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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Smarter Balanced Practice Tests RELEASED!!

Smarter Balanced Releases Online Practice Tests

Examples provide early look at next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core
OLYMPIA, Wash. — May 29, 2013 — Teachers, parents, and students across the country can now access online practice tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) today released sets of example test questions for grades 3–8 and 11 in both English language arts/literacy and mathematics. The Practice Tests will help schools prepare for the implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System in the 2014-15 school year.
“The release of online Practice Tests reflects the tremendous progress of the state-led effort to develop next-generation assessments,” said Joe Willhoft, Ph.D., executive director of Smarter Balanced. “Available nearly two years before the first administration of the summative assessment, these examples offer schools and districts another resource for professional development and outreach.”
The Practice Tests provide a preview of the types of questions that will be featured in the summative assessment beginning in 2014-15, including selected-response items, constructed-response items, technology-enhanced items, and performance tasks—extended activities that challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to respond to real-world problems. The Practice Tests are freely available on the Smarter Balanced website:
“The Practice Tests allow teachers and students to experience the higher level of rigor associated with Common Core tests and gain familiarity with the online test delivery system,” said Deborah Sigman, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction for the California Department of Education and Smarter Balanced Executive Committee Co-Chair. “Member states are making these example test questions available as part of our commitment to a balanced assessment system that provides high-quality information to improve teaching and learning.”
The Practice Tests do not include all the features of the operational assessments. For example, students and teachers will not receive reports or scores from the Practice Tests. Although Smarter Balanced assessments will be computer adaptive, the Practice Tests follow a fixed-form model. By fall 2013, Smarter Balanced will make enhancements to the Practice Tests, including the addition of performance tasks in mathematics, new accommodations for students with disabilities, and scoring rubrics.
The release of the Practice Tests follows the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test, the first large-scale tryout of items and performance tasks. The Pilot Test allowed the Consortium to gather information about the performance of assessment items and the test delivery system under real-world conditions. More than 5,000 schools in 21 Smarter Balanced Governing States were recruited to participate in the Pilot Test from February 20 – May 24, 2013. Development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment System will continue after the release of the Practice Tests and through summer 2014 in collaboration with member states and educators.
Smarter Balanced is committed to a transparent process for developing next-generation assessments. In October 2012, Smarter Balanced released a set of sample assessment items and performance tasks. The Consortium has also published: content specifications that translate the standards into assessment claims and targets; item and task specifications that specify how individual questions are to be written; and the preliminary test blueprints that describe the content of the test and how it will be assessed. These materials are available online at:

For more information, contact Eddie T. Arnold, APR, at or (202) 330-6232.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Governor Snyder: The Common Core is a good thing

On Monday, May 6 during a town hall meeting on education with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder spoke out on Common Core standards.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Will implementation of the Common Core be blocked in Michigan?

cross-post from the Detroit Free Press

The Common Core educational standards shouldn't be controversial. For most folks, the grade-by-grade expectations detailed in the core standards would be things you learned back in school, and that you’d assume students today are still learning. So why has the Michigan House of Representatives voted to approve a budget that doesn't include the funding necessary to implement these standards?
Ideology, not education.

The U.S. educational system is a zig-zag of methodology and expectations. The federal No Child Left Behind Act required students to become proficient in math, reading and other skills, but allowed states to create their own assessments. Making a tough test wasn't rewarded; an easy-pass test wasn't punished.
So many states created tests that weren't reliable gauges of either a student’s educational attainment or the educational system itself. Compare the results of National Assessment of Educational Progress with state-level tests like the Michigan Educational Achievement Program; the national test paints a much less rosy picture of educational achievement.

That’s why, in 2011, Michigan adjusted the “cut scores” (the cut-off at which students are deemed to have passed) for the MEAP test. When Michigan made it more difficult to meet MEAP standards of proficiency, student scores plummeted.

Looking for good Common Core math textbooks?

cross-post from Education Week

With educators on the lookout for instructional materials that fit with the content and vision of the common-core standards, a new set of "publishers' criteria" aim to influence decisions by both the developers and purchasers of such offerings for high school mathematics.
Crafted by the lead writers of the math common core, the 20-page document issued  seeks to "sharpen the alignment question" and make "more clearly visible" whether materials faithfully reflect both the letter and spirit of the math standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
In addition, a revised set of K-8 criteria were released, with a variety of changes to the version first put out last summer based on feedback from the field (including districts that started to use them). One notable deletion was the explicit call for elementary math textbooks to not exceed 200 pages in length (and for middle and high school texts not to exceed 500 pages). Another change was to include more precise guidance on how much time should be devoted to the "major work" of the standards, differentiating in particular the K-2 level with that for the middle grades.
Both sets of criteria are endorsed by several prominent organizations that provided feedback, including national groups representing governors, chief state school officers, state boards of education, and large urban districts, as well as Achieve, the Washington-based nonprofit that managed the process for developing the Common Core State Standards.
"These criteria were developed from the perspective that publishers and purchasers are equally responsible for fixing the materials market," the high school document says. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

How NOT to do the Common Core

cross-post from Grant Wiggins' blog
The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

In the just-released Math Publisher’s Criteria document on the Common Core Standards, the authors say this about (bad) curricular decision-making:
“’Fragmenting the Standards into individual standards, or individual bits of standards … produces a sum of parts that is decidedly less than the whole’ (Appendix from the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria). Breaking down standards poses a threat to the focus and coherence of the Standards. It is sometimes helpful or necessary to isolate a part of a compound standard for instruction or assessment, but not always, and not at the expense of the Standards as a whole.
“A drive to break the Standards down into ‘microstandards’ risks making the checklist mentality even worse than it is today. Microstandards would also make it easier for microtasks and microlessons to drive out extended tasks and deep learning. Finally, microstandards could allow for micromanagement: Picture teachers and students being held accountable for ever more discrete performances. If it is bad today when principals force teachers to write the standard of the day on the board, think of how it would be if every single standard turns into three, six, or a dozen or more microstandards. If the Standards are like a tree, then microstandards are like twigs. You can’t build a tree out of twigs, but you can use twigs as kindling to burn down a tree.”
Hallelulah! As readers and friends know, I have been harping on this problem for decades, and especially with regard to mathematics instruction and assessment. So, to have such a clear statement is welcome. Not that I am na├»ve enough, however, to think that a mere statement will alter some people’s wrong-headed thinking and habits. But this should catch some attention.
Longstanding problem of teaching bits out of context. This problem of turning everything into “microstandards” is a problem of long standing in education. One might even say it is the original sin in curriculum design. Take a complex whole, divide into the simplest and most reductionist bits, string them together and call it a curriculum. Though well-intentioned, it leads to fractured, boring, and useless learning of superficial bits.
Here is John Dewey on the problem – and the false analogy with physical taking apart that it is based on – writing over 100 years ago: