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Common Standards Driving Assessment Questions

Three years before the common assessments are fully operational and rolled out, we see ripples from the common standards affecting assessment.

Take as one example the many questions hovering about students with disabilities. As my colleague Nirvi Shah reports, the path to assessing such students is full of challenges. We've written a lot here about the two consortia that are designing tests for the common standards, and the target population for those tests includes some students with disabilities.

But as Nirvi reminds us, two additional consortia are working on tests for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. All four consortia face big challenges in making sure that the tests work for all students. What could happen, for instance, if a computer-adaptive test misinterprets a student's response and produces subsequent questions that are at an inappropriate grade level? And, as Nirvi points out, the standards themselves pose instructional challenges: Students with disabilities can require more time, even on current standards. How will teachers manage this for a new set of standards that many consider even more demanding?

My colleague Andrew Ujifusa offers us a story from another angle of the common-standards implementation world: states revising their assessments in anticipation of greater rigor. He explores what a few states are doing to change the content, or raise the cut scores, of their tests, and what is happening as a result.

A point worth noting, too, that Andrew makes in his story: States working with the common-assessment consortia won't be able to change their content or cut scores unilaterally once they start using those shared tests, since states within each consortium have agreed to use a common cut score. It will be very interesting to see how comfortable states are with that situation once a few years have gone by.

Even as states change their tests, they are going to have to adapt all over again in 2014-15, when the common assessments become fully operational. These next few years will be a period of major transition for educational assessment.

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