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NPR Is Gaga about PARCC and Its State-comparison Potential

August 8, 2015

On August 07, 2015, NPR released this piece concerning setting the cut scores for the PARCC tests that students took in the spring.

NPR makes this statement:

…Until last year, it was all but impossible to compare students across state lines. Not anymore.

This is not true. States have been required to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

What is interesting is that the Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards (and finding in favor of Common Core even though it did not give Common Core a higher rating than all state standards) demonstrates no connection between their ratings of state standards and NAEP scores.

So now, we have PARCC, and according to NPR, we have a number of individuals meeting to “nail down cut scores for those 5 million tests.”

If anyone tells you that PARCC or any other standardized test is by definition “objective,” don’t buy it.

Instead, believe what Center for Public Education director Patte Barth says in that NPR piece:

“Establishing cut scores is part science. It’s part art. But it’s also part political.”

I wonder which part dominates.

Tough call, eh?

So, it seems, this group in Denver is going to make sure that states cannot produce an “illusion of improvement.” What is missing, however, is any established connection between PARCC, it’s Denver-ballroom-basement-meeting-set cut scores, and previous tests used by the states.

My teaching colleague, Herb Bassett, observed as much in a FB posting of the NPR link:

Explains how a committee is in process of determining which students passed and which failed the PARCC this year. The scores required for passing (the cut scores) have not yet been set even though the tests have been taken.

This radio piece sells the point that for the first time, proficiency tests will be comparable across some states. However, there is no way to compare them to the tests (LEAP and iLEAP) from years past. Thus, there is no way to determine if student performance has actually risen or fallen with the changeover to Common Core.

I, for one, would like to see actual evidence of the efficacy of Common Core, but the departments of education in the states and in Washington have made sure that there will be no data to compare pre-common core to post-common core through the annual testing regime.

Common Core is its own point of reference yet again.  This Common Core-centrism is evident in Smarter Balanced test construction.

The NPR piece states that PARCC tests are “considered harder than many of the tests they replaced.”

“Harder” is not the same as “better.” Since I wrote a ten-chapter book in ten weeks, I could require my sophomore English students to do the same, and that would indeed be harder than what they are used to, but it is not necessarily better.

It sure would make me look like a “rigorous” teacher. And if anyone complained, I could just brush it off as their not being willing to challenge students to r a i s e  t h e  b a r.

I could even set a passing cut score, say, if they produced even half of a book. Forget any side effects of such pressure, any self-esteem issues, any loss of the joy of learning, any loss in developing a spectrum of interests and pursuits.

If it cannot be measured, it does not matter. End of story.

Those pushing Common Core have made a lot of airy promises about Common Core being the bar-raising solution to all that ails American public education. And since Common Core has been set up to justify itself, no matter the outcome– no matter if test scores rise or fall– no matter if state education reputations rise or fall in the PARCC-comparison rankings– Common Core as that K12 education center will be absolved of any fault. Its ideologues will still be able to deflect any unseemly results as “poor implementation” and any test-score-founded improvement as “good implementation” and proof that Common Core was what lower- and middle-class America needed all along.

Upper class? [wafture of hand] Even if they forcefully promote it, Common Core is not a reality for their kids.

But can the people o’ privilege who are trying to solidify Common Core as the lower- and middle-class, public education center save PARCC?

PARCC is being careful on its states pages to not clearly note if a state has decided to drop PARCC. Instead, it limits its information to whether a state took PARCC assessments in 2014-15, and it notes whether or not the state is a PARCC governing state (read here about the necessity of PARCC to retain five governing states– it now has only seven and DC).

For example, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Ohio will not be participating in PARCC in 2015-16, but the PARCC state web pages keep this info under wraps:

Mississippi administered the PARCC assessment in 2014-15. Mississippi is not a governing state. 

Arkansas administered the PARCC assessment in 2014-15. Arkansas is not a governing state.

