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States prepare for field testing of Common Core-based exams
THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014 12:55 PM

A field test for new state exams based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will be held between March 25 and June 6, and the results will determine the kinds of changes that will need to be made to improve the test's design.

Millions of students across the U.S. will be a part of this field test, taking penultimate versions of state-mandated exams that focus on English language/arts skills and mastery of mathematical concepts. This practice run is intended to help developers discover the weaknesses in the tests' design. The makers of the exams, hired by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), will be closely observing how well schools' technology systems can manage the large load of computer-based exams. They will also try to determine if the tests can be taken on mobile devices and laptops. The field tests' results will inform states' education departments when they create the evaluation criteria of schools, teachers and students.

What's at stake
The results of the field test won't prove or disprove the academic advantages of the Common Core. That will be a rallying point for both critics and advocates when the real exams are ready next year. The true issue will be the economic and political ramifications if the tests prove to be unreliable. The federal government has already invested nearly half a billion dollars in this education initiative (through grants awarded to Smarter Balanced and PARCC) and is eager to see if its time, money and effort was well spent.

The states that adopted the Standards also want to see what results the field tests will yield. For more than two years, school district officials, teachers and school administrators have been preparing not only themselves but also their students for Common Core-based assessments. School districts used a massive amount of their grant money to invest in the technology their students need to take these exams, purchasing computers, laptops, broadband Internet and educational software. 

Field-test participant selection and testing process
Each of the states associated with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium had their own criteria when they selected schools and students for the field test. According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium website, some states will choose 10 percent of their students and then assign them to a subject. Other states will allow a broader test group to participate. Participating students will only have between two and a half and four hours to complete the exam.