High Stakes Exams

Monday, January 7, 2013 -- Shane Dennison

The Stakes are High but the Current Level of Confidence in them is Low!

High stakes exams are here, have been here, and in some form or another will continue to be here. There are scores (pun intended) of educators, parents, and politicians on both sides and on the fence in regard to these assessments. With Common Core assessments right around the corner, can we expect better “high stakes” assessments or more of the same? Well, the good news is the Common Core standards demand higher levels of thinking from our students. In many circles this translates into more “practical” and “relative” skills taught and evaluated. The “core” of the Common Core standards is the rigor of the expectations at each grade level. Yet, the change in standards and the elevated rigor these standards pose at each grade level present teachers and entire districts new challenges as they prepare for the coming “high stakes exam” that PARCC and Smarter Balance will be administering in the fall of 2014 on behalf of the participating states. The promising and encouraging part of this transition in “high stakes exams” is these assessments "will go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended response and technology enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.” (http://www.smarterbalanced.org/smarter-balanced-assessments/. Will these newly shaped “high stakes” assessments give educators and parents more confidence in regard to their predictability to measure students future success? That still remains to be seen. But since the Common Core standards have been created in more of a “collaboration mode” (amongst the participating states and educators from within each of those states) the hope is the assessments being worked on as you read this blog will also reflect the goals of the standards themselves. These next 18 months or so give educators a unique opportunity to not only prepare for these new exams, but to realign how and when they approach the teaching of these more practical but more rigorous standards at each grade level. Educators need to use this opportunity to align core standards vertically within their teams and schools to not only assure quality instruction but to ensure students will be prepared for the new and hopefully improved “high stakes exams” coming shortly. Since the new assessments revolving around Common Core will be taken online schools need to be considering and planning now on the infrastructure changes that many of them will need to address prior to the fall of 2014. Moreover, school administrators and teachers need to decide what technology tools and solutions need to be acquired or expanded in use that will not only help them address standards needs from day to day within their classrooms, but also give their students the online assessment simulation practice they will need prior to the 2014 Common Core assessment administration.