The Problem with An Interstate Test Item Bank Cooperative

Nat Malkus at American Enterprise Institute floats the idea of moving away from common assessments, such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced, and instead move to states developing their own assessments using  test items from a shared interstate test item bank.

The concept of sharing test items from an interstate test item bank cooperative isn’t a bad one if states continue to be required to give and report on assessments as it would provide cost-effective flexibility.

As with anything, however, the devil is in the details.

He writes:

Despite these obstacles, the next administration could take a bold step that will return sovereignty over education—including standards—to states; recoup some of the withering federal investments in the consortia; create a sustainable, long-term basis for state accountability systems; and do all this without resorting to new federal mandates or additional burdens for states. Federal accountability requirements under ESSA will remain, and the administration has limited direct authority on Common Core, but changes to how assessments are constructed could pull the lynchpin from the policy knot in which many states still find themselves.

I propose an Interstate Test-Item Bank Cooperative (ITBC) as that way forward. An ITBC would give states sole authority over their assessments, while still providing the economies of scale and comparability of results that the consortia promised but did not deliver. It would provide the flexibility states currently lack to make marginal changes to their assessments, and by extension their state standards, allowing those that wish to leave the Common Core to do so without totally overhauling their standards or assessments. Structured properly, the ITBC could allow changes to assessments without disrupting states’ ability to measure performance over time. Better still, the ITBC could leverage existing state and federal resources, including the investments in the SBAC and PARCC consortia, without substantial new expenditures or federal pressures.

Read his full report here to see how this would work, but in a nutshell it largely depends on PARCC and Smarter Balanced test items. States can’t move away from Common Core by using Common Core-aligned test items. Also it would utilize common data which is something we need to get away with. It also keeps the federal government in the assessment mandating business which is unconstitutional.

Does it have to be that way? No, but it would require a commitment from multiple sources to start from scratch and develop test items that are not aligned to Common Core. Secondly, the U.S. Department of Education can’t have any involvement with it – funding or otherwise. Without this it would just allow states flexibility to develop their own Common Core-aligned assessments.

I’m not going to hold my breath on that.