A Glimpse of What to Expect From the Common Assessments

By Catherine Gewertz — August 14, 2012 2 min read
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If everything I heard in interviews and travel for my job these days could be condensed into a frequently-asked-questions document, probably the top item would be this: What kinds of questions and tasks can we anticipate on the common assessments in 2014-15?

Poking around for answers, I discovered that there was actually a lot more floating around out there than I—and many educators who ask me this question all the time—had realized. In recent months, the two federally funded assessment consortia have been drafting sample items to give their contracted vendors an idea of the sorts of things they want to see on the exams.

These examples aren’t easy to find, which explains why many of the folks most eagerly awaiting them don’t have any clue that they’re out there. They’ve been making the rounds at conferences and such, and circulating among member states for feedback. I’ve rounded up a few of the documents that contain lots of these sample items, and I report some feedback on them from the field, in a new story just posted on our website.

In the story, we used Document Cloud to link you directly to individual sample items we discuss, but also to hundreds of pages of documents containing additional examples, in case those are of interest.

Most of these items are from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, because at the moment they have more of this stuff circulating than does the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Later this month, though, PARCC will release sample items, including prototypes created by two research universities. So watch for that; those prototypes are one of the most eagerly-awaited tidbits now among folks trying to get a clearer sense of what they might expect from the PARCC tests.

The way the two consortia are going to draft actual test items differs. Both will use their member states to help shape the items created by and with vendors. Smarter Balanced also will train hundreds of teachers to work as item writers alongside experts. PARCC plans to use teachers as one set of item reviewers.

CTB/McGraw-Hill won the contract to manage this process for Smarter Balanced, in conjunction with a flock of subcontractors including the American Institutes for Research, the College Board and Data Recognition Corp. You can read its proposal on a special page the consortium has set up for procurements (see the document listed as “SBAC RFP No. 14.”).

PARCC awarded its item-development contracts to ETS and Pearson, which have brought in subcontractors of their own, including CTB/McGraw Hill, MetaMetrics, SRI and some of the same subcontractors working on the SBAC contract. (We laid it all out for you in another recent story.) Those winning proposals aren’t posted on any website yet, as far as I can figure out. But when they are, I will update you.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.