Common Core Could Be Disrupted As States Drop Out Of PARCC

In addition to Georgia, a handful of other states — Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Alabama — have dropped out of or scaled back their participation in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Career (PARCC) consortium. Florida's education commissioner is mulling a similar decision. We discuss what it could mean for the success of the standards.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For some context now on the future of the Common Core and why Georgia's decision is important, we're joined by NPR education reporter Cory Turner. Hi, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: The Common Core depends on a certain unity among the states, all playing roles in this project. So I guess Georgia dropping out would break that unity. That's important.

TURNER: It does because, Robert, what has always distinguished the Common Core is that you have so many states on board with it. I mean, we're talking 45 or so states on board from the very beginning saying, we need to raise our standards. We need to make sure our kids are college and career-ready. And the reason this really stands out is because what came before the Core was this real mess of state standards when it comes to reading, math, writing. The standards were all over the map.

And, in fact, under No Child Left Behind, the federal government came in and said, you know, states will hold you accountable if your schools are failing. And states were actually able to manipulate their own standards to make it look like their schools weren't failing. And the Common Core is essentially an effort to say no more gaming the system. We're going to play as a team.

SIEGEL: So where does the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, PARCC, where does fit into all this?

TURNER: Well, when states adopted the Core standards, Robert, they realized we need to write new tests to keep track of student learning, so two consortia were formed among these 45 or so states that adopted the Core. One of them is called PARCC, and they started developing new tests. And I just want to say these tests are pretty impressive. We heard Susanna say by Georgia's standards they're expensive. We got the price tag from PARCC this week. The average cost of a test per student will be around $29.

But they're really remarkably complex, so kids will be writing essays, some of which will be read and evaluated by humans. And get this: It's true of some of the math questions as well. There will be show-your-work math questions. So you can no longer just pray to the multiple choice gods and get lucky.

SIEGEL: So Georgia has dropped out and some other states are having second thoughts. Is it all about cost?

TURNER: Well, Robert, part of it is about cost. But PARCC is also a victim of the politics of the Common Core. Every state that has dropped out of PARCC or is scaling back its role in PARCC has a Republican governor. And they're likely feeling the heat from Tea Party critics, who have rallied hard against the Core. These critics see it as a federal intrusion into education.

The Obama administration has spent tens of millions of dollars to support the Core and these testing consortia. Still, as I said, the standards started with the states. They are not federal. And the states are still in the driver's seat. It's also important to note, Robert, that despite all this blowback, not one state that adopted the Core standards is actually dropping the Core standards.

SIEGEL: Well, if nobody is actually dropping the Core standards, why does it matter if they're dropping the test?

TURNER: Well, Core backers, Robert, will say, you know, look, as long as the spirit of the Core survives, as long as kids in the classroom, what they're learning is more rigorous and they're being taught to think and to read more critically, that's all that really matters. Tests don't matter. But here's the thing: A big part of what makes the Common Core such a revolution in education is that it aspires to bring order to the Wild West that we saw under No Child Left Behind.

All sorts of varied state standards where an A reader in, say, Georgia, would move with his family to Massachusetts and suddenly find himself a C or a D reader. As soon as states start developing their own tests again, it'll be easier for them to fudge their proficiency standards and make it that much harder to know what states are implementing new standards well and who isn't. In short, you start to lose the common in Common Core.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR education reporter Cory Turner.

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