometry, will be offered this upcoming school year.
Officials with the state Department of Education said any new test offered to Georgia students will be aligned to the new standards.
“Our testing and curriculum/instructional staff, as well as the staffs of any other states we work with, will go through the process they typically go through to ensure alignment with standards,” said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. “In addition to DOE testing people, we always have committees of educators from across the state review for alignment on multiple occasions. Finally, we will have an alignment study conducted by an independent entity.”
Georgia will use about $11 million of its $25 million testing budget in offering the CRCT this school year. The state would like a revamped or new test to be offered in 2014-2015.
The test Georgia officials rejected was to be field tested in this state next year, raising the question of whether a new test can be developed and field tested in time for the 2014-2015 school year.
“We are still aiming for that time-frame, but it is possible that we will not be able to offer the new test until the 2015-2016 school year,” Cardoza said. “It’s still possible that a CRCT aligned to the (Common Core) would be used in 2014-2015, but it is still early to say for sure.”