Leaders of school districts that expect to administer one of two major new standardized tests next spring linked to the Common Core math and reading standards are worried they don’t have enough computers, bandwidth or personnel to administer the new online exams, according to a survey of educators released Thursday.
The Center on Education Policy polled school districts that plan this spring to give students online exams developed by two groups of states.
The groups, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) have spent years developing “next generation” exams designed to be more sophisticated than pencil and paper “fill in the bubble” tests. The groups received more than $330 million in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Education to create the tests.
Federal law requires states to test every public school student in math and reading once a year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
Along with the development of new math and reading standards in K-12, known as the Common Core State Standards, the Obama administration has pushed states to use what it says are better designed tests that will engage students and inform adults. Online test taking will allow for faster scoring and better data collection by districts and states, supporters of the new tests say.
But most leaders leaders of 187 school districts who responded to the survey last spring by the Center on Education Policy, a non-partisan think tank housed at George Washington University, anticipate logistical problems.
About three-fourths, or 76 percent, of districts said they face either major or minor challenges, including a lack of computers with adequate processing speed, bandwidth, and personnel who can handle technical problems during testing.
And leaders of most school districts polled voiced a good deal of uncertainty about the value of the new tests.
A little more than half said it is unclear whether the new exams will be an improvement over their old state tests. About 55 percent said it was too soon to know if the new exams will improve classroom instruction, as promised by their promoters. And 64 percent said they didn’t know if tests results will be understood by parents and students.
The District of Columbia and 11 states — Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island — are expected to give the PARCC test in the spring.
Twenty “governing” states are part of the Smarter Balanced consortium: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In addition, Iowa and Pennsylvania are “advisory” states. It is unclear how many of these states will give the Smarter Balanced tests in the spring.
Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced field tested its exams to millions of students across the country last spring, to figure out any flaws with test questions, instructions to administrators or logistics.
Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft said in a statement that the survey of school districts took place last spring just as the field test was being administered, and that progress has been made since. He said Smarter Balanced has updated administration manuals, online training materials, and has been helping districts with technology planning, so they will be ready to give the tests for real in the spring.
An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Center on Education Policy. This version has been corrected.