Over the next few months, states will have the chance to try out the latest Common Core assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a state-led consortium working "to develop next-generation assessments that accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness," according to its website.
The federally-funded consortium ran a practice test last year, but wanted to run a field test before the final assessments roll out to schools starting next school year. Between March 25 and June 6, schools across the country will test the assessments.
Five states chose to have most of their students participate, including California, Connecticut, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. Because of the high level of participation in these states, schools will be able to see how they handle the tests, both technically and logistically. It will also give the consortium a chance to see how the assessment system is performing and make sure they have enough bandwidth to deliver the assessment to every student.
"If nothing goes wrong in the field test, then we have actually failed," said Joe Willhoft, executive director of the consortium, in a webinar on Wednesday, March 12.
Through this field test, the consortium wants to learn where the system's pressure points are and where they can improve. Out of the 22 governing states in the consortium, about 10 percent of students will take the math assessment online, and 10 percent will take the English/Language Arts assessment. While the consortium isn't sure how many students will take the assessment, its staff says they're expecting more than 3 million students to participate and have set aside 50 percent more server space than they think they need so they don't run out.
Willhoft stressed that this field test will not be used for accountability purposes or to count as students' test scores for the year. They won't be returning the test results back to schools, but will only use them for statistical analysis to determine whether certain questions were biased, too easy or too difficult.
"This is all about a test of our test and not a test of our students," Willhoft said.
He emphasized the importance of student data privacy as well. The consortium will not require states to share student names and birth dates, but has encouraged them to use a separate student identification number for testing so the consortium has no way of knowing whose name is attached to the number.
He also said they would not consider selling individual student data to third parties or sharing it with them without specific state permission. And they won't share it with the U.S. Department of Education.
On this test, accessibility features are built in so that students don't have to take it in a separate room with a teacher. If students have a reading disability and are taking the math portion of the test, they can put on headphones and listen to the math question be read to them. After all, the test is examining their math knowledge, not whether they can read well. Previously, they might have gone to another room to have passages read aloud.
Students can also zoom in if they are sight-impaired and need larger print.
"This assessment will probably be the most accessible test on record," Willhoft said.
The field test and the final assessment will show how well teachers have been preparing students to meet the Common Core State Standards, said Amy Abrams, an 8th grade English/Language Arts teacher at Northwood Middle School in Kent, Wash. While not every student in her state is taking the test, every student in her district is so that educators can have a schema and a framework to help them prepare for the final assessment next year.
"The test is really going to mirror what's happening in classrooms," said Abrams, who is the 2014 Puget Sound ESD 121 regional teacher of the year. "It really is going to require intentional teaching every day, and right now we live in a very instant gratification society, and this assessment and Common Core standards require stamina."