Smarter Balanced didn’t contract with vendors to begin building its Digital Library until early 2013. That resource, which the group hopes to unveil this summer, will include online training modules, exemplar units, and teacher-submitted resources….
Although many instructional experts support those efforts, they worry that they are coming too late, since teachers are facing instructional challenges now.
Teachers are aware of the end goals espoused in the common-core standards, but need more support in learning how to break them into manageable units, said Margaret Heritage, an assistant director for professional development at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“My concern for teachers is getting a handle on these standards and understanding the depth of them, and what it’s going to take to reach these deeper-level learnings the standards require,” said Ms. Heritage, who sat on Smarter Balanced’s formative-assessment advisory panel. PARCC does have an optional diagnostic exam, which teachers can use to better pinpoint students’ weaknesses, said Mr. Nellhaus. And Smarter Balanced is now deep in the work of creating the teacher supports.
More than 1,400 K-12 teachers are now helping to generate—and vet using common criteria—the resources for the Smarter Balanced digital library, according to Chrys Mursky, the group’s director of professional learning.
Smarter Balanced’s adaptive-test modelhas raised a tricky policy dilemma: whether students who are demonstrably performing significantly above or below proficiency should be given test questionsoutside their grade level.
To date, the federal Education Department has forbidden that practice, citing the requirements of the NCLB law. Smarter Balanced plans to make its case to the agency,with the input of a variety of advocacy groupsand assurances that it will institute plenty of safeguards, said Joe Willhoft, the executive director of Smarter Balanced.
“If we have a 4th grade student who is very good in math, we want to open up the pool for them to see harder items,” he said. “But we don’t want to give them something about the Pythagorean theorem. We want to be sure that if they get it wrong, it’s because they don’t know the math, not that they’ve just never seen it before.”
Only one state, Indiana, had reversed its adoption of the standards as of mid-April. But criticism of the testing has led several states, including Florida,Georgia, andPennsylvaniato decide against using the consortia tests. And there are external pressures, too, as a variety of nonprofit and for-profit vendors begin to build suites of tests to compete for market share with the consortia products.
With such pressures looming, many in the assessment community hope the consortia’s efforts will continue to grow stronger over time. The tests mark an important shift away from the basic skills that the NCLB-era exams tended to measure, they argue.
“It’s important for people to give the consortia a little bit of charity, given the size of the task,” said the University of Colorado’s Mr. Briggs. “I worry that if they don’t have it perfect from the start, then people will want to pull the plug. And then we’d be back to having assessments that look an awful lot like what we had before.”
Coverage of “deeper learning” that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, atwww.hewlett.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.