Many states have started using Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The goal is that eventually all of the participating states will use the same tests to measure student performance. But for now those tests are still a work in progress.
The plan is for states that have adopted CCSS to use computer-based testing, and for nearly all of the students take the same tests. This includes students who are English language learners. And it includes most students with disabilities.
Only a very small number of students will take alternate tests. These tests are being designed for children with the most significant cognitive disabilities. That is about 1 percent of all students.
Who is developing the tests most kids will take?
Two groups of states are developing academic assessment tests that each year will measure how well students in grades 3 through 8 are meeting the Standards. High-schoolers will eventually be tested, too. The goal is to have many states use the same tests. That will make it easier to compare how much students are learning.
One of the two groups developing tests is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The other is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Both are developing tests that students will take on computers to determine how much they’ve learned in English and language arts and mathematics.
SBAC is using technology called computer adaptive testing. This technology looks at students’ responses in real time and adjusts the difficulty of the remaining questions. The aim is to tailor the tests for individual students. This should provide more insights into which skills each child has mastered.
What kinds of supports will be available during the tests?
Both PARCC and SBAC are making several tools and supports available to all students. These universal tools include the ability to:
- Magnify the text
- Repeat instructions
- Take notes on a digital notepad
- Use scratch paper
- Use spell-check software
- Use a highlighter
Students with disabilities will receive many of the same accommodations for statewide testing that are outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan for the classroom. Available accommodations include:
- Read aloud or text-to-speech, with the student in a private setting or using headphones
- Speech-to-text dictation
- Closed captioning
- American Sign Language
Many schools have already begun using some type of computer adaptive testing for diagnostic assessments. (These are periodic assessments that help schools get a picture of students’ skill levels.) So some students may already be familiar with the basic concepts behind this type of testing. Schools also have the option of using mid-year tests from the assessment providers (PARCC and SBAC) so that students become comfortable with the process.
Who is developing the alternate assessments?
Two groups, Dynamic Learning Maps and the National Center and State Collaborative, are designing alternative tests. These tests are being designed to assess the academic achievement of students with significant cognitive disabilities.
These students generally have multiple disabilities or intellectual or developmental disabilities. This is different from having learning disabilities. Their IEPs call for using a different set of learning standards than the Common Core State Standards for general education students. The alternate assessments are designed to measure how well students are meeting these alternative standards.
All four of the groups that are developing tests have received funding from the U.S. Department of Education. All four groups are also taking steps to protect the rights of students with disabilities.
Is your child ready for the tests?
If you’re concerned about how your child will do on these tests, talk with the teacher. Working together can help you and your child know what to expect during the tests. And that kind of preparation can go a long way toward reducing anxiety about testing.