Say Bye Bye to High School PARCC Exams

It’s been a while since we talked about PARCC. Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to talk about. The test remains enormously unpopular—a fact that breeds high opt-out rates; limits student, educator, and parent buy-in; and fosters instability in our ability to measure schools’ performance and provide good information to parents looking to choose schools for their children. Now, thanks to a new bill at the legislature, PARCC will very likely be leaving Colorado high schools for good.

It’s hard to talk about PARCC-era testing without talking about opt outs. That subject can get complicated quickly. There’s a lot more going on with the formal “opt-out movement” than meets the eye, a lot of which is pretty concerning. But a good deal of the fuel for that particular fire comes from opposition to PARCC. Don’t believe me? Consider this (from a previous post on the issue):

I still believe PARCC—not the idea of standardizing testing itself—is a big part of the problem here. Americans overwhelmingly still support the idea of regular standardized testing, and this level of anti-testing angst didn’t exist back in the TCAP era. Don’t believe me? Check out the CDE graph from the last ESSA Hub Committee meeting below. Further, the heaviest concentration of opt outs is in older grades, with most lower grades meeting or nearly meeting the magical 95 percent participation threshold. One would expect to see a more even distribution of opt outs across grade levels if we were looking at a true cultural shift among parents overall. One might even expect opt outs to be higher among younger children whose parents are worried about “subjecting” them to standardized testing.

Colorado took a big step back from the PARCC hot potato in 2015 by ditching PARCC as the statewide test for high school sophomores and juniors. Instead, students began taking tests aligned with the 11th-grade college entry exam all Colorado juniors take. That test used to be the ACT before Colorado’s awkward switch to the SAT in 2015. Tenth graders now take the PSAT, which is designed to track with and prepare students for the full SAT in their junior year . As of right now, however, 9th graders still take the PARCC exam. A new bill, HB 1181, would change that.

If HB 1181 were to pass, 9th graders in Colorado would take a 9th-grade version of the PSAT instead of PARCC. That makes a lot of sense—so much so, in fact, that I’ve been endorsing such a move for quite some time. There are a lot of good reasons to find a new test for freshman. First, PARCC is so unpopular that about one in four students simply choose not to take it. A new test that is markedly different from PARCC could go a long way toward increasing participation. Second, the PSAT’s alignment with the SAT should help students, parents, and teachers see some level of value in it. Third, a system in which students take three aligned tests in high school more logically aligns with progress toward college and career readiness. It never really did make a lot of sense to administer a test to 9th graders that is nearly entirely divorced from the other tests they will take in high school. And finally, it preserves reasonable annual testing for the purposes of school and teacher use, parental choice, and accountability to taxpayers by changing instruments instead of simply not testing.

My typical line at this point is that “we’ll have to see if this bill makes it through,” but it’s a near certainty that this one is going all the way. Its list of sponsors and cosponsors makes clear that it has the votes to clear House Education (which it did on Monday), Senate Education, and the floors of both chambers. On top of that, the bill apparently has Governor Hickenlooper’s blessing. That kind of support will make it very difficult to stop this piece of legislation. And in this particular case, that’s very good news.

If the bill’s initially rushed pace is any indication—it was introduce last Friday and cleared House Ed the following Monday—we may see passage and signature sooner rather than later. It’s got a few more stops to make on the way, but I’d put my money on it getting through soon. I’ll be keeping close tabs on it in the meantime.