Between March 24 and June 6, more than 4 million students in 36 states and the District of Columbia will take near-final versions of the tests in mathematics and English/language arts. Those exams—tied to the Common Core State Standards that all but a handful of states have adopted—were created by a bevy of vendors hired at the request of two groups of states: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
“I don’t think a trial of this magnitude has been done anytime in the history of student testing in the U.S.,” said Keith Rust, a vice president at the Rockville, Md.-based Westat, where he oversees the sampling of schools and students for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.
The exercise won’t produce detailed, scaled scores of student performance; that part is still a year away. Instead, this spring’s field-testing is a crucial part of the assessments’ design stage, undertaken to see what works and what doesn’t. Questions like these are on test-makers’ minds: Will schools’ hardware and bandwidth be able to handle large-scale, computer-based testing? Do the tests work equally well on desktops, laptops, and tablets? Which items might confuse or overwhelm students?
Immense stakes are riding on the field tests. The federal government is watching closely to see how well its $360 million investment—awarded in grants to the state consortia developing the exams—is paying off so far, especially because it has let more than a dozen states drop all or part of their current testing regimens in order to participate fully in the field tests.
States that pledged loyalty to the project need to see that they can rely on the tests, since those states are planning to base crucial decisions on them—such as how to evaluate schools, teachers, and students—within a year or two after the final tests are available in spring 2015.
In the end, the two consortia are keenly aware that they’re asking a lot of participating schools and districts: major time investments and schedule disruptions for what amounts to a research project to refine the test.
“This is why we do this,” Ms. King said. “To see what works and what doesn’t.”
Even some of those most committed to the project are feeling trepidation. One district official who described himself as “knee deep” in preparations said he is bracing for blowback from his staff and his parent community if even moderate problems arise with the test.
“I just hope it’s worth it in the end,” he said.
Read the entire article by Catherine Gewertz on Education Week at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/21/26fieldtests_ep.h33.html