Field test of Common Core exams went well, officials say

More than 1 million students in 14 states tested new Common Core standardized exams this spring, and the experiment went well, the test creators said Thursday.

The field tests — administered to students in grades 3 through 11 in Maryland, D.C. and elsewhere — were meant to help fine-tune the online exams before they go live next year.

“We think the field tests were a huge success,” said Jeff Nellhaus, director of policy, research and design at the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two consortia of states that have developed new exams with the help of $360 million from the federal government. “They provide the data and experience we need now to implement the program next school year.”

Nellhaus and others at PARCC will now spend several months analyzing the results and feedback from the pilot tests, deciding which test questions need to be changed or tweaked and what technical issues need to be addressed.

There were no major mishaps or problems associated with the pilot test, officials said.

Take a Common Core quiz

Quiz

As The Common Core State Standards are being implemented in most states and the District, new aligned tests are being designed for students to start taking next year. See how you would do on sample questions. Take the quiz.

The new exams are designed to be taken on computers, but a paper-and-pencil version is available for schools that lack equipment. About 75 percent of students took the exams on computer, with 25 percent using paper and pencil.

Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’ commissioner of elementary and secondary education and chair of the PARCC governing board, said students were generally very positive about the notion of taking online tests, and they easily adapted to the technology.

“I watched children as young as third graders in some of our high poverty districts take the test online,” he said. “And they were quite facile. Some used tablets, some were using desktops, some were using laptops. They had no difficulty maneuvering through.”

Students with disabilities and English language learners said they were happy with the tests, Chester said. “They were quite positive,” he said.

Students with disabilities liked that they could highlight parts of the reading passages, or increase the text size, on the computerized tests, he said. And English language learners were glad to see images, video and other non-verbal cues embedded in the text, he said. “They found it very engaging,” Chester said.

The pilot tested more than 10,000 questions in math and reading, and after further analysis, some of those questions will be cut or amended if a significant number of students got them wrong, Nellhaus said.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia belong to PARCC. On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), sent a letter to PARCC to declare that his state was leaving the consortium and pulling out of the Common Core. But two leading education officials in that state have insisted that Louisiana will stick with the Common Core and remain in PARCC.

“I know there’s a lot of things happening in Louisiana and internal conversations there,” said Laura Slover, PARCC’s chief executive. “How it’s going to play out will be determined. It’s too early to know what the outcome will be.”

Student scores on the PARCC field tests will not be shared with students, families, schools or states. Instead, officials will use the results to see how the technology functions and to examine the responses to test questions.

“The purpose of this was to test the test,” Nellhaus said.

Although the District committed to PARCC years ago, city officials have been mulling a switch to a different test developed by the other group of states. That test is known as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC.

SBAC also had field tests this spring, administering its pilot questions to more than 3 million students in 22 states.

The SBAC test is an adaptive exercise, which means that when a student answers a question correctly, the computer increases the difficulty of the next question, a feature that proponents say can give educators a more exact idea of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Common Core State Standards are expectations for what every student should know in math and reading at every level from kindergarten through 12th grade. Initially, 45 states and the District fully adopted those standards. But this spring, lawmakers and governors in three states — Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina — decided to drop the standards.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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