Being Mobile | Blog

Common Core Technological Standards: They Are the Tail, Not the Dog

Up to now, test makers have been the dog--and education has been the tail. But the test makers are increasingly out of touch with students who use mobile devices for everything including learning. The dog is, finally & rightfully so, becoming the tail.

While it would be an overstatement to say that the two main groups charged with developing tests implementing the Common Core curriculum are, from a technological perspective, in the Dark Ages, it is not an overstatement to say that, again, from a technological perspective, those two consortia have not entered the Age of Enlightenment, today called the Age of Mobilism.

Recently, The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) released guidelines for what technology schools should have in order to administer the tests that these consortia are developing for release in 2014-2015: (list taken from Nagel[1])

  • Device Types: Desktops, laptops, netbooks, thin clients, tablets
  • Processor: 1 GHz or faster 
  • Minimum RAM: 1 GB
  • Display: 9.5 inches or greater at a resolution of 1,024 x 768 or greater
  • Operating System: Mac OS X 10.7, Windows 7, Linux (Ubuntu 11.10 or Fedora 16), Chrome (no version specified), iOS (no version specified), Android 4.0
  • Connectivity: Wired or wireless, with Internet access

Let's see: netbooks are no longer in production[2]; and a 9.5 inch screen at least does rule out some older tablets. Older in the sense that 7inch tablets are now all the rage. But the specs do rule out the iPad's lower-priced cousin, the iPad Mini--even though the iPad-Mini[3] with a 7.9 inch screen still has the necessary resolution: 1,024 x 768. You can see the conspiracy-theorists' blogs now: Apple behind Common Core tech specs--pushing the more expensive iPad over the iPad mini. We are NOT conspiracy-theorists--but it is curious <smiley face goes here>. And, the Samsung Galaxy Note II with a measly 5.5 inch screen but with a resolution of 1,280 x 800[4] is also not up to snuff according to SBAC and PARCC.

So TODAY, 2012-2013, there are truly mobile devices (10 inch tablets are transportable devices; they are ready-at-hand; but they are not TRULY, ready-to-hand, mobile devices. Let the deluge of e-mail begin!!) that satisfy the consortia's specs except for physical screen size, but they are being considered inappropriate for Common Core testing that will start in 2014-2015.

But wait, it gets worse: in 2014-2015--only 2 years from now when the testing is to begin in earnest--handheld devices having a Retina-level screen resolution of 2048-by-1536 will be common place at today's prices or less. But again, those devices are NOT acceptable for Common Core testing.

In 2010, we predicted that each and every child would have a mobile learning device to use, 24/7 for curricular purposes by 2015. In 2010, we recall the body language of folks at conferences that said, in effect: you are nuts. Today? Such a prediction is boring.

So, here we go again: by 2017, 4 years from now, each and every child will have a SUPERphone[5]--effectively infinite computing power supplied by the cloud, Retina-level, high screen resolution, connected to the Internet at 4G/5G speeds--at half of today's prices. (We CAN see you raising your eyebrows; we can HEAR the guffaws; but our skins are thick; well, not really in Elliot's case).

And one more minor issue: the two consortia say that it is important to be able to turn off the Internet on the devices during the tests. So, let's get this straight: we are supposed to teach kids who use Google (and Bing) 24/7, constantly, but test them in a context where they can't use Google (or Bing) at all. Will the guards at the doors take children's glasses away, too? Why? Because in 2 years, Google Glasses-style wearable computing devices will be readily available at $200.

Up to now, test makers have been the dog--and education has been the tail. But that is changing. If every child has an Internet-connected, mobile, computing device, 24/7 in their palms, they are no longer the unempowered supplicant. No, no, no. Palmed with their smartphone--their SUPERphone--all children will be empowered in ways we can't even begin to imagine. And that will happen in less than 5 years!!

What we have here is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Why aren't these consortia looking at what K-12 students are using for technology today and tomorrow, and designing tests that match that technology? These consortia think they are in power and will tell schools and kids what to do and buy. That's the old days; that IS the Dark Ages!

