The Un-Common Core Test

October 8, 2014

By Sarah Galey

State superintendents across the country, including Michigan’s Mike Flanagan, are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, states’ federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers and Race to the Top (RttT) funding are wrapped up in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Moreover, states began transitioning to the CCSS and aligning states assessments to the standards in 2010 – at this point it would be very difficult to jump ship. On the other hand, many state lawmakers and governors have intervened in the implementation process, especially when it comes to the assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

A recent Education Week reporting project shows a fragmented testing landscape as states plan to assess the CCSS in school years to come. A few years ago, 45 states and the District of Columbia planned to implement PARCC or SBAC assessments. As of recent, just 27 states still plan to use those tests for the 2014-15 school year. Despite strong opposition from Supt. Flanagan and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), the Michigan legislature has passed legislation that requires MDE to create a new summative assessment, a “new MEAP” – that is aligned to Michigan standards (i.e. the Common Core) for Spring 2015 testing. Meanwhile what the summative assessment set for the following school year (2015-16) is yet to be decided – it could be Smarter Balanced or not. So what now?


The Un-common Core Test

In June 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the 2014-15 state education budget approved by the legislature, which included a provision to effectively backtrack Michigan’s plans for implementing CCSS assessments in Spring 2015. The provision requires MDE to create a new MEAP exam in English Language Arts and Mathematics instead of implementing the Smarter Balanced tests the state was preparing to use.

This leaves MDE and Supt. Flanagan in a no-win situation. The fact remains that the CCSS are still in place and, in order to comply with federal law, state assessments must be aligned with state standards. In a December 2013, report comparing the SBAC assessments with several other testing options, MDE concluded that Smarter Balanced was the best option for Michigan moving forward. Many legislators and other educational stakeholders (teachers, parents, etc.) still need to be convinced, however, if Smarter Balanced is going to survive in Michigan.

In the meantime, teachers have been trained to teach the CCSS and preparing for the SBAC assessments. MDE and Michigan teachers are now in a state of flux when it comes to the state test, leaving many educators confused and frustrated.

What is next for Michigan when it comes to state tests now that the Smarter Balanced test is off the table (at least for now)? Officially, MDE has been directed to create a “new MEAP” that align to CCSS, but this might not mean complete elimination of the SBAC assessment. According to an Education Week blog, SBAC may survive, “but in a modified form.” Michigan, as a member of the Smarter Balanced consortium was involved in creating the test items, meaning they can still use them. In other words, when revising the MEAP in alignment with the CCSS, MDE is permitted to use Smarter Balanced test questions. What may result is something very similar to the Smarter Balanced assessment, but officially it will be an “un-common core” test.