Volunteers can help frame Common Core tests

September 24, 2014

(Updated Sept 26 with deadline for applying.)

Teachers and others from California have until midnight Friday (Pacific Standard Time)  to sign up for a crowd-sourcing exercise that will help determine how questions will be scored on the new Common Core tests students will take next spring.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the testing organization serving 20 member states, extended the deadline a week to encourage thousands of higher education faculty and K-12 teachers, as well as parents and anyone else interested, to enroll. About 1,400 Californians had signed up by last Friday.

The three-hour online session that participants can do over a two-day period next month is the first level of several score-setting exercises that will determine how students in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11 will be graded on the tests in English language arts and math. Each person who signs up will focus on one grade and one subject.

“This will be the first time that a scoring process will be opened up to such a widespread, participatory process,” said Jacqueline King, the director of higher education collaboration for Smarter Balanced.

Teachers will gain a better understanding of how assessment questions are scored, as well as have a voice in the process, she said.

A more intensive effort will take place in Dallas next month, when 500 teachers, administrators and college faculty, nominated by the Smarter Balanced states, will go through several rounds of group scoring over two days in 35-person panels organized by grade and subject. The collective results from the online scoring exercises will provide guidance and a check for their own judgment, King said.

The Smarter Balanced tests will have four levels of attainment, roughly comparable to the levels on various standardized tests: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The achievement level names, which have yet to be decided, will be different to discourage people from comparing the scores of the old and new tests. The Common Core tests will be different from previous state standardized tests as are the academic standards on which the tests are based, Joe Willhoft, executive director of Smarter Balanced, emphasized in a recent webinar.

After an orientation to the standards, the online participants will be given a range of increasingly difficult multiple choice and short-answer questions to examine. Their task will be to determine at what point, based on a set of academic expectations, does the correct answer satisfy Level 3, showing that a student is at grade level and on-track to attain college and career readiness. They will also be given a more involved, multi-step performance task.

The federal government’s aim in funding Smarter Balanced was to create a common test so that it would be possible to compare student scores across states. (Federal officials also funded a second state consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, whose dozen member states are mainly in the East.) In November, representatives of the member Smarter Balanced states will vote on whether to accept or adjust the achievement levels, or cut scores, that the experts will recommend to them.

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