Two big groups of states are working away to design tests for the common standards, but some Washington insiders aren't brimming with optimism that the tests will be ready as promised, or that districts will know how to put them to good use.
A new survey from Whiteboard Advisors, a Washington-based consulting group, finds that nearly half of a small group of "insiders" surveyed doubt that the two federally funded assessment consortia will roll the tests out by 2014-15 as planned.
Nearly half, as well, see a big speed bump in districts' ability to implement the new tests well. And none gave high marks to schools' readiness to do what the common standards expect of them.
Those are the bottom-line findings from the survey, released late last week. It examines the views of 50 to 75 people, a number Whiteboard calls "a handful." But given where that handful is located—in key policy-shaping places—it's worth knowing what they're thinking.
The published survey includes only a small sampling of respondents' reasoning, but there are tidbits of interest there. One respondent, for instance, says the tests will likely be late because there will have to be "time allowed for back and forth once the assessments are publicly available. Everyone will have their own issues (which will differ by state) that folks will want to negotiate."
When it comes to the biggest problems facing the common assessments, Whiteboard's survey group named districts' ability to pull off sound implementation as the No. 1 challenge (45 percent). Right behind that is lack of adequate technology infrastructure (20 percent), followed by disagreement among states over the cut scores (15 percent).
Some ominous—and acidic—comments turned up from respondents when they were asked about the biggest overlooked threats to the common tests.
"They are over-promised," said one respondent. "Many in the field will be disappointed by how much they look like the current generation of assessments."
"Lack of planning in low‐standards states for how poor the results will be."
"November election. If GOP sweeps, these both fade away, like a lanced boil."
".. potential confusion among districts over common-core-aligned assessments and those by commercial vendors that claim alignment for marketing purposes, but are not actually aligned."
"Cost. [State education agencies] spend more on assessments than anything else. Even a couple‐dollar increase in per‐pupil costs means millions of dollars annually. Don't be surprised if the joint assessments come in more expensive than initially anticipated and states quietly develop buyer's remorse, start asking why they are giving up their less‐expensive, familiar, state‐developed tests; and then look for a way out of the consortium."
Insiders weren't overflowing with optimism, either, about schools' preparedness to teach the common core. Eighty percent rated that readiness a 1 or 2 on a scale of 5, with 1 being "not ready" and 5 being "extremely ready." Twenty percent gave schools a 3, and no one gave them a 4 or 5.
Why so little faith? Many reasons: too few people understand the key instructional shifts required; the school culture still holds some kids to higher expectations than others; the heavy lift to develop good curriculum for these standards; and this sweeping one: "The system is unclear and un‐implementable."