Georgia’s announcement last week that it plans to opt out of the Common Core Standards assessments raises doubts as to whether the more rigorous standards can be measured effectively. The state cited costs and technology capacity as the main reasons it turned down the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
“Assessing our students’ academic performance remains a critical need to ensure that young Georgians can compete on equal footing with their peers throughout the country,” Governor Nathan Deal said. “Georgia can create an equally rigorous measurement without the high costs associated with this particular test. Just as we do in all other branches of state government, we can create better value for taxpayers while maintaining the same level of quality.”
Georgia’s decision comes at a time when the debate over the quality of Common Core Standards has caused ideological battles between Republicans and Democrats.
Several state GOP legislators have called for the repeal of Common Core Standards, though legislative efforts have failed. Democrats, on the other hand, see Republican efforts as a way to undermine student achievement and enrichment through the new standards.
Either way, Georgia has opened the discussion about the cost effectiveness of the program.
Matt Cordoza, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), argued that the two tests offered by PARCC, English language arts and math, costs more than the total budget for all the combined tests that Georgia implements.
Cordoza could not exactly quantify the costs figures for each Georgia tests per pupil, but said that they determined that the state could design similar assessments for roughly $8 to $9 per test per pupil at a total cost of about $18 for both the ELA and math test.
For comparison, PARCC is offering its computer-based assessment for $29.50. That $10 difference led GaDOE officials to halt a buy-in to the tests.
Cordoza also mentioned that technology issues would affect the way the state could deliver the assessments. He said that PARCC told states they are required to have a 2 to1 ratio of students per computer. Georgia has an average of 2.7 to 1.
Though that figure does not run across the board with all school districts, there are some urban and rural districts that lack the hardware capacity to accommodate all students within a timely fashion.
Beyond costs and technology, Georgia still wants to ensure that the state has complete control over Common Core, right down to the tests. If changes need to be made either to the standards or the tests, the state wants to be able to have the flexibility to do so.
Cordoza said that GaDOE officials believe the state can best match the nationally-standardized PARCC tests in alignment and rigor.
Most states have to roll out assessments by the 2014-2015 school year. Cordoza said that as of now, the state is still on track to have the tests by then.
Georgia, like many other states, just completed its first year implementing Common Core. For testing, the state used its Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and End-of-Course (EOC) tests to measure students against the new standards. Cordoza said these tests can be used in the future.
“In theory we can always use those tests as long as they are aligned and the rigor is elevated,” he said.
However, teachers and policy analysts worry that Georgia’s state officials will put students at a disadvantage by not accepting the PARCC tests so the state can accurately gauge student progress against national figures.
“It’s almost impossible to compare how students across states measure up,” said Claire Suggs, senior education policy analyst for the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “If everyone is not reaching the same standards, we won’t have that comparison and be able to gauge how Georgia students are doing against other students.”
Suggs referenced an Education Next article where researchers evaluated proficiency standards between state assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Georgia landed dead last, scoring in the D and F range for math and reading proficiency.
Suggs noted in her assessment of Georgia’s education budget over the last 10 years that the state has cut funding from its allocation formula for districts every year since 2002 at a total of $7.6 billion. For the last five years, it has cut roughly $1 billion each fiscal year. Those cuts, Suggs says, keeps school districts from closing achievement gaps.
Surprisingly, Georgia has had influence over Common Core from the beginning. Former GOP governor Sonny Perdue — who was succeeded by Nathan Deal — helped spearhead the standards as a part of the National Governors Association. State Superintendent John Barge represented Georgia in the state consortium that developed the standards and tests.
To be sure, Cordoza says that the state board of education readily accepts Common Core curriculum, just not the tests themselves.
If the individual assessment proves successful, Georgia will be a benchmark for other states who are beginning to reassess the potential of Common Core.