The Common Core standards initiative was launched in 2009 by education reformers concerned that varying state graduation standards were leaving many U.S. students unprepared for college. To remedy this—and “maintain America’s competitive edge,” in the words of Vermont’s then governor Jim Douglas—the National Governors Association convened a group of education experts to establish new guidelines for what schoolchildren should be learning, grade by grade, in English and math.
Though launched by state governors, the Common Core got a major boost from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which doled out $4 billion in grants to states that implemented a set of education reform practices—one of which was adopting the Common Core.
Almost immediately, the Common Core came under fire from two disparate groups. Some teachers’ unions charged that the new standards would stifle creativity in the classroom by establishing one-size-fits-all learning. At the same time, many Republicans attacked the new standards as “Obamacore,” an intrusion of the federal government into local school systems. In the end, seven states—Alaska, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia—opted out of Common Core. The other 43 states plus the District of Columbia have gone ahead with the program.
In order to determine if students were meeting the new standards, new tests were needed. That’s where PARCC and its sibling, Smarter Balanced, come in. Armed with $350 million in Race to the Top money, the two testing consortia set out to create new Common Core-aligned standardized tests.
The addition of the tests to the assessment mix has increased public criticism of Common Core, even among some educators who endorse the standards. In February, the National Education Association called for a “course correction” on the Common Core, describing the implementation as “completely botched.” One specific criticism: that the rollout of the assessments has not matched the rollout of the standards, leaving some students to take tests that don’t match what they’re learning in school—exactly the problem that the new tests were supposed to solve.
Read about the new PARCC tests.