Since 2013 roughly half of all states agreed to use assessments aligned with the Common Core created by two consortia—Smarter Balanced and The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. For those states and others that align their tests with the Common Core, tougher cut scores are likely on the way.
“I will predict that the consortia states will find that their standards are more rigorous than what they may have had previous to the consortia assessments,” said Louis Fabrizio, who heads data, research, and federal policy at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
He notes that though North Carolina didn’t roll out tests designed by the consortia, the state for the first time administered assessments based on the Common Core state standards in the 2012-13 school year—just in time to be noticed by this month’s federal report. As one of the few states at or near the NAEP proficiency standard, “the results speak for themselves,” Fabrizio said. The last time NCES issued such a report, evaluating 2011 state tests, it found that North Carolina had some of the weakest assessments standards in the country.
While Kentucky and New York also adopted Common Core-aligned assessments between 2011 and 2013, paving way for their high marks in the new report, Texas had no part in the Common Core. Still, the state transitioned to a new set of tests, called STAAR, that were touted as much more difficult than its predecessor and aligned with its own independent academic standards. A 2014 Dallas Morning News article noted that on average students weren’t improving on the assessment since its debut in 2012. The NCES report helps explain why: Between 2011 and 2013, Texas’s proficient benchmark soared from the near bottom to among the top few in the country.
“We would encourage states to adopt Common Core,” said Scott Norton, who heads assessments and accountability for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “But if they don’t want to do that and adopt some other set of college and career ready standards, that’s good, too. Texas is a great example of that. This report bears that out.”
Wisconsin, another state that demonstrated major strides in its state exam rigor between 2011 and 2013, toughened its cut scores in time for the 2012-13 state tests. John Johnson, the head of communication at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said that state education leaders sent letters to parents explaining the changes, which also warned them that student scores may drop due to the increased difficulty.
Still, no matter how much more work is poured into strengthening the tests, Norton cautions that tougher assessment benchmarks won’t on their own lift student scores. “The first part is adopting more challenging career-ready standards,” he said. “Then it’s important to put in a test that’s aligned to those standards with rigorous achievement [levels] … when that happens, students can begin to perform better, and that’s probably what we’ll see over time.”
This post appears courtesy of the Education Writers Association.