Chiefs Forming Consortium To Develop Assessments Jointly

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A group of chief state school officers is forming a consortium that would collaboratively develop new assessments and standards for student performance.

In a letter expected to be sent to all 50 state chiefs this week to solicit their participation, Thomas C. Boysen, Kentucky's commissioner of education, argues that the collaborative offers states a cost-effective way to create new assessments.

"The basic mission is to assist states in the design and creation of content and performance standards and assessments that elevate teaching and learning,"a draft of the letter states.

Under the plan, Mr. Boysen said in an interview, states would contribute funds toward the development of new assessments and would work together to develop them. Each of the participating states could use the new products, under a licensing agreement with the Council of Chief State School Officers.

As an example, Mr. Boysen said, Kentucky could work together with California, New York, and Texas to create a single end-of-course examination in U.S. history that would include multiple-choice questions, essay questions, performance tasks, group problems, and projects. Although such an examination might cost $1 million a year to develop-potentially a prohibitively high expense--the collaboration would only cost each state $250,000 a year, Mr. Boysen noted.

"What is appropriate about collaboration is the recognition that development costs are a substantial and continuing investment," the Kentucky schools chief said. "Under the old notion, you developed a standardized norm-referenced test once every seven years, and then you coasted. That's not the kind of testing we have in mind."

"Performance events and portfolios are more expensive," Mr. Boysen pointed out.

Building a Model

Mr. Boysen first broached the idea of creating the new consortium--to be called States' Collaborative for Assessments and Standards for Students--this month in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the C.C.S.S.O. The collaborative is expected to be housed within the chiefs' organization.

Although the state superintendents have not formally indicated their desire to join the effort, there is "a lot of enthusiasm" for the idea, Mr. Boysen said.

Ramsay W. Selden, the director of the state education-assessment center for the C.C.S.S.O., said the state officials must sign a letter of agreement in order to contribute funds to the effort, a process that could take three to four months. They could then begin to exchange products immediately, he said.

The chiefs' council has already created a separate consortium, known as the Student Assessment Compact, which is helping states work together on new assessments.

At a meeting last month in Des Moines, officials from 27 states met to begin discussing ways to pool their resources for that undertaking, according to Edward D. Roeber, the compact's director.

The officials divided into groups according to subject area; they are expected to meet again next month. The group working on assessments in the arts may move the fastest, Mr. Roeber said.

Although the states involved in that project may develop separate examinations, they can develop them more efficiently by working together, he said.

Mr. Roeber noted that, when he was director of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, he and other Michigan officials worked with officials from Illinois to develop new reading assessments.

The collaboration "knocked two or three years off the development cycle,'' Mr. Roeber recalled. "And we emerged with a product so good it's now a model."

Running Room

Mr. Boysen of Kentucky said the states' collaborative could work along with the assessment compact by taking general concepts the compact produces and turning them into specific assessment tasks.

He also said the collaborative could fit into any proposed national assessment system.

"Any group of states developing a test will need to focus on the most current set of national standards," he said.

But while the states involved would agree on a common set of learner outcomes, the consortium would not lead to a common curriculum, Mr. Boysen said.

"I make a distinction between the objects of instruction and the means of producing them," he said. "When you get into a results-oriented system, you have more running room to do radically different things."

Vol. 11, Issue 13, Page 10

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