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Common Assessments: More Than Two Games In Town

You've heard a lot already about the two big groups of states that are using $360 million in federal Race to the Top money to design systems of college- and career-readiness tests for the common standards. The names of those two groups probably roll pretty easily off your tongue at this point: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Other players are moving into that common-standards testing landscape. As we told you earlier this month, ACT has announced a college-and-career-readiness testing system of its own that will expand its traditional middle-and-high-school zone downward to grade 3 (and, apparently, extend into even earlier grades in the near future). The National Academy Foundation, too, has announced a testing system, focused in particular on students' applied job skills.

It isn't hard to see the matching and niche-filling action here. The NAF, for instance, emphasizes the "career readiness" aspect of its work, an area that has proven difficult and elusive for the two consortia. The ACT's system aims for a bigger footprint than the consortia's tests, covering more subjects and gauging more things about students, such as their career goals and academic behaviors.

It's too early to know what role these newer testing systems will play for states as they try to assemble instruments that measure all the different things they must measure, at a pricetag they can afford. And, of course, other testing companies could enter the career-and-college-readiness-system sandbox, too.

All this stuff, of course, sparks interesting debate about the role of competition in the assessment marketplace, and what effect additional players will have on the consortia's vision of comparability—being able to elucidate how students in Ohio, for instance, are performing relative to students in Nevada. And it raises the possibility that states could choose to use pieces of different vendors' and consortia's tests, rather than using any one of the systems from start to finish.

We'll have more for you on this soon. Stay tuned.

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