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A Peek at Plans for Common Tests in Race to Top Applications

The Race to the Top applications turned in yesterday offer an interesting preview of what might be in store as states move toward adopting common standards and common assessments aligned to those standards. (You might remember that they have a better shot at getting RTT money if they promise to do those things, and offer evidence that they are actually committed to doing them.)

States' applications for this money are gargantuan pretty lengthy. But a little guided tour through the specific sections in a few of the applications, in which they discuss their plans for common standards and common assessments, is interesting.

As you know, $350 million of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund is set aside for the common-assessments work, and states have to band together in groups to get that money. A separate application for that competition is expected to begin in March. But even now, in the overall Race to the Top applications, you can see states getting positioned in those groups, because they stood to earn points on their applications by showing that they were planning for it.

With that in mind, take a look at California's application, for instance. In pages 37 through 46, it discusses its plans for common standards and assessments, and describes the consortia it has joined to do the assessments work.

It gets more specific in its Appendix B, starting on page 247, with talk about common assessments on page 328. It also includes a detailed timeline about when it plans to adopt common standards (by Aug. 2), with adoption of curriculum frameworks in math by July 2011 and in English language arts by January 2012, and adoption of assessments for each of those a year later. (The timeline is on page 342.)

You can see something similar in Illinois' application. On page 41 of the main application, it discusses its common-standards plans, including a timeline. On page 45, the state talks about its common-assessment plans, saying it is participating in five consortia, and that by doing so, it will develop a range of assessment types (summative, formative, interim, benchmark, etc.) that measure higher-order skills linked to the common standards. In one of four appendices (I kid you not), Illinois goes into more detail about the consortia, listing the purpose of each one and which states are participating. You can find this in the Volume 2, Part 4 appendix, pp. 292-317.)

These applications give you an early sense of how states are approaching common standards, and how the assessment consortia are starting to shake out. From the overlapping consortia membership, you can surmise that states were scrambling to get included in a bunch to hedge their bets and enhance their applications. It will be interesting to watch how these huge undertakings—adopting common standards and assessments—unfold as they move from paper to politics.

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