The Common Core State Standards are a set of national benchmarks, which require assessment instruments to function. Each test is expected to move beyond the traditional “bubble tests” and offer new computer-enhanced features. The two consortia responsible for designing these new tests have recruited high school and college representatives to assist with the trial period. Next year, the first trials of the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessments will be initiated, and both consortia reportedly are on track to implement the first real test for the 2014-15 academic year. Each consortium has clearly stated that the new assessments are designed as college admission exams and will not replace the SAT or ACT.
In addition to the traditional subject areas, PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) plans to assess students’ ability in digital media, complex texts, public speaking, and research strategies. At the high school level, tests will mostly be administered at the end of the year as summative assessments broken down into two parts. The performance based assessment (PBA) will be a more comprehensive evaluation, while the end-of-course style, technology-enhanced assessment will be shorter with a quicker turnaround. “The reason for breaking it out is that the states really wanted to tap into the kinds of hard-to-measure standards in the Common Core,” said Lesley Muldoon, senior policy associate at Achieve. Muldoon reported that the PBA should be able to grant educators more power to tailor the final evaluations to specific course content.
- Released minimum technology specifications required for implementation
- Commenced item development
“The states are now reviewing some samples that we are hoping to release by the end of the summer, so that educators, administrators and counselors can look at them and better understand what the performance expectations will look like,” – Lesley Muldoon
- PARCC Model Content Framework released; Evaluating public feedback
The framework includes an overview of performance-level descriptors, a critical piece of the assessments affecting the college admission process. The descriptors will outline expectations for students at various proficiency levels, according to a 5-point scale, and allow them to waive corresponding placement exams at participating institutions. PARCC has established a grade of "C" or better as proficient. “This is a really different way of approaching high school assessment and placement testing for higher ed. We think it’s an incredibly powerful way to help students who are in high school to better understand what expectations they need to meet to succeed at the next level, and get those signals early on rather than when they get to a college campus. We really think it’s at the heart of what [counselors and admission professionals] are doing with students.” – Lesley Muldoon
High School Involvement
PARCC launched educator leader cadres representing all 24 PARCC states; “These people are a really good group to draw from. They’ll be really good leaders,” – Lesley Muldoon
College and University Involvement
In December 2011, PARCC’s governing board added three postsecondary representatives. The governing board was designed to implement policy and operational decisions related to the assessment tests. Postsecondary faculty from 755 4-year colleges have agreed to work with PARCC.
The SMARTER Balanced consortium will still rely on the traditional single test format, but it will apply interim assessments to inform students and families of academic progress. Diverging from PARCC's emphasis on summative assessments, the consortium will balance interim, summative, and formative assessments to track student progress toward college and career readiness. These tests will take advantage of computer adaptive software to enhance the precision of scores.
- Completed small scale trials and cognitive labs with students
- Issued guidance for the purchase of new computer equipment
The assessment currently does not require the use of new software, but guidance is needed for schools already planning to upgrade. SMARTER Balanced has assessed multiple platforms and technology to determine compatibility. Among the more notable findings was the ability to use tablets in the test. “At the time that we wrote our proposals, nobody could envision how ubiquitous tablets would become,” said Jaci King, director of higher education collaboration for SMARTER Balanced. King said the tablets may be used in the future for tasks like sketching on mathematical reasoning tests.
- Designed a research program to validate and make adjustments to college-ready standards
While the consortium is still working on the details, a research initiative is set to begin after implementation in 2014 to track the validity of the assessments.
High School Involvement
The transition to the Common Core will likely take place at a local level, with individual communities spreading information about the new testing environment. Right now, King said, the focus is on preparing the teachers. Some teachers will be enlisted to serve as item writers and reviewers. “There won’t be a lot of those people because it’s a large consortium, and there’s only so much work to go around.”
College and University Involvement
Each of the 26 states in the SMARTER consortium have been assigned two higher education reps. The volunteers from the postsecondary side provide perspective on accommodations, accessibility, reporting, performance tasks, item development, and other categories. These higher education delegates are developing communication and engagement plans to implement in their home states. The goal is to be well-positioned by 2014.