Georgia The Latest State To Back Out Of K-12 PARCC Tests

This week, Georgia announced it is withdrawing from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Career (PARCC), one of two consortia developing standardized tests for the Common Core. The Core is the set of national K-12 education standards in math and English language arts that has been adopted by 46 states. Georgia officials say the cost of the tests is too high and many schools don't have the computer technology the tests would require.

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Next year, the large majority of American students from K through 12 will be taught reading, writing and math under new more rigorous standards. The Common Core was developed by nearly all the states together. Those states also committed to using the same tests to figure out how well they're implementing the Core.

Well, now, there are chinks in the plan. Earlier this week, Georgia dropped out on one of the two groups created to write those tests. It's called PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. As Susanna Capelouto reports, Georgia says it's can't afford the tests.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO, BYLINE: At a small cafe in an Atlanta suburb, about 30 people gathered to hear State School Superintendent John Barge push the state's education narrative: We know we're not great, but we're getting better.

DR. JOHN BARGE: All that to say, we're not the best, but things are headed in the right direction. We got a lot of solid things going on. And Georgia was the only state in the nation that saw gains in student achievement on every single national test.

CAPELOUTO: He's the guest speaker for a local civic club. Afterwards, he tells me that Georgia's education budget is so tight, it can't handle the extra $31 million to buy the new PARCC tests for English and math.

BARGE: We have two-thirds of our school districts in this state that are in school less than 180 days a year because they can't afford to keep their doors open and pay their teachers. And so with those types of reductions to their budgets that they already have, to add money to test more seems a little bit disingenuous, I suppose.

CAPELOUTO: Until now, Georgia paid about $16 to $18 per student per year for testing. The PARCC assessment costs at least an extra $10. Barge was part of the group that decided on the price tag, but he cast the only dissenting vote.

BARGE: We frequently asked for flexibility and different ways of administering the assessment that would work for us that maybe we could afford and that flexibility is just not there.

MITCHELL CHESTER: You know, it was certainly disappointing to see Georgia drop out, although not totally surprising.

CAPELOUTO: That's Mitchell Chester, who runs the Department of Education in Massachusetts. He's head of the PARCC governing board.

CHESTER: Our goal with PARCC was not keeping cost low as the main criteria. Our main criteria was building a high quality assessment that tests what we know are the skills that are critical for students to succeed after high school.

CAPELOUTO: Quality isn't cheap. PARCC had about 190 million federal dollars to come up with the new test. It's comprehensive. Gone is the era of bubbling in answers. Chester doubts Georgia can find a cheaper alternative.

CHESTER: I think any state going off on its own in trying to come up with the same quality assessment that PARCC is generating has a tall order to meet there.

CAPELOUTO: Georgia's John Barge isn't worried. He says not being tied to the PARCC test gives the state more flexibility in teaching the standards of Common Core. He says there's a way to cut and paste from existing testing products to make a cheaper test.

BARGE: There are many options out there to still deliver rigorous quality assessments that are both nationally and internationally benchmarked.

CAPELOUTO: Barge says the state is committed to teaching the Common Core standards. And that's what matters to middle school Principal Dorothy Jarrett. She came to the cafe to see the superintendent.

DOROTHY JARRETT: Dr. Barge has assured us we're not pulling out of Common Core. We've just pulled out of the PARCC assessment. But he's assured us that there will be an assessment that accurately assesses the Common Core. I'm going to trust him on that.

CAPELOUTO: Georgia isn't the only state that has pulled away from PARCC. Pennsylvania and Oklahoma say they won't use its tests. Alabama has already dropped out and Florida is strongly considering it. For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.

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