New Common Core tests: Worth the price?

Now that both of the federally-funded consortia of states designing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards have released pricing data for each exam, states are assessing whether they can afford to pay. Already some aren’t liking what they see.

On Monday, the 21-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, announced how much it would cost for the Core-aligned test: $29.50 a student for summative math and reading tests. More than half of the states in the consortium now pay less for their current assessment tests. When officials in Georgia heard the numbers, they pulled out of the consortium, given that they now spend a total of $12 a student for math and reading tests. (They also cited concerns about having the technology to give all the tests to all students on computer.) Oklahoma left PARCC too.

The other consortium, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, had released funding information this past spring, offering two options: $22.50 per student for summative tests and $27.30 percent for summative as well as formative and interim tests. It said that two-thirds of the consortium states now pay more for testing. However, the two consortia — funded collectively by the Obama administration with some $350 million — are not offering identical services; for example, PARCC promises to score the exams for each state, while Smarter Balanced would have states do it for themselves. There may be other costs associated with these exams, which are supposed to be ready for the 2014-15 school year.

So how good will these new exams be? It is important to remember how these tests were initially portrayed and what they will wind up delivering.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said in 2010 that he was “convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education” because they would be able to tell millions of school children, parents and teachers — “for the first time”  whether students are “on-track for colleges and careers.” He also said:

For the first time, many teachers will have the state assessments they have longed for – tests of critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills but support good teaching in the classroom.

As it turns out, these tests are not going to be as advanced as that suggests. As I wrote in this post earlier this year, design constraints, timing and money problems are just some of the issues that are affecting the development of the tests. A 2013 report from the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, a panel of educational leaders, said

The progress made by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in assessment development, while significant, will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes.

How far off will they be from what “ultimately needed”?

Here is a slide from Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert on teacher education and assessment, that was part of a PowerPoint presentation made last year at a meeting of the Innovation Lab Network, a group of states brought together by the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the prime movers behind the Common Core initiative.

In fact, the Gordon Commission says that yet another generation of tests will be needed.

The assessments that we will need in the future do not yet exist. The progress made by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in assessment development, while significant, will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes. This is not a criticism of the Consortia per se but a realistic appraisal of the design constraints and timelines imposed upon their work from the outset. While America certainly can profit from the consortia’s work, the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in collaboration with the philanthropic community, should commit to a 10-year research and development effort to strengthen the capacity of the U.S. assessment enterprise to broaden the range of behaviors, characteristics and manifestations of achievement and related development that are the targets of assessment in education. This effort should be a partnership between not-for-profit organizations (existing or newly created), the for-profit sector, professional teacher organizations and universities. There are multiple models for this type of public-private research and development effort in bio-medicine, defense and other fields.

 

The one thing that’s certain about all of this is that testing companies are going to make a lot of money.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · July 24, 2013