By Retta Dunlap
Since 2005, Vermonters have been measuring the educational development of our students with the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) test. It looks like that will come to an end in 2015. The Vermont Department of Education is planning to replace the NECAP with a next generation assessment system called the SMARTER Balanced Assessment.
SMARTER Balance, which will be based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), will use computerized adaptive testing to deliver end of year assessments with near instant feedback. This, coupled with student performance tasks, will allow for more frequent interim assessments, and more teacher collaboration will comprise the new assessment system.
Vermont is not alone. At least 34 other states are taking similar steps to replace their current end of year tests with a common next generation assessment system. This nationwide movement towards development of the new assessment system is being led by two separate multi-state consortiums, each of which is developing their own assessment based on the CCSS.
In August of 2010, Vermont became one of the governing states in the Smarter Balance Achievement Consortium (SBAC). Nearly all 50 states have joined one of the two consortiums, and have committed to a 2015 assessment implementation date (or are at least thinking about it). This means, by 2015, we will have a situation in which nearly all of the states will be using a common set of state standards as well as one of the two new assessment systems.
Vermont has played a governing part in these developments.
In the spring of 2009, the National Governors Association Center (NGA Center) for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO) facilitated the Common Core State Standards initiative. Former Governor Jim Douglas was chair of the NGA at the time, and staff from the Vermont Department of Education was involved in collaboration with other states to create the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Their efforts were finalized in June 2010.
Within months of finalization, the District of Columbia and 44 states had adopted CCSS as their state standards. CCSS is supposed to be evidence based, internationally competitive, fewer in number, clearer, and more rigorous than all previous state standards. In addition, these standards are aligned with what is expected of high school graduates to start college or join the work force.
There are two important things to understand about CCSS. The first is that these standards are not detailed enough to be classroom level curriculum, but are rather an expression of the core knowledge and skills students need to go on to college or the work force after high school. The other is that CCSS to be considered federally enforced standards, as adoption by the states is not federally mandated.
When all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories had access to CCSS, the two multi-state consortiums began to prepare for the next step: the creation of a shared assessment system to measure student outcomes. The goal was to make sure these next generation assessment systems could still be standardized among all the states with computerized mandatory summative assessments (end of year tests) to comply with No Child Left Behind.
In addition, these assessment systems could remain flexible at the school and classroom level by using more frequent, or as needed, formative and interim computerized assessments, enabling near-instant, year-long feedback on how the students are doing in language arts and math. Adjustments to each student’s education could occur more easily, on a month-to-month basis, helping to guide or tailor each student’s path to graduation with the objective of having him/her finish high school and be college or career ready.
Funding for this project was a serious consideration. Each consortium needed an infusion of money to pay for the development their new assessment system. This is where the federal government got involved.
In April of 2010, the Federal Department of Education announced there was a special “Race to the Top Assessment Grant” being made available to multi-state consortiums for the creation of next generation assessment systems to compliment the now near nationwide adoption of CCSS. Both consortiums applied for the grants. The Smarter Balance Achievement Consortium (SBAC), of which Vermont is a member, was granted $168 million. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) was granted $186 million.
These two consortiums cover nearly all of the states in the Union. And since both are to base their respective assessments on the same standards (CCSS), the United States should end up with a more balanced and a more common national approach to judge how all U.S. students are doing.
Or so the theory goes ….
This is the first article in a two part series. The next will focus specifically on the potential pros and cons of the new SMARTER assessment system and reaction to the change here in Vermont.