CoreTalk: Six “fun-sized” updates about Common Core Assessment

It’s October! The month of fall leaves, “fun-sized” Halloween candy, and Common Core Assessment updates!  On October 6th, the K-12 Center and the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted a webinar featuring the two “mainstream” comprehensive Common Core assessment consortia.   Representing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) was Laura Slover, and Jacqueline E. King represented the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (“Smarter Balanced” or SBAC).  In partnership with a rep from Educational Testing Service (ETS), the consortia delivered updates and answered questions about the past four years of assessment development.  Here are 6 fun-sized bits that refreshed and informed our knowledge:

 1. The Two Consortia: PARCC and Smarter Balance received federal funding to develop assessments for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  After four years of design, development, and pilot testing, they will be officially implemented in member states in the spring of 2015.

2. State Participation Changes: State consortium membership is in flux. At present, PARCC has 11 member-states and the District of Columbia (nearly 5 million students) moving forward to administer assessments (see list here); SBAC has 17 member-states and 1 territory (see list here). Independent, private and parochial schools who wish to participate in the consortia have the following options:

  • SBAC says that non-public schools should make arrangements with their home state’s State Education Agency (SEA)
  • PARCC will provide options for non-public schools that do not require affiliation with an SEA

3. Assessment Packages and Cost: Both consortia representatives expounded on the assessments and resources included in the cost of their testing packages. PARCC originally quoted $29.50 per student for their testing package, though they recently reduced the cost to $24.50 per student.  PARCC said that state consortia participation allowed their team to find economies of scale that helped lower the price.  PARCC is also amidst field-testing for diagnostic assessments that could impact pricing choices. SBAC’s packages include two pricing options: for the summative assessment only, schools pay $22.50 per student; the full package (summative, interim assessments, and access to their digital library) runs $27.30 per student.

4. Field Test Findings: After four years of pilot and field testing, both consortia revealed their findings.  PARCC reported minimal glitches though updates and streamlining to the administration manual were necessary.  Ms. Slover also noted that PARCC had overestimated testing time and can allot fewer hours for the “live” assessments next spring (much to the enjoyment of students and teachers). Ms. King said that Smarter Balance also needs to refine its administration manual but experienced few technical problems; she added that testing in the era of smartphones poses new challenges to security, though.

5. Assessment Score Setting: Each consortium discussed how they will establish “cut scores” and proficiency levels (a process called “standards-setting”). PARCC plans on building out teams of higher education leaders within participating states who will determine five performance levels; the governing board will use these recommended performance levels to determine cut scores.  SBAC has opened standards-setting to all. Starting on the very day of this webinar, 10,000 people who registered with SBAC via open online enrollment will review the testing items in conjunction with the five SBAC proficiency levels (previously determined by a team of 500 educators from SBAC states). A state-led SBAC panel will channel the results into cut-scores/final standards-setting.

6. What’s Next: King and Slover closed the webinar with some updates on the future.  For both consortia, the federal funding period ends in August 2015 (after one extension). The consortia have different plans for life beyond the federal grant. SBAC will become part of the teaching graduate program at UCLA while PARCC will morph into a non-profit called PARCC, Inc. For more background on these plans, see our Core Talk piece, “Core Talk: How Sustainable are Federally Funded Large-Scale Assessments when the Federal Funds End?”  King also underscored the imminent release of the SBAC Digital Library resource and encouraged participants to begin their work in the online standards-setting review.  Slover updated viewers on PARCC’s sample roll-out in December, their standards-setting work next summer, and the diagnostic and mid-year tests coming soon.  Both consortia representatives concluded that their goal is to have strong comparability between PARCC and SBAC assessments so colleges and universities can use these tests to gauge readiness for credit-bearing coursework.

We hope you enjoyed these fun-sized updates (perhaps with a side of fun-sized chocolates)…we will definitely be keeping an eye on developments in this new world of common assessments!  Until then…

… stay classy, Standards Enthusiasts!

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