Phasing Out State Tests for Common Assessments

By Catherine Gewertz — March 04, 2011 2 min read
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It’s no small thing to transition from one state assessment system to another. So it will be interesting to see what happens as 45 states and the District of Columbia figure out how to transition from their current accountability tests to the assessments being designed for the common standards. (Quick refresher: all but five states are participating in consortia to design tests for the common standards.)

Case in point: Kansas has applied to the U.S. Department of Education for permission to hold its testing targets at 2009-10 levels until 2014-15, the year the common assessments are supposed to be up and running. (See a news report about this here, and the state board’s letter requesting the waiver here.)

One district in Kansas, McPherson, actually has won a rather unusual testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, we are hearing today. The waiver lets the district dump state tests in grades 6-12 for federal accountability purposes, replacing them with the ACT‘s series (Explore, Plan, WorkKeys, and the college admissions exam). The state will calculate AYP for that district based upon the ACT tests, state DOE spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes told me. I wonder how this will all work out once Kansas, a governing state in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, phases in the common assessments.

Other states are clearly starting to scratch their heads over how to move from current testing systems to common tests. North Carolina, we are told, is poised to dump some of its end-of-course tests in high school, saying it’s just too much testing when combined with the common-standards tests.

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, says it doesn’t plan to change its testing system, because it’s already “aligned” to the common standards. (Aside: please discuss among yourselves: what, exactly, is the meaning of “alignment”? Is that a science, or an art?) The Keystone State articulated this view in a recent white paper about transitioning to the common standards. In the second paragraph on Page 3, it says the Pennsylvania Department of Education doesn’t plan to “adjust the eligible content or design” of its state tests before the effective date of the Common Core. But lower down on the same page, it says it will be “collaborating with teachers at all grade levels as well as higher education faculty from both math and [English/language arts] in revising assessments (emphasis mine) to align with the Common Core.”

Is it my imagination, or is this a bit of a contradiction? Perhaps it’s just part of the confusing journey from one testing system to the next?

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