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Not your mom's standardized test: New evaluations underway

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 2014 10:13 AM

Anyone who's ever gone to school in the U.S. has a shared experience: standardized testing. You've carried your No. 2 pencil to class, stared at the rows and columns of bubbles, and attempted to finish before time was up. However, your kids might not be able to relate to the testing experience you went through if new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards prove to be a success. Right now, kids across the country are giving these evaluations a trial run, no pencils required. 

The new test forms
According to NPR, most of the 44 states using the Common Core administer one of two evaluations: those from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). This year, 2014, is the first time the PARCC and SBAC assessments will be administered (though it's only a field test). After the students are done with their exam periods, test creators, administrators and teachers can examine the results and decide whether or not the students are truly absorbing class content and reaching Common Core goals. Additionally, test creators can design preparation materials, after they receive the results, to help students get ready for future evaluations.

Though the PARCC and SBAC assessments are still in a trial period, students can take practice versions of both online. A quick run-through will show them some immediate differences between the old and new standardized tests.

The differences in testing
One of the key differences is that these evaluations no longer require the use of paper and pencils, as students take them on a computer. If the goal of the Common Core and supporting evaluation materials is to prepare kids for college and future careers, the idea of a computer-based test is right on track. Students take the GRE (which is a test required by most graduate programs) on computers in a testing center. By taking a computer-based exam throughout their education, students may become familiar with college-level testing formats.

Essay questions are also different on the PARCC and SBAC evaluations than on the old exams. All essay questions (whether on the old or new tests) ask students to craft an argument in a set period of time. Their resulting work helps graders to evaluate the students' ability to form strong sentences, use good transitions and compose a relatively elegant argument. But the PARCC and SBAC assessments take it farther. Rather than offering opinion-based prompts (such as, "What would you do first if you were president and why?"), these exams have students read and evaluate a passage of text.

The Advanced Placement exams, the ACT, college tests and the GRE require students to use this in-depth analysis process. Ergo, the new exams might be just what students need to succeed in college.