Assessment Consortium Releases Final Content Frameworks

By Catherine Gewertz — November 10, 2011 3 min read
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The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, has released its final content frameworks for the common standards. And the newsiest thing about the document is this: The consortium is going to create content frameworks for grades K-2.

In a document describing the key strands of feedback on the content frameworks, PARCC said that one of the biggest demands was for K-2 frameworks that dovetail with the guidance the frameworks already offer for grades 3 and above. The consortium is already working on formative-assessment tools for K-2, but said it will also now develop content frameworks, to be issued in 2012.

If you’re lost already, take a look at my blog post and my story on the content frameworks. In a nutshell, the frameworks are an attempt to capture the key ideas in the common standards to guide curriculum developers, teachers, and test developers.

The “content specifications” issued by the other assessment group, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, are also discussed in the story. They are a bit different from PARCC’s content frameworks, but both documents begin to put some meat on the bones of the two groups’ visions of the tests they are working on.

SMARTER Balanced’s content specifications came out in draft form in August, and appear to be still undergoing public comment and revision. Finals had been expected out in October, but a revised timeline has now stretched that to mid-to-late November. PARCC’s content frameworks came out in August, too. It extended the feedback period a bit, and now they’re final. You can see the updated versions on the group’s website.

So what’s changed between the first drafts and the finals? On the math side, PARCC says it shortened the document by nearly a third and tried to simplify “technical terminology” that reviewers said made the thing hard to understand. Consortium folks tried to clarify confusion about what concepts and skills were being emphasized and whether the frameworks were tacitly giving teachers permission to ignore some standards.

In response to another strand of reviewer feedback, PARCC also attempts to offer more specifics to guide creation of math courses at the high school level, an area it admits has been “challenging.” They don’t come right out and say it here, but one of the challenges is political: taking steps toward more specificity while steering clear of dictating curriculum. What PARCC does say is that it tries hard in the revised draft to provide “initial, high-level guidance” about courses without specifying all their contents.

On the literacy side of the house, PARCC said it got a lot of requests for content frameworks for grade 12. It won’t do that, but it will—as it has said all along—create “bridge courses” that will beef up seniors’ readiness for college.

Most of the issues with the literacy frameworks centered on balancing areas of emphasis and being clear about intent. For instance, a goodly chunk of those who reviewed them apparently complained that their emphasis on “close reading” of text downplayed the importance of students being able to move between multiple texts and across disciplines. Another chunk criticized them for de-emphasizing the role of imaginative literature, in favor of informative text. Yet other readers took PARCC to task for not being clear enough that multimedia text types were included in references to “text.” Additionally, the consortium tried to respond to criticism that narrative writing was being downplayed in favor of writing to persuade or inform.

All of the feedback is intriguing, of course, since it reflects larger debates about what is in the standards themselves.

But when it comes to the public-comment-and-revision process itself—in a publicly funded project—it would have been even more informative to see the disaggregated input.

It’s one thing to describe the sorts of folks who provided feedback (“educators, principals, superintendents, higher education faculty, school board members, parents, and students.”). It’s another to be able to interpret the feedback based on who gave it (without identifying names, of course). For instance, hearing a math teacher say that the math section is too bogged down in technical terminology is quite a different matter from hearing a parent level the same criticism.

It was very kind of PARCC to summarize the 1,000 responses for us. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Why not let us see it for ourselves?

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

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