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Testing the Tests

Reflecting on the Common Core field assessments.

This spring, schools across the country are taking the Common Core-aligned assessments for a test-drive. Three million students are trying out the Smarter Balanced field test in 22 states, while 1 million students in 14 states and the District of Columbia are taking the PARCC-developed assessments.

In Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, all students in grades 3 through 10 took the PARCC field test in mid-April, says Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent of learning. “The first two days, there were a number of minor glitches with technology freezing, but these were resolved,” he notes. “The rest of the testing window was relatively uneventful.”

The feedback from other schools was similar. There were some hiccups, but those are typically expected as part of field testing. Education Week reported that teachers at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland, complained of difficulties with software updates and unclear directions. In Idaho, Moscow School District superintendent Greg Bailey said the Smarter Balanced tests were taking longer than anticipated and there were minor problems with the audio portion of the tests, according to an Associated Press report.

The field tests are meant to grade the assessments, not the students taking them. Teachers, administrators, and families will not receive scores. Rather, test developers will use the data to determine the validity of questions and assess how well various features work. For school districts, the tests provide an opportunity to get technology in place for when the real assessments are rolled out next school year. It is also a good chance to acquaint students with the new format.

“This test is a lot different than the paper-and-pencil test that our students were used to in MCAS,” says Larkin, in reference to the state tests Massachusetts had been using. “A lot of teachers are concerned about the time commitment, but I think this will go smoother and quicker in future years. It will take some time to get comfortable with the tasks that students are being asked to complete in this new testing environment.”

Summer 2014—

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