Washington, D.C. – The transition to the Common Core State Standards offers an important opportunity to replace America’s flawed and misaligned assessment system with better and fairer tests, according to a new report released today by the Center for American Progress.
“Our current education standards and assessments system is broken and failing to equip our students with the skills they need to be competitive in the global economy,” said Melissa Lazarín, Managing Director for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “The Common Core State Standards and assessments allow us to right the wrongs of the past. As thousands of students across the country are engaged in field testing of the new Common Core-aligned assessments, the recommendations in this report could not be more timely.”
To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation, the Common Core State Standards establish a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in math and English. Forty-five states have adopted and are moving forward with the new standards. The Common Core State Standards were created in response to the shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, standards and assessments. Among those failings were the poor quality of content standards and assessments and the variability in content expectations and proficiency targets across states, as well as concerns related to the economic competitiveness of the nation’s future workforce. The low-quality assessments from the No Child Left Behind era also dramatically undermined the law, contributing to its negative, unintended consequences.
The report released today, authored by Morgan S. Polikoff, assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, encourages the states, districts, and policymakers moving forward with Common Core implementation to learn important lessons from the past as they work to develop new assessment systems. The paper lays out some of the challenges facing test developers and policymakers in the Common Core era, including technical and political issues.
The remainder of the report is focused on making recommendations to help address the challenges and head off serious assessment implementation problems. The proposed recommendations include both political and technical activities on the part of test developers, state and district policymakers and leaders, federal policymakers, and Common Core assessment consortia members. If met, these recommendations can quell many of the concerns about the Common Core, the new assessments, and the new accountability systems.
These recommendations include:
Test developers in the consortia must put assessment quality and alignment issues front and center. This means ensuring the tests capture the full domain of the standards, maintain the cognitive demand level of the standards content, and include a wide variety of high-quality items.
State and district policymakers promoting new uses for assessment data must provide reliability and validity evidence that supports their intended uses to ensure that appropriate decisions are made based on assessment data.
To head off concerns about likely decreasing proficiency rates, state and district policymakers, researchers, educators, and test developers must be proactive in explaining the new proficiency standards and why they matter.
The federal government, states, and districts must create and implement more thoughtful teacher- and school-accountability systems that minimize the pervasive negative incentives seen under NCLB while still ensuring that these systems are robust and meaningful for parents and teachers.
The federal government must encourage assessment quality in several areas, including giving the consortia the freedom to measure proficiency outside of grade level and refining the peer-review guidance used to evaluate assessments.