July 2, 2013
You Need to Know About Common Core Testing
in doubt, just pick B." -Anonymous
words, uttered by teachers, parents, and students, have been
part of standardized testing folklore for many years. I've "just
picked B" many times throughout my educational career,
and I've survived to tell the tale. (I'm pretty sure I'm not
alone!) As many current state-level accountability measures
are dominated by multiple-choice questions with only four options,
guessing has seemed almost strategic.
things are about to change.
dawn of the Common Core Standards has been coupled with the
creation of new assessment methods. The organizations designing
these new assessments have committed to test designs that measure
critical thinking and original thought. At this time, there
are two Common Core assessment options for schools: the Partnership
for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)
and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Smarter Balanced is developing a computer-adaptive test. This
means that the questions delivered to students will be dependent
upon their answers to previous questions on the assessment.
If students are doing well, the level of difficulty will increase.
If students are answering questions incorrectly, then easier
questions will be provided. Most of the questions on the assessment
ask students to generate an answer, not merely choose one.
the other hand, the PARCC assessment draws from a collective
bank of questions at each grade level. Unlike with the Smarter
Balanced assessment, students at a particular grade level get
similar questions regardless of their performance on previous
questions. On the assessment, students are often asked to do
more than choose the right answer. Many questions require written
justifications or the selection of multiple correct answers
from a list.
But much more than the format has changed.
as the Common Core Standards include significant shifts for
learners, both assessment consortia have made intentional assessment
shifts in their designs. The three assessment shifts are context,
rigor, and synthesis. Let's take a closer look at each of these
Shift 1: Context
Currently, most state-level assessment items are provided out
of context. Essentially, students are asked to provide answers
to "teacherly" tasks, not real world problems. Consider
the two examples below.
is a released item from a third-grade math test in Pennsylvania.
are asked to merely compute the answer correctly. In this example,
students are asked to merely acquire and regurgitate facts without
relating the learning to a real-world situation.
By contrast, this is a third-grade released task from PARCC:
newly designed assessment items ask students to consider a specific
situation for a specific audience. And while some state-level
accountability measures have tried to incorporate context, these
antiquated tests currently require much more "telling"
than "solving." This trend also holds true in English/Language
Arts (ELA). On the Common Core assessments, students are asked
to consider what passages actually mean instead of merely identifying
text elements or naming figurative language.
Shift 2: Rigor
The second major shift relates to rigor. In ELA, both assessment
consortia use reading passages that have higher reading levels
than most state-level accountability measures. Also, math concepts
are more advanced and require multiple steps.
Kentucky, the first state to pilot Common Core assessment measures,
proficiency rates dropped by about one third at both the elementary
and middle school levels. The most dramatic drop was in elementary
reading, where the population went from 76% proficiency to 48%
states, such as New York, are preparing the public for drops
in achievement by launching substantial public relations campaigns.
On subways and billboards across New York City, PSAs are preparing
all stakeholders for the changes.
You Need to Know About Common Core Testing
Both the math and ELA items included in the new Common Core
assessments require students to synthesize multiple pieces of
the following seventh-grade prompt taken from the PARCC test:
are required to read three different pieces of informational
text before determining a position backed by evidence. In math,
students have to answer questions with multiple parts, and each
part increases in complexity.
What Should Our Curriculum Look Like?
All three assessment shifts demand that teachers abandon traditional
test prep methods. You simply can't prepare students to solve
difficult problems using drill-and-kill.
students for the new Common Core assessments requires thoughtful
curriculum design and technology use. Teachers have to create
learning experiences that ask students to do much more than
"remember" and "tell." Instead, students
need to research, create, and solve meaningful problems while
incorporating evidence from a variety of sources and subject
areas. In many cases, technology is the tool that enables such
authentic work by providing students with instant access to
news, trends, graphs, and maps.
school, students should discover solutions that meet the needs
of a real audience. Technology can help us create these connections,
whether it's through Skype, Google Hangouts, or asynchronous
message boards. In short, learning should be messy and collaborative.
If every question you ask students has a definitive answer,
then you should go back to the drawing board!
the research reminds us that educational transfer is most likely
to happen when students have many opportunities to apply their
learning in a variety of situations.
Consider this quote from How People Learn: "A way to improve
flexibility is to let students learn in a specific context and
then help them engage in 'what-if' problem solving designed
to increase the flexibility of their understanding."
covering many topics directly inhibits the type of thinking
demanded by both the Common Core Standards and the new assessments
aligned to them. We need to provide the time and support to
consider fewer learning topics more deeply.
slow down. Allow kids to create digitally. Ask tough questions.
while the transition to the new Common Core assessments may
not be simple or completely seamless, most worthwhile changes
never are. Let's make learning more than a guessing game.
Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader, and teacher.
She is a the senior educational technology leader for BrightBytes
and a founder of the Edcamp movement. Swanson is also author
of "Professional Learning in the Digital Age," and
"Teaching the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards."