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What to look forward to in 2015
MONDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2014 10:56 AM

New Year's is just around the corner, which means people have started thinking about 2015. From making resolutions to looking ahead to all the plans for the new year, 2015 is bound to be an exciting time, especially when it comes to education. The Common Core State Standards are scheduled to complete implementation in the 2014-15 school year, and come spring, students will take aligned assessments. What does that mean for students and teachers? Here's a look at what the new year and testing will hold:

Big tests with high stakes
Last year, students completed Common Core-aligned assessments. However, those tests were only in a trial period. The pilot run of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test helped exam creators make adjustments. Furthermore, the trials allowed teachers and students to become familiar with the exams. During the 2013-14 school year, the assessments didn't carry the high stakes standardized tests normally do - generally, teacher evaluations and district funding rest on the shoulders of test scores.

That changes in 2015. In most states, the Smarter Balanced Assessment and PARCC test will have high stakes for teachers and schools, so the pressure is on for students to perform well and for teachers to educate to the best of their abilities. 

The exams
The PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were created by two consortiums of states. Each group was awarded funding to develop exams aligned with the Common Core. State participation was voluntary, so some states using the Standards have created their own exams and do not use either the PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests. 

The two exams may both be aligned to the Common Core, but they are each unique. For instance, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is computer-based and responsive. As students take the test on the computer, the exam provides questions based on how well the individual student performs - the better he or she does, the more difficult the questions he or she gets will be. The PARCC test, on the other hand, does not have this responsive design, so all students of the same grade face the same test difficulty. 

Launching in spring
While the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests may differ, member states will administer both in spring of 2015. Until then, the state consortia were tweaking the exams to ensure they were aligned with the Common Core and accurately assessed students' knowledge

"This is the year that the consortia are expected to deliver on the things they promised," Stephen G. Sireci, the director of the Center for Educational Assessment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Education Week. "This is the year we are going to see what the quality of those assessments might be, and what kinds of results we'll get back."

As 2014 passes into the new year, teachers will be thinking ahead to spring. Because the tests will be high-stakes, educators want to ensure they prepare students. That means test prep will be a big part of the classroom. Ideally, if teachers prioritize meeting Common Core goals in class, students will be ready for the assessments - the tests and school curricula are both aligned to the Standards. However, students may need a little extra preparation for the exams outside of standard lessons.

Teachers can let students know what to expect on testing day by talking about the format of the exams and reviewing information from throughout the year. Students who are concerned about testing can also use preparation materials at home. Whether teachers spend more time on testing topics in class or students study at home, the looming PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments will be a big part of education in 2015.