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Feds Award $330 Million To Find Alternatives to High-Stakes Bubble Tests

High-stakes assessments don't look to be going away anytime soon, but the form they take may be changing. The United States Department of Education Thursday awarded two grants to "move beyond narrowly focused bubble tests" and "develop a new generation of tests" based on standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative and adopted so far by 35 states and the District of Columbia.

The grants were awarded under the Race to the Top Assessment Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Both awards were granted in the category of "Comprehensive Assessment Systems," the stated purpose of which is to "fully meet the dual needs for accountability and instructional improvement." (No award was given in the other available assessment grant category under RttT, "High School Course Assessment Program," which is supposed to be used to develop methods for evaluating the academic rigor of high school courses.)

The two recipients of the grants, who were selected through a peer evaluation process, included the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which received a $170 million award, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which received $160 million.

Both groups will, according to ED, work not only to find alternatives (or supplements) to existing high-stakes testing methodologies but also potentially to develop replacements for some current classroom testing. (As of this writing, we are awaiting a clarification from ED on just what types of testing the department anticipates replacing.) The assessments will focus exclusively on math and English/language arts for grades 3 through 12. And in both cases, according to ED, there is an emphasis on addressing the needs of English language learners and students with disabilities in the assessments.

PARCC, a coalition of 26 states and administrative divisions, will focus on an approach designed to eliminate end of term tests with assessments administered throughout the year and averaged for a final score. The stated purpose of the approach is to lessen the weight of any one individual test while, at the same time, theoretically providing formative data for teachers and students to use following each interim test. PARCC's proposed methods will "test students' ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media," according to information released today by ED.

Meanwhile, SBAC, a coalition of 31 states, will take an approach involving the use of "computer adaptive technology that will ask students tailored questions based on their previous answers." The approach will not only not eliminate the end of term high-stakes testing model, but it will add several interim tests that will be "used to inform students, parents, and teachers about whether students are on track" to perform up to expectations on the final test.

The final work of the groups is expected to be ready in time for use during the 2014-2015 school year.

Further information about the Race to the Top Assessment Program, including grant applications and scores, can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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