by Kurt NY
Out of concern for a perceived lack of rigor in public school education across the nation, forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted a set of educational guidelines called Common Core, the idea being that instructional content be more standardized between the states and that learning standards be raised. It would be up to each state how they implement those standards and to design their own curricula in accordance with them.
The question immediately arises how would state conformance with and student mastery of those standards be measured. Well, the main thrust at this point seems to be The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, referred to as PARCC (FAQ website – all info in this article is derived from there). To date, 20 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) plus the US Virgin Islands have signed up, all of whom have signed adherence to Common Core standards (which is a requirement for any state wishing to join).
What this means is that all of these jurisdictions, educating 25 million children K-12, agree to replace their individual state assessments in ELA and Math with a series of standardized tests being presently developed under the auspices of PARCC, partially utilizing federal money under the Race to the Top Program (16 of the 19 RTP state winners are participants in PARCC). Tests will be given for students in all Grades 3-11, mostly at the end of school years, with certain exceptions being made for specific subjects in Math, the tests for which will be taken after completion of the specific course.
Tests shall be taken concurrently on-line. Which means that every single student being tested for, say ELA in 10th Grade, shall take the exact same test at the exact same time, using individual computers or other electronic devices. The focus shall not just be getting the right answer using the now customary multiple guess/scantrons we’re all familiar with, but with methodology as to how they got the answer. And grading is intended to be done both by computer and by human assessment, with the intent that results shall be returned to schools and children by end of school year.
My school district currently uses standardized testing in a data warehousing feedback loop, wherein it examines which students missed which question, thereby determining what points of instruction have not been adequately imparted, either as a whole or by individual teacher, so that curriculum can be adjusted and/or specific teachers can be better focused on their particular weaknesses and monitored. PARCC will seek to do something similar in which it will present both school and student with an assessment not only on overall performance, but also the areas of weakness which need improvement. Which is why timely reporting of results is critical.
However, PARCC also aims to produce a final, single metric at the end of Grade 11 as to whether the student is College Ready or not. It is believed that this metric will eventually be used by colleges and universities as part of their acceptance process, although such process is as yet only speculative.
All states must commit to be using these exams for the 2014-2015 school year.
What does this mean for the parent in signatory states? Well, for starters:
Tests will be conducted by computer. Students unfamiliar with working with the specific hardware on which the test will be given or unfamiliar with the testing format or using hardware not sufficiently integrated will be at a serious disadvantage.
Not every product works well with this system. My district found that IPads (as of a year ago) did not work well with PARCC, and so, chose Chromebooks as the platform. Other districts may have made different assessments, some of which (possibly that of my district) will turn out to be sub-optimal, with all that implies for the kids being tested.
Given that, participating districts would be well advised to purchase sufficient tablets or other electronic devices and to make sure kids Grades 3-11 are sufficiently comfortable with them so as not to create a problem during the actual tests. My district has elected to provide each kid with his own unit to use as he will during the course of the year and on which he will be assigned classwork. Units are distributed in the beginning of the year and parents must be present for the training and statement of conditions.
Due to the necessity for the unit each kid uses to work well with the test, it is likely that school districts will either strongly recommend or require that only certain products be used. Either schools will provide the units or parents would be required to otherwise procure suitable units. Given that students’ familiarity with the units might be key and in order to prevent cheating of various sorts, it is likely units will be provided, but it will add up to additional costs for the parents and/or taxpayers.
Sample tests shall be available so as to familiarize kids with the formats. While such is absolutely desirable, it is not difficult to see how some districts will use this to simply teach to the test, drilling students on techniques to raise their grades (just like many SAT prep classes do now) rather than impart true instruction.
Since the purpose is to provide a common metric for all states in conformance with Common Core standards, true comparisons between states and individual districts should be more accurate and understandable for all, and less susceptible to be gamed by educators seeking to avoid accountability.
Optimal practice for schools would be to integrate test results for each child into some kind of individualized learning plan to address weaknesses and build on strengths (a very positive development), plus to use school-wide and individual teacher results to drive curriculum and staff training. Schools whose management allows them to more effectively do so should see much improved results versus schools which cannot. So we should get a better idea how our own individual situations compare with others across much of the country.
Again, the end result is to produce a College Ready or Not Ready for College assessment for the child in 11th Grade. Children not getting a favorable assessment will probably have a harder time getting into college, if they can at all, especially if colleges begin to use this assessment, either in tandem with or in replacement of the now standard SATs, etc.
Such assessment will be based on mastery of the standards according to Common Core. Which makes the content of what upon which Common Core insists to be key to whether your child gets into college or not.
Common Core is being developed with federal money, which may or may not give the federal Department of Education vastly increased say in what gets taught and when it gets taught than presently. Especially if such funding is necessary every year to keep the system running and current, it has to be assumed that, at some point, federal input will come to dominate, with all that might imply for state and local school autonomy.
I think we all can see solid advantages and some potentially horrendous downsides to all of this. But regardless, if you are a resident in any of the signatory states, expect to see multi-state, standardized yearly testing coming to your school a year from now. And if you are not in one of the affected jurisdictions, including those states not currently accepting Common Core standards, expect to be forced into either this or a similar system soon. • (1393 views)