These consortia are simply growing more and more out of touch with what is going on in classrooms in America. These consortia have locked themselves in a cave, divorced themselves from curriculum developers who are moving to mobile as fast as they can (which is glacial, but that's textbook publishing's version of fast)--or going out of business--and are planning to tell schools what they need to do to be in step with their test making.

Excuse me, SBAR, PARCC; you are not the dog; you are the tail.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at


Fri, Jan 18, 2013 Sheryl Ohio

With younger children one of the problems with testing on the computer is their view of the computer as an interactive game deliverer. They concentrate on quickly answering to score without thinking about their answers adequately. I can tell them to take their time and give them paper to think through answers before clicking a bubble but their impulse is to be the first to click that bubble. I give paper pencil tests on the same material and they ALWAYS score higher than on the computer tests due to this. I'm talking about the youngest grades when grades and tests don't have the same meaning but computer games reign supreme. I would love advice to help them do their best.

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 Cheryl

Gene made some very valid comments. There are still huge discrepencies across the nation over resources that students have in homes and in schools. Our school has enough students that are on free lunch EVERYONE qualifies. Internet access is often not in the homes. Students are more techno-literate than their parents yet not always appropriate in their use of technology. I have younger students that can do amazing things with their parent iPads and iPhones yet still need to work on how to independently do other things at school or manage to focus on a task to ocmpletion. My daughter was a manager at her Co-op in Berkeley for awhile and the stories she can tell about brilliant individuals and practical skills-or lack thereof-in some day to day matters is astonishing. Students need to acquire a myriad of skills, including yet not limited to technology, to be successful in the twenty-first century.

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 Peter New York

Technology is one of many tools that educators use to teach children of all ages. One problem that teachers face is that the students comming into our schools have technology that they do know how to use to its fullest extent. For example, students will be taking these exams, which are timed, yet they have had no training in keyboarding skills necessary to type in short or long essays. The teachers for whobtaught those skills have been cut years ago. Another problem is not the tool but the money necessary to meet the minimum requirements for the new testing. School districts are cutting programs and teachers in order to meet their reduced budgets. Money for even the minimum requirements is not available. Further, the backbone many schools use to have access to the internet are woefully out of date and very expensive...again no money. The real problem is not the technology but the reason why we are using the technology. Think of it this way...How long did it take you to learn how to use your most recent tech device. Is it because you are tech savvy or it because you know how to think? So what should we be teaching in schools. How much does it cost to teach a child how to think and adapt to new situations?

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 Melissa

The problem with your criticism is that these are not technology standards, these are minimum qualifications in order to administer the assessments which will, for the first time, be delivered via computer. As a teacher working in a school that is still running a single computer lab with nothing but 3-4 year old machines, I think the guidelines are realistic to the reality of technology in school as it exists.

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 QorKour NJ

Communists thought they could "centrally plan economies" and Common minds believe they can dictate Common Core Standards and Assessments. Arne, Jeb, Bill, Eli, and Davy boy have much to learn themselves.

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 Jenni MN

The reason to stay disconnected from the internet is obvious - in a high stakes testing environment, the student is required to work independently. 'Looking forward' on what devices students may have available means thinking about what schools can reasonably and reliably plan to provide. Even as states are moving to online testing now they find too many school systems unable and unprepared to do so. It would seem that the recommendations surely had to account for these realities.

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 Gene Dallas, TX

This is rather unfair and misguided. The consortia had to offer recommendations (and set minimums) in advance so that schools could prepare. So, then you want to fault them for not being forward looking. Being forward looking would have been inappropriate. On the screen size, small devices may be the rage, but popularity does not make them appropriate for use. For years folks have been concerned about the effects of small screen size. The students won't be reading a text message for these tests, they'll be reading complex texts on which they need to answer complex questions. Finally, you make references to "all students" having access to different types of technology. Really? All? In a country that's 32nd in internet access and has abject poverty in every major city?! Children who can't eat will come in with a "super phone" by 2015?! Get in the field! Talk to educators in the trenches. They are terrified they may not be able to meet these criteria that you are calling outdated.

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 andy

I agree, to list what will be accepted two years from now--who can make the prediction of what will be available.

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