Core Talk: How Sustainable are Federally Funded Large-Scale Assessments when the Federal Funds End?

National Conference on Student Assessment 2013

With federal funding  grant money for both Smarter Balanced and PARCC ending in 2014, both consortia are either developing (PARCC) or have developed (Smarter Balanced) business plans that will transition them to a ‘federal fund-free’ sustainable future. We were lucky to hear from both Laura Stover of PARCC and Joe Willhoft from Smarter Balanced at the National Conference of Student Assessment (NCSA) 2013’s plenary session, The Future is (Almost) Now: Implementing New Assessments in 2014-2015.

Common Elements of Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced’s Sustainability Plans

Both states are maintaining integrity of the “created by states for states” mentality and see consortium member states as an integral part of sustainability. States will be involved in ongoing assessment item development, quality assurance, governance, and constituent engagement practices.

Higher-education engagement is key to both consortia’s long-term success. Both assessments will need higher-ed systems to provide validity research, predictive analysis and consistent cut scores for college placement.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced are in the process of disseminating their core services from supplemental services for member states. While Smarter Balanced is further ahead in establishing their pricing model, both consortia are hashing out which products and services they will offer their member-states and what responsibilities/tasks the member-states will assume in the long-term.

PARCC’s Sustainability Plan

In March of 2013, PARCC created PARCC Incorporated, a non-profit organization that will carry PARCC into the future as it’s own legal entity. PARCC Inc does not have their own employees or bank account yet, but the plan is to be up and running when the grant period ends in September of 2014.

There is much work to be done to prepare for the 2014 ‘deadline’ and PARCC has turned to McKinsey and Co to develop options for their organizational mission, vision, governance and staffing. The current PARCC Governing Board will transition as the board of the nonprofit organization and states will maintain ongoing roles in the organization.

Short term sustainability goals of PARCC include distinguishing core and supplemental services to member states, establishing the pricing model for their services, and keeping a pulse on quality assessment items, comparable and predictive data, and partnerships with higher ed.

Long term goals of PARCC largely focus on establishing the nonprofit by writing their organizational mission statement, creating their governance and staffing structure and very importantly, their funding model.

Smarter Balanced’s Sustainability Plan

While Smarter Balanced is a lap ahead of PARCC in their process, they still have quite a lot of preparation for their transition away from federal grant money in 2014.

The Smarter Balanced sustainability plan, created by their Sustainability Task Force with consultant support (also McKinsey and Co), is governed by the following key principles:

  • Remain a State-led governing system
    • Shared state ownership of the item pool, digital library, and other resources
  • Establish business model that retains state autonomy
    • Phase One: SBAC provides each member state with the services necessary to maintain quality and comparability of assessment system
    • Phase Two: States retain the autonomy and flexibility to acquire assessment management and administration services
  • The consortium affiliates with existing public entity for backbone support (HR, legal, fiscal, front office, etc)

One major announcement was the organization’s new home in California as Smarter Balanced’s future affiliation with CRESST at UCLA begins in 2014. This move will increase sustainability by providing access to university level research facilities, establishing a strong partnership with UCLA, and using California as a strategic home base and partner in Smarter Balanced’s future.

Thank you to Laura Stover and Joe Willhoft for an engaging session!

Our team also had the opportunity to attend a session facilitated by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment organization, better-known as “WIDA.”  As a state-led assessment consortium already 10 years deep into their mission, WIDA offered the following wisdom for newer consortia (like PARCC and SBAC) as they plan for the “long haul:”

  • As best as possible, clearly-define the role and responsibilities of your consortium and the roles of its partners (e.g. member-states, contracting vendors, etc.)
  • Keep your pricing models as consistent as possible; provide thorough explanations of any changes to services, products, and/or price
  • Most of all, be “more than a test” to your member-states: cultivate professional development, collaboration opportunities, and other services that ameliorate teaching and learning

Helpful insight all around!  We will stay-tuned as these consortia continue to develop their long-term plans.

As always, stay classy, standards enthusiasts!

The Core Talk Team



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