Assessing Readiness for Common Core Assessments

Field testing for looming mandatory online assessments is now underway in select states. What will it teach us?

The clock is ticking on the official implementation of the Common Core State Standards by the 44 states (along with the District of Columbia and U.S. territories) that have adopted them.

These voluntary K–12 academic benchmarks in English language arts and mathematics align with real-world college and career expectations and are designed to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge required to ­collaborate and compete with their peers globally. Among other changes, schools in Common Core–adopting states will be required to administer online assessments — developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — that challenge students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subject matter, as well as critical thinking and technology skills.

The Road Ahead

To ensure that the assessments work as intended, PARCC and Smarter Balanced established technical specs and built online tools that gauge infrastructure readiness so that district leaders can ­address deficiencies before mandatory online testing begins in spring 2015.

“Our primary role as an assessment consortium is to give clear and reliable guidance on hardware and networking requirements so that preparedness ­efforts are well-informed,” says Smarter Balanced’s chief technology officer, Brandt Redd. Whether or not districts are actually prepared is something the organization leaves to the states to ­assess, he adds.

But as Common Core’s “go” date ­approaches, PARCC and Smarter Balanced are accelerating their efforts to simplify the transition. From now through June, both organizations are ­administering trial runs in select districts to “test the test,” as PARCC says, and gain valuable data that will drive the continued refinement of the assessments prior to their official rollout.

Smarter Balanced has released manuals, guidelines, training modules and practice tests “to ensure that states, districts, schools and teachers have received all of the information they need to successfully engage in the Smarter Balanced Field Test,” says Executive Director Joe Willhoft. PARCC has published similar resources and even sponsored a Tech Prep Week in mid-March to help its field test participants assess device, network, student and staff readiness. Such field testing, PARCC contends, will do the following:

K-12 professionals worry about whether they have the

Budget: 76%

IT staff: 69%

Tech: 62%

to support online testing

SOURCE: Common Core Tech (CDW•G, June 2013)

  • Help students become familiar with new test item types and the delivery platform itself.
  • Help parents learn more about the online assessments.
  • Help teachers get comfortable with the new format (and give them an ­opportunity to provide feedback on the testing experience).
  • Help IT leaders evaluate their schools’ overall technology systems.
  • Help administrators evaluate the overall readiness of systems and staff.
  • Help test developers measure the reliability of the test questions.

“The purpose of the field test is to test [assessment] items and to test our system,” Smarter Balanced’s Willhoft explains. “We expect that many districts will implement the field test quickly and without problems. We also expect that some will experience problems. We would much rather discover problems [now], during field testing, than find them during operational testing next spring.”

What comes of all of this remains to be seen.

Register to view EdTech’s webinar on IT readiness for next-generation standards at edtechmag.com/k12/standardswebinar. For a more complete picture of trends shaping K–12 education, visit edtechmag.com/k12/CommonCoreRG.

dolgachov/ThinkStock
Apr 02 2014

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