Since 2010, all states have revised their education standards or adopted new ones and most (forty-six and the District of Columbia) have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). One of the most important decisions that state policymakers will face in the coming months is how to assess students’ progress toward these new standards. New Assessments: A Guide for State Policymakers, released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education, offers key questions that policymakers should consider as they make decisions regarding new assessments.
“College- and career-ready standards without high-quality assessments aligned to them to advance learning is like peanut butter without jelly,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Current tests are insufficient to measure these higher learning goals and fail to deliver the information that students, teachers, and parents need to ensure that students are on a trajectory to be ready for college and a career by the time they graduate from high school.”
New Assessments offers four key questions that state policymakers should ask about proposed new assessments:
What do the assessments measure? To provide information on student performance against the standards, the assessments should measure the full range of the standards, not just those that are easiest to measure. The state consortia that are building new assessments—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—are building their assessments directly tied to the standards, and they are planning to incorporate innovative elements that tap a broad range of abilities, such as performance tasks that measure student learning that cannot be assessed by multiple-choice questions.
How do the assessments help teachers? Assessments can help instruction by providing teachers with rich information on student strengths and areas needing additional help. Both consortia plan to develop tools teachers can use throughout the years, which will help them understand where students are during the course of the year and allow them to adjust instruction accordingly. The consortia are also building digital libraries of resources to help teachers.
How do the assessments help students and parents? Assessments can help student learning by making the expectations clear. PARCC and Smarter Balanced have already published several sample items and tasks, and they plan to release many items every year. In addition, the multi-state consortia can help parents by providing, for the first time, information on student performance that is comparable across states. For example, parents in rural Maryland will be able to see how their children’s performance compares with that of students in upstate New York.
How much do the assessments cost? The PARCC assessments are expected to cost $29.50 per pupil, about the median of what its member states currently pay for tests, while Smarter Balanced assessments are expected to cost $22.50 per pupil ($27.50 if states buy the interim and formative assessments as well), less than what most of its states currently spend. The higher cost reflects the fact that these assessments will not be exclusively multiple-choice and will require human scoring, which is more expensive.
While acknowledging that cost is an important consideration, New Assessments encourages states to look at the other side of the ledger and consider the benefits of the new assessments. Current state tests have not provided the kind of information students, parents, and teachers need. And the experience of high-performing nations shows that high-quality assessments can improve teaching and learning.
Additionally, citing research by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the guide notes that states could afford higher-quality assessments by cutting back on the interim and benchmark assessments they currently administer, which are not tied to the CCSS and provide only limited information on student progress toward the standards. It also notes that the consortia have taken advantage of economies of scale and are able to produce higher-quality assessments at lower cost than states would be able to build on their own.
New Assessments: A Guide for State Policymakers is available at https://all4ed.org/reports-factsheets/new-assessments-a-guide-for-state-policymakers/.