College & Workforce Readiness

Testing Group Picks ‘College Readiness’ Exam

By Catherine Gewertz — January 08, 2013 3 min read
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Students’ “college readiness” in math in 22 states and the District of Columbia will be determined by an end-of-course test in the last of a three-course sequence, a common-standards assessment consortium has decided.

The decision by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, or PARCC, resolves the question of which tests would be used to decide whether students may skip remedial college mathematics and enroll directly in certain credit-bearing entry-level courses.

PARCC is designing two sets of high school math tests, for traditional or “integrated” course sequences: Algebra 1, geometry, and Algebra 2, and Math 1, Math 2, and Math 3. At a meeting here of its governing board last month, the group decided to base the “college-readiness determination” on students’ scores on the Algebra 2 or Math 3 exam.

The tests, now in the design phase, are scheduled to first be given in spring 2015. They are part of a project to create math and English/language arts tests for the Common Core State Standards. All but four states have adopted the ELA standards and all but five the math. PARCC is building tests for its 23 members, and another group of states, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, is crafting tests for its 25 members. Earlier, PARCC decided that to be deemed college-ready in math or English/language arts, students would have to score at level 4 on a five-level test. The cutoff scores for each level have yet to be determined.

Use of Scores Debated

A special PARCC task force, composed of K-12 and higher education representatives, recommended that the consortium base the college-readiness determination in math on a combination of scores from the three tests in each course sequence. The tests in all six end-of-course exams will include a combination of multiple-choice, short-answer, and performance tasks. The terminal exam in each sequence—Algebra 2 and Math 3—will include two additional performance tasks and draw on knowledge gained in earlier courses.

Thomas Bullock, who coordinates PARCC higher education engagement work in the District of Columbia, told the consortium’s governing board that while Algebra 2 is widely considered to be central to success in college, many students do not take it. Combining the results of all three course exams in each sequence would enable a college-readiness determination to be based on “multiple data points,” said Mr. Bullock, an assistant professor of math at the University of the District of Columbia.

But Matt Gianneschi, Colorado’s deputy executive director of higher education, expressed concern about basing a college-readiness decision in part on courses taken two or three years before college enrollment. He likened the factoring-in of older test scores to basing a college-admission decision on an SAT score from 9th grade.

Richard Freeland, Massachusetts’ commissioner of higher education, said he was reluctant to base a college-readiness determination on Algebra 2 or Math 3, noting that many students who don’t plan to major in science, technology, engineering, or math may not take such classes in high school.

But James Wright, the director of assessment for the Ohio education department, cautioned against going down that road. It’s a “dangerous slope to differentiate” among different types or levels of college readiness in math, he said, when the aim is to assess students against all the common-core standards in math. He noted, however, that the group’s math tests will not gauge mastery of the so-called “plus standards,” which are designed for students aiming to take more-advanced math courses in college.

‘Smarter’ Bank of Items

Higher education and K-12 representatives of each PARCC governing state voted to base the college-readiness determination only on the terminal test in each three-course sequence. But they said that tests from the earlier courses could be factored in later if further study suggests it would be of value.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will offer only one summative assessment in high school math, given in 11th grade, and it will “draw on the breadth” of the high school math standards, Shelbi Cole, that consortium’s director of math, said in an email. The Smarter Balanced group will also have a secure bank of items that teachers can use to construct optional end-of-course tests, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Testing Group Selects Exam to Gauge ‘College Readiness’

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