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Common Tests and California's Early Assessment Program

We talk a lot here about the big groups of states that are working together to design assessments for the new common standards. In our all-too-brief descriptions and mentions, it's sometimes challenging to get across the differences in thinking between these two groups. Case in point: the connections between California's Early Assessment Program and one of the two consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Lost already? Hard to blame you. Let me take a whack at this for you, because it gets at something that a recent story of mine didn't get across clearly enough.

Last month, I wrote about California's Early Assessment Program because it is often cited as a model of how a state can take big steps toward aligning K-12 with university expectations. It's especially pertinent now, I said, because dozens of states are working toward implementation of common standards, which were designed with college expectations in mind, and because two consortia are working on tests that reflect those expectations. The EAP comes in for a mix of praise and skepticism, but is undoubtedly influential in many people's thinking about college readiness issues.

What didn't come across—but is worth knowing because it speaks to the distinct visions of these consortia—is the role the EAP played in shaping PARCC's plans. It does influence both consortia's thinking in a general way, since they—and lots of other folks across the country—are mindful of prominent examples of K-12/college alignment. But PARCC is modeling itself more directly after the EAP than is the other state group, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Both consortia are planning an array of instructional materials that will support the teaching of the common standards. PARCC is drawing directly on the EAP to shape this work. For instance, the 12th grade course it is designing to help students who fall short of college-readiness benchmarks on the consortium's 11th grade test is modeled after the EAP's highly regarded Expository Reading and Writing Course. (See my story, linked above, for more on this.)

Both consortia are engaging higher education in designing the tests, and in setting cut scores that reflect college expectations. As PARCC grapples with this, it is looking specifically to California's experience with the EAP in trying to figure out how states' departments of education and higher-education institutions can work jointly to figure out which standards are most essential to assess and how to set proficiency scores. (PARCC is also drawing on the experience of its project management partner, Achieve, which leads the American Diploma Project and developed common Algebra II exams, in setting cut scores.)

And if you have any doubt about PARCC's EAP heritage, check who's leading its higher-education engagement strategy: Allison Jones, who was at the heart of California's EAP work when he was the assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at California State University from 1988 to 2010.

All useful information as you try to understand the roots of the consortia's ideas.

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