Common-Core Consortium Tests: It’s Been a Long Five Years

By Catherine Gewertz — April 02, 2015 2 min read
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At the risk of sounding like Maurice Chevalier here, I’ll say that I’m awash in memories. (I’ll stop short of saying I feel sentimental). Five years ago this month, EdWeek was reporting on the start of the Race to the Top-Assessment competition, which offered $350 million to cash-starved states to band together and design tests for the Common Core State Standards.

Ah, I remember it well.

Yes, those were the days when the U.S. Department of Education thought that maybe some states could get together and design “comprehensive” tests, and others could design end-of-course tests for high school. The high school part didn’t go so well [ahem], and the department decided to funnel all the money into tests for grades 3-12 instead.

Those were the days when the department dreamed of tests that could measure how well prepared students were for good jobs as well as for college. The “career readiness” part of that has pretty much fizzled out, under the pileup of people arguing that the federally funded tests just aren’t capable of measuring the myriad discrete skills that are needed for various kinds of career pathways.

How’s the college-readiness part going? One judgment on that, perhaps, will rest on how many college and university systems agree to use PARCC and Smarter Balanced scores to let students skip remedial work and go right into credit-bearing courses. That would constitute higher education’s recognition that “college ready” on the tests means college ready in their classrooms. Another form of judgment will rest on the longitudinal studies that both consortia plan to do, tracking students into college to see whether their performance reflected their college-ready scores.

Five years ago, the federal government was hoping for tests that not only measured student achievement and progress, but could also be used to evaluate teachers and principals. They’re still hanging onto those goals, of course, although they’ve granted states some wiggle room in how soon they need to factor test scores into personnel evaluations.

Overall, field-testing of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests went smoothly last spring. And now we’re into the operational administration of both tests. It would be tempting to say that time certainly flies. But for those involved in building these tests, and for the educators who’ve been under intense pressure to have students ready for them, these last five years have doubtless seemed like dog years (you know: every year on the calendar feels like seven).

And that’s even before test results are announced. Trickling out between late spring and late fall, those results are widely expected to reflect lower levels of proficiency than most states are used to, sparking a whole new wave of debate about what the tests mean—or don’t mean.

Maurice Chevalier might have had some difficulty recounting the details of his love affair with Hermione Gingold’s character in that famous song from the musical “Gigi,” but the legions of people who have had to become so deeply immersed in making the common core tests—or using them for the first time—are not likely to forget that experience so easily.

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