We are in the active pilot period for the new Common Core assessments, and the field tests will continue through June 6th. A total of 4 million students in 36 states are participating in these pilots. SBAC is testing a total of 3 million students in 22 states while PARCC is testing 1 million students in 14 states and the District of Columbia. There are significant challenges for next year’s scheduled rollout to all Common Core states, but in the states where piloting districts have the appropriate infrastructure, how is it going?
Actually, not too badly. Although there have been reports of technical glitches in Oklahoma, Florida and California, New Jersey and even a cyber attack in Kansas, this period of “testing the test” has been relatively smooth. Many districts report minor problems but few, if any, major meltdowns.
The purpose of the field tests is to test both the assessments themselves and the simultaneous testing of millions of students online. Are the assessments really any more revealing of student performance than previous tests? Do schools and districts have the network capacity to comply with testing requirements? When schools do have capacity, are they able to execute? The answer to this last question appears to be yes.
Educational testing analysts will determine whether or not the new Common Core assessments provide a more comprehensive picture of student learning than previous tests. The number of administered tests during this pilot program should be sufficient to draw some conclusions. However, any analysis will be closely examined by opponents who criticize that the assessments were rushed to market with too few educators informing their development. The question remains, is this the best way to assess student learning?
Meanwhile, even if the new tests are “better than” the old ones, opponents maintain that annual testing is one-dimensional and not a fair representation of what students have learned or their capacity to learn. Additionally, most students taking these pilot tests will still be required to take their end-of-grade state tests this year. There are no rewards or penalties associated with the field tests. Think of them as a pre-test of schools and districts’ abilities to administer simultaneous testing of all their students.
Of course, there are thousands of schools that do not have the budget for the technology or the assessments themselves. Even if they are adopting the Common Core standards, some will have to make cuts in their instructional budgets to pay for the necessary technology. Some states and districts have dropped out of SBAC and PARCC because they cannot afford the tests, which can be as high as $29 per student. How soon will penalties for noncompliance begin to impact these schools and districts?
While it’s true the physical aspects of the field test rollout are going better than many anticipated, will schools be able to manage a full-scale rollout next spring? Will poorly equipped and resourced schools be penalized for their inability to comply with testing requirements? Even some Common Core supporters are calling for a delay in attaching any penalties for noncompliance or underperformance in the initial years of these new assessments.
In just a few weeks, the pilot-testing window will close and the analysts will begin their work. Check back here in future weeks for an update.