In one year, states will start assessing student learning through computer adaptive tests. But technology issues still pose major hurdles for education in general and Common Core assessments in particular.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which came out of a state-led effort through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. New assessments from two consortia and other organizations will measure how well students meet the learning standards and will be available in the 2014-15 school year.
This week, the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University outlined how states are doing in the report Year Three of Implementing the Common Core State Standards. The report surveyed education officials in 40 states about how they're preparing for the assessments.
This study is designed to give policymakers in Washington, D.C., valid information about what state leaders are thinking and doing. That way, they won't be forming national policies based on assumptions.
"You don't want people making policy in a vacuum," said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy. "It's very easy for people in Washington — and I put myself in that category too — to sit and talk about how things should be. You want to make sure that whoever is making policy has a pretty realistic appraisal of what is happening at the state and local level and the challenges that those educators are facing, because what you don't want is the policy to actually make their job harder. The job hopefully of policy is to strengthen and empower their work."
Out of these states, 27 said they were already adding new test questions and getting rid of old ones on their existing tests. That way they can transition their students into the new assessments and see whether they are mastering the standards for their grade. But 13 other states said they weren't making changes yet. Instead, they want to wait until they see what the new tests look like.
In fact, at least five states have pulled out of the two consortia that received federal grant funds to create new assessments. A number of them cited money as a factor and said they would work with companies to develop a less expensive test.
That gets us to an even bigger piece of the puzzle: The technology to make these tests work. Many states don't currently have students take tests on the computer. And with major cuts in state funding over the last number of years, not all states have recovered.
Three major issues they're dealing with include equipment, bandwidth and teacher training. Computers have to meet specific screen size requirements in order for schools to use them for testing. And not all schools have enough computers — let alone computers with the right size screen — to handle the testing.
Particularly in rural communities, bandwidth still isn't available to everyone at fast enough speeds. And 31 states said they encountered major or minor challenges with Internet access and bandwidth.
When it comes to teacher training, schools have to figure out a way to prepare teachers for an influx of technology in their classrooms.
"When you start allowing your students to have their own devices and work with one another and go to the Internet, you're sort of relinquishing what traditional teachers and traditional classrooms consider control," Ferguson said. "That's just going to take time. You can't just expect people to make that leap like, 'Boom, here we go!'"
On top of that, you're working with parents who are trying to cut down their kids' screen time at home, but hear the opposite message from schools that want to use computers for learning.
Thirteen states have a plan to address these challenges, but 12 don't, and eight didn't answer the question. It's hard to tell whether states will be ready when the assessments get the green light next year, and there are different definitions of "ready." Whether they're ready or not, the assessments are coming, and states have their work cut out for them on the technology front.
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