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Standardized Tests On The Verge of A Huge Makeover

The US Department of Education has announced the 2 winners of the national Race to the Top funding competition, President Obama’s new program to improve standards in education. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) will receive a total of $330 million to be split between the 2 groups to revamp national student assessment tests.

On behalf of 44 states, PARCC and SBAC will receive federal grant money over the next 4 years to work with researchers and educators to design student assessment systems that upgrade the traditional fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests and cut down on the need for remedial education on college campuses.

President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program has been in effect for the past decade. It was primarily created to improve basic reading and math skills in low-achieving students. However, most educators have complained the program has not lived up to its billing.

“As I travel around the country the #1 complaint I hear from teachers is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn’t measure what really matters,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Both of these winning applicants are planning to develop assessments that will move us far beyond this and measure real student knowledge and skills.”

The new systems are expected to evaluate skills in digital media, classroom speaking and the ability to apply reading and math to real-world problems. PARCC will use research projects, complex texts and listening assignments for a series of assessments. SBAC will use computer adaptive technology that allows tests to produce questions that best pinpoint students’ individual strengths and weaknesses for a single high-stakes test.

Both new programs will feature fewer multiple choice questions and increase computer use. The integration of technology into the assessment system will allow teachers to get results faster so they can adjust instruction accordingly.

The new tests will support the revised academic standards that a majority of states have adopted for their public school systems. For many teachers, this means rewriting lessons so their classroom instruction can improve student development in the expanded skill sets the assessments measure. 

Mark Schneider, a Vice President at the American Institutes for Research said, “This could be 1 of the greatest challenges our teaching force has ever faced, to teach the new concepts embedded in the English and math standards, and to adapt to these new tests.”

The new tests are expected to be ready by the 2014-2015 school year.


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