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City schools to act as pilot sites for new national standard tests

Students at 100 New York City schools will be among the first to take early versions of the new standardized tests being built with federal dollars.

The schools will test early versions of new third- through eleventh-grade exams that a consortium of 26 states — New York included — is creating. The same schools will get extra funding this year to pilot the new common core standards in their classrooms.

Because New York is a “governing state” in the consortium, its education officials have already agreed to begin using the new tests by the 2014 school year. It also means that New York officials, including city Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky, are helping design the new tests.

The PARCC group — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — won a $170 million federal grant yesterday, which it will use to build the tests.

The new exams will complement the new national education standards that New York has also agreed to take on. They will also completely overhaul the form that state standardized exams take, and when they’re given, Suransky said today.

Right now, New York students sit for state standardized tests once a year, and the state reports results months later, over the summer. The tests consist mainly of multiple-choice questions, along with several free-response questions.

The new state test will be designed with four separate parts that students take over the course of the full school year, Suransky said. The first two parts, which students will take earlier in the year, will be shorter assignments that cover material the students should have learned up to that point. The third assignment will be longer and more complex. The fourth will be a comprehensive exam measuring a year’s worth of learning and will be given at the end of the school year.

And the consortium intends to dispense with much of the multiple-choice testing that students currently sit through, Suransky said. Instead, the assessments might take the form of a research paper or long-form math problems, for example.

“Those kinds of assignments are actually closer to the kinds of tasks that teachers are using in classrooms anyway,” Suransky said. “These will function as a way to test some of the new, higher-order skills that are in the common core standards.”

Suransky and other test designers are trying to meet a federal goal to create tests that better reflect student learning. “By far the number one complaint I’ve heard from teachers, from parents, from students themselves is that state bubble tests pressure teachers to teach to a test that doesn’t really measure what matters,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters yesterday when he announced the grant funds.

At the end of the year, students’ four test scores will be combined into a single score. And teachers will also receive reports of their students’ performance on each of the individual sections weeks after they take them, so that they can use the results to adjust their teaching over the course of the year.

In that way, the new tests are designed to replace both the annual state tests and the diagnostic tests that many city schools already give students over the course of the year to track their progress, Suransky said. Suransky and federal officials said the new exams could lessen or roughly equal the amount of time students currently spend hunched over exams.

“I would argue we actually over-test now, in many places, in ways that aren’t helpful to the child and to the school and to the teacher,” Duncan said.

There’s also the possibility that the consortium’s tests for high school students will eventually replace the state’s current Regents exams. The state’s Board of Regents have not made a decision on the fate of the high school exams yet, though Suransky said he expects them to take up the question in the next few years.

The consortium is currently in the earliest stages of designing the new tests and will likely evolve over the next three years as designers build the new exams and test their validity.

Read the PARCC Consortium’s full grant application, which lays out its plans for building the new assessments in detail, here. Section A(3), which begins on page 43, gives a good description of what the new tests will look like.

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