Assessment Consortium Reverses Plan on Instructional Units

By Catherine Gewertz — April 20, 2012 2 min read
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Reporting from Atlanta

A state consortium that is designing tests for the Common Core State Standards had been planning to design model instructional units for the standards, but it has decided not to do that, officials said at a meeting of states today.

Updating participants on the progress of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, Allison Barr said that so many states are already working on making instructional units that the consortium decided that its energy would be better spent developing professional-development modules aimed at supporting educators as they create or adapt materials for their curricular units.

“This is a shift in focus from where we started,” said Barr, a senior program associate at Achieve, which is the project-management partner for PARCC.

PARCC’s intention to produce model units hasn’t been without controversy, as we told you when we reported the group’s plans to do this work—with federal Race to the Top funds—in January 2011. In the face of questions about whether one federally funded curriculum was going to be imposed on states in the consortium, its leaders were quick to clarify that the units were voluntary, and were just that—units, or pieces of a possible curriculum, not an entire curriculum in and of themselves.

Whether those sorts of political landmines influenced PARCC’s decision to shift focus wasn’t addressed at this meeting, hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers for states implementing the common standards. (See our post yesterday on the meeting.) But the gathering did offer a forum for updates such as this one.

Additionally, PARCC reported that it is revising its model content frameworks, which generated truckloads of attention for the early signals they gave about the assessment system it’s designing. Those updated frameworks should be posted online this summer, said Tony Eitel, the director of assessment administration for Georgia, a PARCC state.

The other assessment consortium, SMARTER Balanced, offered its own update for the states. Lynette Russell, an assistant state superintendent in Wisconsin, outlined the group’s plans to create a bank of formative assessment exemplars. Group leaders are still trying to get educators to understand, she said, that formative assessment is not a pop quiz or some other fixed, formatted test, but a “process” aimed at getting feedback from students and adjusting instruction. SMARTER Balanced hopes the exemplars will help illustrate that process.

Those of you interested in checking the Requests for Proposals issued by SMARTER Balanced can see those on a special page of its website. Recent procurements for PARCC are listed on a special page of its website as well. It also has links to its procurement timeline, and descriptions of its current and planned procurements.

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