kegley100910stg1821Call me crazy: Common Core Assessments aren’t too long in testing duration and shouldn’t be shortened.

Forgive me for being contrary: I know I threw a few friends when I wrote last week we shouldn’t assess projects in PBL (though my full argument was far more nuanced than my headline/thesis), and now I know I take the risk of irking more friends by making the argument which follows.

Among the many caveats to my argument, I’ll prioritize these two:

First, I too am appalled by the misuse and abuse of current or future standardized testing, particularly in regards to punishing schools and teachers.  What Bill Ferriter wrote recently on this topic is nothing short of brilliant. “It’s time that you start asking your policymakers some difficult questions about their positions on value-added measures of teacher performance.    If Jackson is right, those policies — which have rapidly become the norm instead of the exception in most states in America — are wasting our time AND our money.

I want quality testing to be used for meaningful purposes: advancing student learning, not teacher-bashing.

Second, these important advances in testing are certainty not the end of the line; they don’t represent a complete arrival at a place of testing excellence.  They are instead a significant and meaningful advance from the status quo toward that place of excellence, an advance I think we should applaud.  For more on the continued advances needed, see this recent Edweek post and the report from the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education upon which it is commenting.

But here goes: Common Core Assessments PARCC and SBAC (Smarter Balanced) tests shouldn’t be any shorter in their time duration than they are planned to be.


1. Because we shouldn’t be so quick to call this testing time “lost” to teaching and learning. In even only a moderately good testing experience, testing time is learning time– sometimes superior learning time.

2. Because these new tests assess in ways far more authentic and meaningful than any previous generation of standardized K-12 educational tests, and assess the deeper learning our students greatly need to learn to be successful (learning which far too few are indeed learning), assessment information we need to improve their “deeper learning.” 

But both of these things will be compromised or lost if the tests get any shorter.

The length of these tests is being hotly debated and combated.

Edweek published last week a short article about the duration of the tests, and it is worth reviewing.

New tests being designed for students in nearly half the states in the country will take eight to 10 hours, depending on grade level, and schools will have a testing window of up to 20 days to administer them, according to guidance released today.

The tweets which followed the Edweek piece were not at all positive: the following tweet is entirely representative of the attitude in the feed of tweets about the Edweek post, although it is not entirely representative of the tone of those tweets, because many were more vulgar.

Let me flesh out my argument:

1.   We shouldn’t be so quick to call this testing time “lost” to learning: in even a moderately good quality testing experience, it is quite the opposite.

I don’t believe that time spent taking a good test is “time away from learning.”  It doesn’t even have to be a great test– just a good test will do.  When I look back at my K-16 education, I am certain that on average, I learned more, was more engaged, more challenged, more interested, more analytical and creative, when I was taking a half-decent test than I was when I was sitting in class watching a teacher talk in the front of the room.

Quite often– though not always– my test-taking times as a student were among the very most intellectually exciting and growth-oriented events and experiences in my education. (more…)


[graphic from Digital Learning Now]

This post continue a small project here at 21k12 of viewing the coming Common Core Standards through a backwards prism: the testing assessments that will evaluate student and school success at learning and teaching Common Core standards.  These new assessments sit at a junction of topics I’m interested in and working on regularly: integrating technology, next generation and digitally enhanced assessment, computer adaptive assessment, and  performance task assessment.

These new Common Core (CCSS) assessments are the product in part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s call for a new generation of Assessments, Assessment 2.0 he calls it, about which I have written before.   To advance this vision of moving “beyond the bubble,” the US DOE is spending, via Race to the Top funding, more than $300 M in developing new kinds of tests and testing systems, split between two major programs, PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

As the Ed Leadership article by Nancy Doorey reports,

The assessment consortia are drawing on new advances in technology, cognitive science, and measurement as they develop this improved generation of assessments.

They hope these new systems will address concerns about existing state assessments—that many assessments measure skills too narrowly; return results that are “too little, too late” to be useful; and do not adequately assess whether students can apply their skills to solve complex problems, an ability students need to succeed in college, the workplace, and as citizens.

Both tests are administered digitally and online, and will require in most states and districts a massive technological infrastructure improvement to be implemented.   Administering them digitally and online offers many advantages, including the ability to offer adaptive testing (which is currently intended for SB only, not PARCC), and faster results returned to teachers for instructional purposes.

Eight questions worth asking about the the new assessments:

1.  Will they come on-time or be delayed, and will the technology be ready for them?    Although the test design is funded (enormously), the technological infrastructure upgrades are not externally funded, and it remains a very open question whether and from where this funding will come.   If districts are unable to meet the requirements, will the 2014-15 launch date for these digital and online tests be postponed?

Engaging Ed fears they will.

Digital Learning Now, in a recent report embedded below, pleads with the consortia: Don’t Delay.

Don’t phase in. With two years left to prepare, the combination of a long test window and supporting outdated operating systems allows almost all schools to support online testing now. Going further to support paper-and-pencil testing in and past 2015 is unnecessary, expensive, and reduces comparability.

It is also is unwise for districts to seek to compromise by the use of less than 2:1 ratios of computers to students.    Imagine the schools which are trying to use current computer labs to assess their students– it will take 12 disruptive weeks to roll all students through the labs, and the labs themselves won’t be available for any other learning during that time. (more…)


This month I’ve been in conversation with an outstanding school superintendent preparing his district for PARCC assessments.   As many understand, PARCC (and its counterpart Smarter Balanced), requires districts prepare their schools with technology sufficient for their student to take what will be entirely online, computer based high stakes tests.

“Of course,” he explained to me, “we need to become PARCC-ready.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg.   If we are going to invest in these substantial, even enormous technology upgrades, it would be foolish not to use this new technology in ways beyond the new tests.

“PARCC tech upgrades give us an opportunity to transform our schools to places of 21st century, student-centered– and this is an opportunity not be wasted.”

In addition, he added, preparing students for success on PARCC is not just a matter of ensuring the tech is there for them to take the test– it needs to be there and used in ways in which students develop the comfort and confidence.

This is a tremendous opportunity, and we can only hope that every superintendent recognizes as well as this one has the chance being presented to leverage an externally imposed new test and new test format– even when that new test perhaps is in and of itself unwelcome– to transform the equation of classroom learning toward 21st century, student-centered, technology in the hands of students programs.

This has been also recognized recently in a valuable new white paper from SETDA, State Educational Technology Directors Association, which I’ve embedded below.

The report has many important messages.  First, districts must carefully focus and determine their current technology’s capacity for supporting the new tests.

While there are compelling advantages to a technology-­‐based assessment system as compared to current paper-­‐ and pencil-­‐based approaches, schools and districts will need to validate their technology readiness for 2014-­‐15.

Validation for technology readiness is important even for states and districts currently administering tests online, as these Common Core assessments are being designed to move beyond multiple-­‐choice questions to technology-­‐enhanced items to elicit the higher order knowledge, skills, and abilities of students.

An article last spring in THE, Technology Challenges and the Move to Online Assessments,  also explored these issues.

The 2014-15 school year is a long way off, isn’t it? That depends on your perspective. If you are an eighth-grader, Friday night is a long way off, but if you are a technology leader in a school district or a state, the 2014-15 school year may be here all too soon.

Critically, the SETDA report insists that this PARCC/Smarter Balanced minimum specs, must not be the only factor to be considered when these enormous investments are made.    (more…)