The possible future direction of state testing got a little clearer Wednesday when education Commissioner Robert Hammond announced that Colorado will join the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers as a governing member.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The partnership, known as PARCC, is one of two federally funded national groups that are developing multi-state achievement tests based on the Common Core Standards in language arts and math, which Colorado has adopted. The other group is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Colorado has been a non-governing member of both groups. The State Board of Education and the Department of Education have leaned toward development of Colorado-only tests to replace the TCAP testing system currently in use.

But the state legislature last spring declined to fully fund the department’s request to develop a complete battery of Colorado-only tests. Lawmakers provided money only for work on new science tests and social studies assessments, which aren’t being developed by either multi-state group. Social studies isn’t currently tested in Colorado, but the SBE and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education want it included in a new testing system.

Use of multi-state tests is favored by key legislators and Gov. John Hickenlooper, and the general sentiment favors PARCC. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, last spring pushed Senate Bill 12-172, which requires Colorado to join one of the two national groups as a full partner.

The state board formally opposed that bill on a 4-3 vote, but the requirement passed the full legislature after it was folded into a separate measure, House Bill 12-1240.

States that are governing members of either consortium have more say in test development and generally are expected to use that group’s tests when they become available, which is expected to be no earlier than 2015.

Johnston’s legislation didn’t specify which group Colorado should join, and the law would allow the state to withdraw from governing membership after Jan. 1, 2014, if the state doesn’t like the tests the group develops.

Hammond formally informed the board of his decision in a brief statement during the board’s monthly meeting. “We will abide by the statue; we will join PARCC,” the commissioner said. “I just wanted to advise you of that.” Colorado will withdraw from the Smarter Balanced group.

There was no board discussion of the matter.