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Ready for Phase 2 of Common Core? The Assessments

Friday, February 22, 2013 -- Dave Adams

Dave Adams, Chief Academic Officer at Edmentum, explores the next phase in Common Core.

Over the past two years educators have spent considerable amounts of precious time and money implementing the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  And we’ve all known since 2010 that the assessments being developed by the two consortia PARCC and Smarter Balanced are coming in the 2014-15 school year.  As many states, districts, and schools have started to transition their instructional efforts to reflect the CCSS, it might be tempting to think we’re ready for this change – early indications, however, suggest that assumption is a big mistake. 

There’s some compelling evidence that we are not at all ready.  We have a preview of how students, schools, districts and states will fare on tests designed to measure the Common Core Standards - a few states have gotten ahead of the game by developing and administering assessments designed to measure the tougher, more rigorous standards:

Kentucky, the first state to implement the CCSS standards in 2010, developed and administered a test designed to measure the new standards during the 2011-12 school year and the results are in – test scores dropped across the board by about 30%.  While this decrease was anticipated by Kentucky educators as the state originally estimated a 36 percentage-point drop in elementary reading scores on the CCSS-aligned assessments instead of the actual 28-point drop, for example, the message is clear: we are not ready. 

In Florida, approximately half of the states’ 9th and 10th graders failed the new FCAT 2.0 reading test which is based on tougher more rigorous standards as the state transitions to the more demanding CCSS assessment in 2014-15.

In Georgia, just under 59 percent of students did not meet the standard set for an end-of-course test after they took a new algebra course tied to the common core.

We can expect similar results across all states implementing the new CCSS assessments in 2014-15.  When standards and tests become more challenging, test scores will go down, but this does not mean student achievement is lower – this should not be viewed as a decline in student performance.  The standards and assessments have become significantly more challenging with respect to their depth and breadth, so these higher standards have created a new learning gap.  So the critical challenge becomes a question of how do we bridge this new learning gap and prepare our students for the CCSS and the assessments designed to measure them?

Bridging the CCSS Learning Gap

Let’s start with what’s different about the new tests.   Here are some of the specific ways in which the CCSS assessments are going to be different:

All state tests today rely primarily on multiple choice items that measure mastery of the state standards.  While the new CCSS assessments will still include multiple choice items, they will go far beyond this traditional testing format and will also include:

  • Constructed Response items: these items require the test taker to enter a single word, phrase, sentence, number, or set of numbers to answer a test question.
  • Extended Response or  Extended Constructed Response items: these items require more elaborate answers and explanations of reasoning allowing students to demonstrate use of complex thinking skills such as formulating comparisons or contrasts; proposing cause and effects; identifying patterns or conflicting points of view; categorizing, summarizing, or interpreting information; and developing generalizations, explanations, justifications, or evidence-based conclusions – essay is an example of this item type.
  • Technology Enhanced items:  these item types will leverage technology to allow students to demonstrate their content knowledge by doing things like selecting one or more points on a graphic, dragging and dropping a graphic from one location to another, manipulating a graph, etc.
  • Performance Tasks that will be used to better measure capacities such as depth of understanding, research skills, and complex analysis, which cannot be adequately assessed with selected and constructed response items.  Performance tasks focus on demonstrating a depth of knowledge of big ideas across multiple content standards; reflect a real-world task and/or scenario-based problem; allow for multiple points of view and interpretations; and require students to produce several scorable responses, products, or presentations.  It is expected that performance tasks will take up to two hours to administer.

After identifying what’s different about the new standards and assessments, the next step is to connect the instructional practices, curricula, and formative assessment to this new, more challenging content.  This is the precise challenge we, as educators, face in preparing for the 2014-15 implementation of the CCSS tests.  Classroom-level formative assessments need to include the new item types so students have the experience needed before taking the end of year tests.  Along with updated assessments, we need curriculum and instructional practice that prepares students for the more challenging tests – including the specific content changes incorporated in the new CCSS standards and tests.  An example of this is the language arts addition of more complex non-fiction, informational text requiring reading and writing grounded in evidence from text.

The burden of preparing for the CCSS standards and assessments should not be shouldered exclusively by teachers, administrators and students.  Publishers, like Edmentum, have a responsibility as well.  At Edmentum we have not merely taken existing content and rubber-stamped it as “Common Core aligned,” but we have invested—and continue to invest—a great deal to of time, money, and innovative thinking to meet the challenge of CCSS.  We have already enhanced our reading language arts and math curriculum and assessments to align with the more complex and challenging CCSS standards. And as the two assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, continue to publish more design details around the new item types and assessment blueprints, Edmentum continues to work in parallel to update our assessments and instruction with new items types now in development, including:  constructed response, extended response, technology enhanced, and performance tasks.

I believe we have a shared responsibility as educators to continue raising the bar so that today’s students will become the successful, innovative, creative thinkers needed for the future.