Mississippi Tosses PARCC, Keeps Common Core – For Now

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Mississippi has joined several other states in the ongoing struggle surrounding its selection of tests and the continued use of the Common Core State Standards.

The state Board of Education voted to withdraw from the Partnership of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) consortium beginning January 25. On February 2, State Superintendent Carey Wright says the state will release a request to find a new assessment contract.

The Associated Press reports that Mississippi was a founding member of PARCC, which engineered the tests to assess learning under the Common Core State Standards. Now, there are only 11 states remaining in the original group, along with the District of Columbia. The Mississippi state review board rejected the original effort to adopt the PARCC tests for multiple years and went with a one-year emergency contract for this spring only, with Pearson PLC, because the state’s officials did not consider other vendors.

PARCC is something of a lightning rod in the continued fight over Common Core in Mississippi. Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), want to get rid of Common Core. Originally, Common Core was adopted to provide national standards and to help students learn in an analytical manner. Those against the Common Core feel that the standards were forced on the states by the federal government.

On testing, some state superintendents and Republican lawmakers want to switch to the ACT testing organization. Other lawmakers want Mississippi to design its own tests, barring any use of purchased tests like those written by ACT. Board Chairman John Kelly of Gulfport and State Superintendent Carey Wright said:

“We’re not precluding ACT or anyone else from applying. ACT, or any other assessment we have, is going to have to be aligned with the state standards.”

The advantage of using the PARCC test is that it would allow the availability of comparable results nationwide, which is valuable for assessing students who move to a new state and to compare curricula across states. Also, all the testing bills, so far, would eliminate the biology, English, algebra, and US history tests that high school students in Mississippi must pass to graduate. Wright wants these tests to stay.

“I think the parents deserve the right to know what their children know at the end their education,” she said.

According to Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post, the Mississippi Board of Education site has published a statement concerning the withdrawal.

“The new RFP process will give the state the opportunity to seek competitive, multi-year bids,” said Dr. John R. Kelly, chairman of the Board of Education. “Our exit from PARCC will help ensure the process is open and transparent.  Any assessment vendor may submit a bid for the contract provided they meet the RFP requirements and their assessment measures what students are learning in our classrooms.”

Included is a quote by Wright in which she assures state residents that the State Board of Education is fully behind the College- and Career-Ready Standards and explains that the standards are the highest academic standards the state has ever had. In a Wall Street Journal story by Caroline Porter, a statement by the communications director for the state education department, included this comment:

“There have been people in our state who want to see Mississippi have more control over its assessment, and the board just felt it needed to withdraw from PARCC,” said Patrice Guilfoyle. She said the testing switch wouldn’t lead to any immediate changes for teachers and students.