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DISTRICT IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSORTIA-DEVELOPED ASSESSMENTS: In New Survey, Many School Districts Withhold Judgment on New Assessments Aligned with Common Core State Standards

While about 90 percent of school district officials in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in math and English language arts (ELA) say that the new standards are more rigorous than their state’s previous standards in these subjects, roughly half believe it is too soon to tell whether the new assessments developed to align with the CCSS will be an improvement over their state’s current assessment, will drive instruction in positive ways, or will produce results that will be understood and used by parents and students. Both findings stem from a survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) at George Washington University and were included in two recent CEP reports.

“It is important to remember that most district leaders are still relatively unfamiliar with the new assessments,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of CEP. “District leaders are going to need time to familiarize themselves with the assessments and create an infrastructure of support for both teachers and students before they can determine their impact.”

During the 2014-15 school year, more than half of U.S. states will administer new assessments developed by either the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.

Of school districts with an opinion on the CCSS-aligned assessments, those with positive opinions significantly outweighed those with negative views. For example, 45 percent of school districts in states that belonged to a CCSS assessment consortium agreed that the new assessments will yield information that will inform instruction in ELA. Only 5 percent disagreed with the statement while 46 percent said it was too soon to tell. Additionally, 40 percent of districts believed that the new assessments will do a better job of measuring higher-order analytics skills and performance than the state’s current assessments, compared to only 5 percent who disagreed; 50 percent said it was too soon to tell.

The CEP has surveyed state leaders on their work to implement standards, and earlier this year, released a study that provided information on district leaders’ views of the CCSS. The new report, Common Core State Standards in 2014: District Implementation of Consortia-Developed Assessments, notes that district leaders were less sanguine than the state officials surveyed in 2013 were more certain than the 2014 school district respondents that the consortia-developed assessments would do a better job of measuring higher-order skills than the state’s previous assessment, have positive effects on instruction, and represent an improvement over the previous state assessments in ELA and math. “This is not surprising because states have been involved much more directly than districts in the development of assessments aligned to the Common Core,” the report notes.

The consortia-developed assessments appear to have encouraged many school districts to reevaluate and revise the assessments they are currently using. According to the report, 53 percent of districts are considering revising their formative assessments in math and ELA, which teachers use to inform decisions about instruction. Approximately 45 percent of districts are thinking about revising their interim assessments, which are used to determine whether students are on track to perform well on future high-stakes tests. However, only a handful of districts are planning to eliminate their formative or interim assessments.

One concern that school districts have deals with technology—or lack thereof. The Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments will be administered online, but a paper-and-pencil version will be provided to students in schools that lack the necessary technology. As shown in the below table taken from the report, 76 percent of districts in states belonging to a CCSS assessment consortium reported facing major or minor challenges in having available in their schools sufficient numbers of computers with adequate processing speed and screen characteristics for administering the consortium assessments. Additionally, 67 percent worried about the availability of adequate internet access and bandwidth in their schools.

CEPTable1

When asked when they expect to have the necessary technological infrastructure in place to administer CCSS-aligned assessments, 61 percent said they will have it in place in the 2014–15 school year while 26 percent said the 2015–16 school year or later; 14 percent were not sure.

“The implementation of consortia-developed assessments for the CCSS will continue to be a work in progress beyond this eventful school year,” the report notes. “How district leaders view and use the assessments will likely change over time as they become more familiar with the benefits and challenges of these new tests. As with the standards, district leaders will need time and support to maintain momentum as they process their experiences from this first year and make plans for the next school year.”

Common Core State Standards in 2014: District Implementation of Consortia-Developed Assessments is available at http://www.cep-dc.org/displayDocument.cfm?DocumentID=442.

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