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Your Questions About the Common Core-Aligned Assessments Field Tests Answered

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March 26, 2014 12:42 pm


Beginning this month – and some this week, millions of students across the country are participating in an unprecedented event: field tests for new assessments that measure student performance against the Common Core State Standards. These field tests will provide vital information about the quality of assessments that is necessary before they are implemented in classrooms in more than thirty-five states next year. What can students, parents, and teachers expect from the field test? What do the consortia hope to learn from it?

Leaders from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) answered these questions and more during a recent Alliance for Excellent Education webinar. During the webinar, we received more questions than the panelists had time to answer.

We have compiled some of the questions that address pressing issues surrounding the field tests and recent developments around the assessments, and brought them to you in a Q&A form. Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance, and expert on the Common Core State Standards, deeper learning, and assessments, answers your questions after the break.

How will data collected from the field tests be used at the federal level?

Although the federal government provided funds for the development of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments, the federal government does not control these tests. They are run by the states that make up the consortia. These are state tests, and data is not provided to the federal government.

A lot of teachers have voiced their support for the Common Core State Standards, but are concerned that the consortia system of formatives, interims, and summatives will simply re-create the high-stakes testing culture of the past decade on a broader scale. How would you respond to their concerns? 

The goal of the consortia is to provide information and resources to help student attain the Common Core State Standards. The summative tests will enable students, parents, teachers, and policy makers to understand how well students are performing, so that they can make adjustments if needed to raise performance. The interim and formative assessments are intended to help teachers understand what students know and can do during the course of the year so they can improve instruction based on individual students’ needs.

Is the intent of both consortia to have their summative tests generate bell curve results similar to the SAT and ACT?      

The SAT and ACT are norm-referenced tests, which measure student performance against that of other students. The consortia assessments are standards-referenced tests, which measure student performance against standards. Students’ scores will be based on whether they attain the standards, not on other students’ scores.

Why are there two consortia and two tests when there is just one set of standards? Will these tests be aligned?   

Both consortia measure the Common Core State Standards, but there are different ways of measuring standards. States can choose which approach is appropriate for them. But the intent is for the results to be compared so that parents, teachers, and higher education officials will know that how a student in one state performed is comparable to how a student in another state performed.

How do you propose that teachers, parents, and school administrators motivate and encourage the students to take this test seriously since it currently has no validity, relevance, or application for them personally?                            

The field test is an opportunity for students to experience the test and understand what they will be expected to know and be able to do, with no stakes attached.

What do the two consortia anticipate will be the biggest challenge in terms of state policymakers’ decision making about transitioning  from current tests to next generation tests?                          

Since most students have not been taught what the Common Core State Standards expect them to learn until recently, scores on the SBAC and PARCC tests are expected to be lower than on previous state tests. This does not mean that students know less; rather, the standards are higher. As Kentucky fund when it administered a test aligned to the Common Core in 2012, when the public is informed about this, there will be little outcry.

Learn more by watching the full archived video of our recent webinar, Getting Ready for the Assessment Consortia Field Test.


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