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How standardized testing aligns with the Common Core

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 09:48 AM

The 2014-15 school year is the first time states that have opted into the Common Core State Standards have fully implemented the benchmarks. It's also the year students will take fully realized assessments aligned with the Standards. The exams are designed to measure students' knowledge of Common Core goals set for each grade level. Until this year, the exams were still in a pilot period. 

When states opted in to the Common Core, they had to lay a plan for how they would test students. Several states grouped together to create two consortia, each of which designed a Standards-aligned assessment: the Smarter Balanced assessment and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career test. Some states designed their own individual test, but most students will take one of the two aforementioned exams this spring. 

Here is a look at the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments and how they live up to the Common Core:

What they assess
Both the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments test students' knowledge of math and English/language arts, which are the two key areas outlined in the Common Core. The Standards lay out goals for each grade in those subjects. For instance, students in sixth grade must be able to cite evidence from a text to support a theory about its meaning. Therefore, sixth graders taking the English/language arts section of either exam will likely see questions in which they must read a passage and choose answers based on evidence. The multiple choice answers may each be a sentence. Students would have to choose a sentence that best answers the question.

States that created the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments looked at the goals presented in the Common Core for each grade and used them to create test items. This method of crafting the exams ensures that the content outlined in the Standards is reflected in the tests.

Ensuring adherence and challenge
Both exams have gone through a trial period in which students took the tests but the scores did not reflect on the teachers or schools. Exam creators used the scores to see what test items were most effective at measuring student knowledge and which weren't. That information then informed creators how to adjust the assessments.

Furthermore, makers of the Smarter Balanced assessment recently asked the public to weigh in on achievement levels. Participants will go online and take a part of the exam (either math or English/language arts) for a specific grade level. They will then note which questions they felt belonged to a certain difficulty level. Registration for achievement level setting ended in mid-September. Participants will complete their session in early October. After the public offers their opinions, a group of experts will meet and compare comments. Between the conference and the help from the public, makers of the Smarter Balanced test will decide what questions belong in which grades.

Preparing for exams
Because both assessments were built using specific goals from the Common Core, teachers must try and cover those benchmarks in class. Ideally, if students learned the items listed in the Common Core for their grade level, they should do fine on the assessments. However, testing is a stressful experience, and many students feel better having done extra preparation work. 

By going online to take mock exams, students will get to see what the assessments are like before they have to take them in earnest. As with other standardized exams, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature multiple-choice, short-answer and essay questions, so the format should be familiar to students. 

Teachers and students can both go over grade and subject goals in class before the exams, which take place in spring of 2015. Until then, adhering to the Standards in class is perhaps the best way to prepare for these aligned assessments.