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Assessment and the Common Core State Standards: Let’s Stay on Top of It!

Shaughnessy_52010by NCTM President J. Michael Shaughnessy
NCTM Summing Up, June 2011 

In the May President’s message, I mentioned that with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, some changes will occur over the next three years in the teaching and assessing of our K–12 mathematics students. Among the changes will be new common mathematics assessments that students in most states (44 and counting) will take. Two assessment consortia, Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), have obtained federal grants to develop assessment tools—both formative and summative assessment instruments—to assess students’ proficiency with the content and practices specified in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) by the start of the 2014 academic year. Each state participating in the Common Core Standards will use the assessment instruments created by one of the two consortia. Some states have chosen which of the consortia they will work with, while others are still considering their plans. The assessment consortia are beginning to share their plans for assessing the Common Core Standards, and we all must keep informed of their draft assessment plans as the implementation process goes forward.

At a recent conference, “Moving Forward Together: Curriculum & Assessment and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics,” leaders of the two consortia presented drafts of their current assessment plans to a group of nationally recognized leaders in mathematics education. The PARCC and SBAC presentations are both available on the NCTM website. Both consortia included their implementation timelines, pointed to their plans for assessment support tools, and outlined some of the details of their assessment plans. For example, PARCC currently plans to include “through course” assessments at intervals throughout the school year. SBAC is planning to create adaptive tests—tests that generate subsequent items for a student depending on how he or she responded to previous items. PARCC plans to provide content frameworks, model instructional units, sample assessment tasks, and professional development modules along with their assessment instruments. SBAC plans to offer online assessment literacy guides, provide training for local development of assessment tasks, and create virtual professional learning communities around their assessment instruments.

The conference was a priority of the Joint Task Force on the Common Core Standards (NCTM, AMTE, NCSM, ASSM) and funded by a National Science Foundation grant. Presentations by the two consortia, along with panel presentations at the conference, generated much discussion and debate. The conference report includes a summary and recommendations for how the mathematics education community should continue to work to influence the CCSSM assessment and implementation processes.

The report’s recommendations are extensive and detailed. They focus on concerns raised about the assessment plans and the processes for revising them, the need for ongoing professional development throughout the implementation of CCSSM and the accompanying assessments, and the importance of including expertise from the mathematics education community in the plans of the consortia for assessment design and review. The recommendations include the following:

  • Ensure that the Standards for Mathematical Practice are embedded in the assessments.
  • Focus attention on content changes at the middle grades.
  • Design the PARCC “through-course” assessments to support teaching and learning by facilitating multiple modes of content delivery.
  • Assist SBAC in the creation of scoring categories, sub-scores on constructs, and tagging systems to ensure that valid information is reported to teachers, parents, and students.
  • Support long-term sustainability of assessments and an evidence-based approach to revisions to ensure that they are appropriate.
  • Enlist the help of curriculum developers  in the creation of instructional tools, including content frameworks, model instructional units, formative assessment tools, and resources.
  • Request and lobby for policy-level changes to lengthen the timeline and process of implementing the assessments, given the complexity of the task.
  • Urge the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to create and communicate a governing structure for current and future work on the CCSS.

Let me share a few reflections on some of the conference recommendations:

Participants were in agreement that assessment of the CCSSM Standards for Mathematical Practice is a necessary condition for the success of any assessment plan related to the Common Core State Standards. The challenge and opportunity provided by CCSSM is to assess students’ proficiency in selecting and using mathematical processes in addition to their content knowledge. To do so nationally is unprecedented, and to fail to do so when the opportunity presents itself would be a travesty. Even states that have not adopted the CCSSM should include the assessment of students’ mastery of the Standards for Mathematical Practice in their state assessment plans. These standards echo the Process Standards in NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, and the skills that they identify are indispensable to mathematics education of the highest quality. 

Conference participants voiced a good deal of concern about the depth and breadth of some of the content changes that many states will need to make at the middle grades as they implement the Common Core. Participants also recommended particular attention to adjustments and revisions in the standards that may be needed at the middle grades.

Aspects of both the PARCC and SBAC assessment plans generated many questions and concerns, as well as focused recommendations for each plan. Any proposed “through-course” assessments need to be designed so that they do not force content presentation and sequencing into lockstep. Participants also urged the consortia to design instruments that can report sub-scores on various categories of students’ mathematical proficiency rather than one overall assessment score.

The report emphasizes the importance of developing assessments that will be amenable to research, review, and revision and pointed out the critical need for tapping the expertise of the mathematics education curriculum and assessment communities in the design and development of the assessments. The report also urges the consortia to continue to partner with NCTM, AMTE, NCSM, and ASSM, and to implement the recommendations of our Joint Task Report.

The main idea that I have taken away from this conference is that the work of developing assessments for CCSSM is a task that concerns all of us—curriculum and assessment leaders, mathematics supervisors, teacher leaders and district leaders. Ensuring that the recommendations in this conference report are enacted will take efforts on the part of us all. PARCC recently provided a survey for educators to provide feedback and review the assessment process as it proceeds.

As the assessment development processes continue to go forward over the next several years, we will all need to stay vigilant, to inform ourselves, our colleagues, and our peers about developments in the CCSSM assessment process. Let’s stay on top of it!

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