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New Assessment Tools Could Bridge High School-College Gap

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today said a new generation of assessments being developed for K-12 students will more accurately reflect higher-level thinking, give timely feedback to teachers, and better prepare students for college.

Speaking at Achieve's Annual American Diploma Project Network Leadership Team Meeting in Alexandria, Va., Duncan spoke about the hope for improved testing that will result from the $330 million awarded earlier today to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) as part of the Race to the Top competition.

While not ushering in "education nirvana," Duncan said the development of better assessments aligned with rigorous standards will be an "absolute game changer in K-12 education."

It also has the potential to benefit higher education, as better alignment of curricula could reduce the need for remedial instruction in college. Duncan said the team reviewing the applications was "stunned and thrilled" at both grant winners buy-in from public colleges to work with high schools to define what it means to be college ready. Too often, expectations for high school graduation don't translate into the skills needed for incoming college freshmen, he said.

The new assessments are expected to reflect a shift in looking beyond K-12 to what students need to know.

"Assessments will help set a consistent, high bar for success nationwide instead of misleading students, parents, and school leaders into thinking that students are ready for college when, in fact, they aren't even close," said Duncan. "We have to stop lying and have to start telling the truth."

Rather than multiple-choice, bubble tests, the new approach to assessments will look at complex learning and critical-thinking skills. The hope is that this will drive innovative curricula, rather than dumbing down content, as has happened in the past to make schools' scores look better. By providing immediate feedback, teachers are supposed to be able to tailor instruction appropriately for better student outcomes.

Duncan called for a celebration of this milestone today, as work begins on developing the new assessments, although they won't be ready for classrooms until 2014-15.

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