What You Need to Know About Common Core Testing

guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

common core testing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just the mention of the Common Core assessments often fuels anxiety for students, parents, and certainly schools, but it doesn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know to make sense out of the mayhem and start preparing your students for a successful testing experience.

What’s New About These Tests?

Under Race to the Top, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to two companies: Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). Both tests 

  • assess Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math.
  • assess students’ readiness for college and career.
  • provide quick results that ultimately inform remediation and guide subsequent curriculum and professional development.
  • are computer-based and have been designed to assess higher-level thinking skills and proficiencies that previous tests could not. (Only Smarter Balanced features computer adaptive testing [CAT].)

Which Test Are My Students Taking?

States choose which test(s) to administer to their students; see the lists below. Some states have not yet chosen either test, though they may in the future.

PARCC: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island.

Smarter Balanced: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

When Do My Students Take the Tests?

Many schools around the country took field tests last spring to help prepare for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. Full implementation of the tests begins in spring of 2015, although many states are opting to delay testing at least another year.

PARCC tests students in grades 3–11; Smarter Balanced tests students in grades 3–8 and 11.

How Are the Tests Structured?

PARCC includes two mandatory summative assessments and two optional assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory Performance-Based Assessment tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as writing and research (ELA) and real-world application problems (Math).
  • The mandatory End-of-Year Assessment measures reading comprehension (ELA) and conceptual understanding (Math).

Smarter Balanced includes one mandatory summative assessment and optional interim assessments (diagnostic and mid-year).

  • The mandatory assessment tests key skills and conceptual understandings in Math and ELA. It includes a Performance Task that tests multiple standards and standards that are difficult to measure, such as research and complex analysis skills.

How Can I Prepare My Students?

The spring 2014 field tests showed that preparation was key to successful tests—for districts, for schools, and for students. Schools need to ensure that they have enough bandwidth and available devices well in advance of testing. Students need familiarity with computer basics (drag and drop, typing for essay responses) as well as practice with their test’s formats. This familiarity eases anxiety and helps students focus on the content of the test without being confused by the format.

Keep in mind that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are trying to make the tests as transparent as possible, and both have extensive sample test questions to help students get comfortable with the formats. Take a look at your state’s sample tests (see PARCC or Smarter Balanced), and give students ample practice in a low-pressure environment. And don’t forget: the goal of the tests is to make sure students know and can demonstrate their understanding of the Common Core State Standards. The more teachers and students work with these standards in class, the better they’ll do on the tests.

What additional questions do you have about CCSS testing? Leave a comment or ask us on Twitter.

Trisha Beck DeOre is a senior curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.

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