Ohio administered the PARCC assessment in 2014-15. Ohio is not a governing state. 

And as for Louisiana, which did not administer the official, Pearson-vended PARCC tests in 2014-15, well, PARCC finally decided to clarify that– conveniently after the fact:

Louisiana’s state assessment in 2014-15 included items developed through the PARCC process. Louisiana is not a governing state. 

Soo, how is it that Louisiana is included as taking “PARCC assessments” in 2014-15 on on this PARCC web page?

In the 2014-15 school year, 5 million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia took the PARCC annual assessments in grades 3-11, although not all participating states have students in all grades taking the test. Students in the following states took PARCC assessments in the 2014-15 school year: ArkansasColorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, MassachusettsMississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

PARCC needs to continue to market itself as best as possible even as states continue to leave.

The NPR article does not discuss the effect of PARCC attrition on the celebrated marvel of “comparing students across state lines.”

It also does not discuss the validity of any comparison of Louisiana– which did not contract with Pearson for the official, 2014-15 Pearson-PARCC tests– to the rest of the states involved.

Details such as this could certainly dull the fresh-waxed, Common Core-PARCC shine.

freshly waxed


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, newly published on June 12, 2015.

both books


  1. Did you send this is to NPR; Did they respond to their reporting inaccuracies?

  2. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.

  3. And after we wrestle with all that foolishness, we still come back to the bottom line– if we could compare students across state lines, so what?? What benefits would a student in Idaho get from being able to compare his school to a school in New Jersey? But we can’t ask those questions because everybody knows being able to compare and compete is super-valuable in and of itself.

  4. LAEducator permalink

    I recall NPR reporting many months ago that the SBAC was establishing cut scores prior to giving the test to students, but the PARCC, being administered mostly in southern & red states, was going to wait to establish cut scores until after the tests were administered. At the time, the reporter seemed troubled with the discrepancy & questioned political motives behind these decisions. Guess someone made a big donation. They seem to have no qualms about this now.

  5. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Thank you, Mercedes, for bringing this information together. It seems that the higher one is in the educational hierarchy, the bigger the lie. Is there money involved?

  6. I have noticed this pro common core on npr before. I have also noticed that the Gates foundation is a big donor. Any connection?

  7. Ben Morse permalink

    Interesting that PARCC has become a middle/lower class public school measure. Do charter schools also take the exam?

  8. Reblogged this on stopcommoncorenys.

  9. Seattle, which did not use PARCC but SBAC (same difference) has set its own cut scores, refusing the SBAC-set scores!!

    • Jill Reifschneider permalink

      Yes, and Seattle faces a whole different challenge since the opt out movement was such a success. Love it.

  10. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    So, the students who took the PARCC are getting ready for this coming school year, and some group of people in Colorado are coming up with the cut score for the PARCC exams the kids took months ago! No test results reported yet, and they did not determine what is passing. Is this flippin’ insane?!?!?! They are making the big bucks stressing out teachers and students with the power to determine if a child graduates, if a teacher’s evaluation is adequate, and if a school remains open, AND they have not yet determined what a passing score on their ______ test will be (or, was). What the _____? First states are coerced to adopt the Common Core before it actually exists, now the children take the tests (valuable learning time and $$$ stolen from schools), before the “testers” determine what “passing” is. Huh????

  11. Linda Warner Mank permalink

    I, too, was surprised to read that it is no longer impossible to compare student scores across state lines…I guess that are only referring to the state lines of the seven states plus D.C. that are still giving the PARCC. I’m from an SBAC state. And I haven’t see any mention of how the PARCC scores and the SBAC scores will relate to each other! I think we still have 17 states in our consortium. Let’s see, that makes 24 + DC; that makes it less than half of the United States, right?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Why Is NPR Marketing PARCC? | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Tuesday, August 11, 2015 Edition | tigersteach
  3. NPR Is Gaga About PARCC | Just The Facts, Ma'am

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