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Are We There Yet? An Overview on Progress Toward Implementation of Common Core Assessments

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 -- Ketsia Hamilton

Across the nation, implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is in full swing. And even amid controversy regarding the merit of the CCSS, states are moving forward to ensure that teachers have the support they need to implement the standards, and states agree that students will benefit and see improvement in learning. The Center on Education Policy (CEP) recently released an overview of the “Ten Big Takeaways from CEP’s Research on State Implementation of the Common Core.” Over the last three years, the CEP has produced six comprehensive research papers based on surveys completed by 40 states. The surveys covered a variety of topics, including activities to prepare for CCSS-aligned assessments.  Key findings from the surveys and highlighted below are based on the CEP Report:  Year 3 of implementing the Common Core State Standards States Prepare for Common Core Assessments. 

The 2013–14 “testing season” marks significant change across the nation. Many states continue to roll out transitional assessment plans as a bridge to the new Common Core assessments set to debut in the 2014–15 school year. Both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) begin field testing their assessments this spring. Despite some states withdrawing from either consortium to embark on new assessment plans and other states facing mounting pressure to do so, the research of the CEP puts into perspective the significant undertaking of states all working toward change and improvement of the nation’s education system.

Some of the key findings from the survey concluded:

  • 27 of 40 states surveyed have already taken steps to start assessing students’ mastery of the Common Core or will do so before the consortia-developed assessments are ready in the 2014–15 school year.  About one-fourth of the survey states are not currently making these testing changes.

While states have varied approaches on assessing the standards within their current state assessment system, those who have taken an early lead have had the advantage of adjusting their implementation strategies to better prepare all stakeholders toward increased accountability in learning. In those states, you are likely to see a rise in professional development plans focused on understanding and teaching Common Core and additional resources, such as reading and math specialists, to support students showing significant gaps in knowledge. 

  • Half of the survey states have begun undertaking activities to prepare teachers to interpret and use the results of the diagnostic assessments being developed by the state-testing consortia.

Access to student performance data and using it at the classroom level has increased significantly over the past few years. Learning inventories, formative assessment, benchmark assessments, and other forms of data collection can help teachers modify and improve their pedagogy. Further, districts integrating digital resources and computer-assisted instruction have an opportunity to help teachers use their data to quickly individualize instruction addressing student needs.

  • Currently, only eight survey states are considering temporarily suspending consequences for schools or individuals based on student performance once the CCSS-aligned assessments are administered. Fifteen states are not presently considering a temporary suspension of consequences, and several more states said it was too soon to decide.

Among the most controversial topics regarding Common Core assessments is the use of test results that may negatively impact federal and state accountability, principal and teacher evaluations, and graduation decisions. In a recent article by the National Education Association (NEA), president Dennis Van Roekel listed several recommendations to “correct the course” of Common Core implementation across the nation. Recommendation six states: “In any state that is field-testing and validating new assessments, there must be a moratorium on using the results of the new assessments for accountability purposes until at least the 2015–16 school year. In the meantime, states still have other ways to measure student learning during this transition period—other assessments, report cards, and student portfolios.” While this approach is favored by many, others see it hindering the reform efforts to improve overall accountability within the system.

  • A majority of survey states (34) report facing challenges with various aspects of preparing to administer the CCSS-aligned assessments. These challenges include ensuring that schools have adequate Internet access and bandwidth and sufficient numbers of computers to administer the online assessments.

While technology in schools has grown to include 1:1 laptop programs, tablet implementations, and BYOD access to digital resources, many school districts are still working to upgrade their technology infrastructure. In Maryland, for example, it has been estimated that it will cost more than 100 million to become tech-ready for testing. While districts are making huge investments, sometimes sacrificing other initiatives and project plans, the EducationSuperHighway organization states that 72% of K–12 schools in America have insufficient Internet access, thus creating a connectivity gap. Part of their goal is to reduce and eliminate barriers to Internet access in order to increase equity to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status.

These key findings highlight just some of the challenges in shifting national education philosophy.  Although the debate continues, Jim Shelton, acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education, offers these words of encouragement: “Whenever you try to put in place a new, large change to a system that needs to improve, there is a time of disruption, and then things get better.” I’m optimistic; are you?

 Resources:

 10 Big Takeaways from CEP’s Research on State Implementation of the Common Core

 Year 3 of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: States Prepare for Common Core Assessments

 NEA President: We Need a Course Correction on Common Core

 National Assessment Governing Board's 25th Anniversary Symposium, 2014