The decision by South Carolina’s schools chief to withdraw from a consortium that crafted the next generation of student testing gives the state little time to find a replacement. Meanwhile, school districts say they are moving ahead but are getting little guidance on what to do next.
“There’s just been very little communication with districts,” South Carolina School Boards Association spokeswoman Debbie Elmore said. “To be quite honest, districts are just proceeding and doing what they’ve always done. But there’s a lot of questions.”
Earlier this month, state Education Superintendent Mick Zais informed districts that he was withdrawing the state from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multistate group that drafted new tests for Common Core standards that begin in the 2014-15 school year. The tests are unpopular with some parents, politicians, and even a few educators who are concerned its radically-different methods will result in lower test scores.
Zais’ move came after the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 89-9 on April 10 to effectively block the Smarter Balanced tests. The superintendent, who opposes Common Core, told school districts to suspend the tests in anticipation that the Senate would later vote the same way. But the unilateral move shocked the state Board of Education, which had voted just the previous week to stick with the tests.
The board’s chairman was clearly angry about the move. “It’s total disregard for checks and balances,” chairman Barry Bolen told Education Week. “This ain’t some church committee you volunteered for.” However, he acknowledged that Zais had the authority to pull the state out of the consortium.
South Carolina’s education agency is now moving into Plan B in an effort to find a new test to replace Smarter Balanced, according to its spokesman.
“Two years ago when we entered the consortium, we just had two assessment options and that was it,” Education Department Dino Teppara said. “But now we have a lot more opportunities for South Carolina to look at other testing options.”
But the window will be very small. South Carolina’s waiver from the “No Child Left Behind” law requires the state to use a “college and career ready assessment” test starting next school year. The state’s current PASS tests do not meet new Common Core standards, meaning it needs to be replaced after 2014. However, state law requires field trial runs before any new test can be adopted.
“We will need to have an assessment ready for the spring of 2015,” Teppara said. But if we start now, we’ll make sure that we have that process in place and the test in place at the appropriate time.”
Elmore was not as confident. “Is there going to be enough time to procure a test that would be given in the spring?” She asked. “When that test is given for the first time, it’ll be brand-new. So there’s just a lot of questions.”