A number of states are now well into their implementation of the Common Core. In some of these states, Common Core has already impacted the state test design, but in many others that impact is just beginning this year with the launch of two new tests designed to assess the standards.
Who created these tests and how did they come about?
In 2009, a state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The new learning standards were written to standardize definitions of proficiency across states and to ensure that all high school graduates are college and career ready. One of the goals of the standards is that no student would require developmental courses once enrolled in a college or university. Since it was first introduced, forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS.
The development of these standards led directly to the creation of two consortia: PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). In 2010, these groups were awarded $330 million to create fair, valid, next-generation assessments based on the CCSS. The tests assess the mathematics and English language arts knowledge of students from third through twelfth grade. Currently, PARCC has thirteen member states and SBAC has twenty-two.
What differentiates these tests?
Assessments for PARCC and SBAC are more rigorous than typical state tests and shift away from the usual multiple-choice item banks. They are computer adaptive and include short answer, extended response, and interactive items. By broadening the types of items, the tests can assess a wider range and depth of knowledge. Lower level items assess concepts, skills, and procedures. Difficulty increases with the inclusion of reasoning, modeling, and application items. Performance tasks require students to use higher order thinking skills to create and synthesize data. These tasks include a mix of machine-scored and hand-scored responses. Hand-scored ELA items require students to compose essays and analyze passages.
Students are engaged in multi-part activities that include graphs and diagrams with clickable regions (hot spots) and figures that can be dragged and dropped to order, graph, and sort numbers. Open response items in mathematics and science include symbol palettes to allow students to write expressions and equations that can’t be typed on a standard keyboard. Online calculators are provided to equalize the testing environment. A digital calculator helps to remove socio-economic bias and its use can be restricted to specific items.
Were the tests “tested”?
Yes. In the spring of 2014, SBAC conducted field tests of 21,000 items. Over four million students across twenty-four states participated with the expectation that 10–20 percent of the items would be edited or removed. PARCC also conducted field tests in the spring of 2014. One million students across seventeen states participated. Both summative and formative assessments were tested and evaluated for validity and fairness.
Administrators are currently in the process of finalizing the assessments to prepare for the implementation set for the 2014-2015 school year. Sample items for educators and administrators are available at PARCC and SBAC. Ready or not, here they come!