College- and Career-Ready Assessments

With the advent of the Common Core State Standards, the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top (RTT) program funded the development of shared assessments aligned to these new standards. States formed two testing consortia, the Partnership for College and Career (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced).

Initially, the majority of states were members of one or both of the consortia, but use of consortia assessments has fallen in both groups each year since they were formed. Some consortium members have since paid to develop their own original Common Core-aligned assessments (e.g. New York), while others, like Michigan, are in the process of developing assessments that combine consortium questions with non-consortium questions.


Initiated with RTT funds in 2010, PARCC has developed Common Core-aligned, largely computer-based assessments for 3rd through 12th grades. The consortium began with 26 member states in 2010, but for the 2015-2016 testing season, only seven states and the District of Columbia plan to administer PARCC assessments. Originally, PARCC tests were administered uniformly across all member states, but beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, states will be able to add to, alter, or purchase test items from PARCC à la cart — Louisiana, Michigan, and Massachusetts have already opted for this approach. Over its tenure, PARCC has received roughly $185 million in Race to the Top funds.

Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced was created with RTT funds in 2010 in order to create Common Core-aligned assessments to be shared across states. Now housed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and governed by its member states, Smarter Balanced has developed Common Core-aligned assessments for grades 3-8 and grade 11. Unlike PARCC, Smarter Balanced does not provide high school end-of-course exams, but instead offers a comprehensive exam for the 11th grade. Also unlike PARCC, Smarter Balanced assessments are computer adaptive, meaning that the test questions students answer change based on how they demonstrate understanding on previous questions. In the 2014-2015 school year, 18 states administered Smarter Balanced assessments. As of November 2015, only fourteen states plan to administer Smarter Balanced summative assessments during the 2015-2016 school year.

State-Specific Assessments

In the 2014-2015 school year, 21 states administered non-consortia assessments. In the 2015-2016 school year, 29 states plan to administer non-consortia assessments. Some of these assessments have been commissioned for the state individually: New York, for example, has redesigned the New York Regents Examinations to align with the Common Core. But others will combine material from PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments with state-specific test content. The latter strategy, colloquially termed “the Blend Trend,” has become an increasingly popular option as both PARCC and SBAC states have combined consortium assessment questions with state-specific content. Michigan, for instance, has been field-testing, from 2014 to 2016, a hybrid assessment combining Smarter Balanced questions with others written by Michigan educators with a third-party vendor. As of late 2015, PARCC members Massachusetts and Louisiana also announced plans to adopt hybrid assessments.