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Sample Common-Assessment Items Released, Traffic Crashes Server

One of the state groups designing tests for the common standards released a flurry of sample items today that offer an idea of what the assessments might look like.

The 26 new items came out of PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The consortium posted the items on its website, and issued a press release at 2 p.m. Eastern time about their availability. Soon afterward, traffic spiked so intensely that the servers crashed, according to PARCC officials. Technical experts scrambled to add capacity, and the site was back up and running again in less than an hour.

It was a pretty dramatic illustration of what we knew already: the field is eager to see sample items for the common assessments, which are scheduled to be operational in 2014-15. Everywhere we go on this beat, the most frequently asked question is: What sorts of items will be on those tests?

In view of the PARCC site crash, the word "eager" seems to be something of an understatement. Our own story about sample test items, which was posted on Education Week's website last week, got a ton of viewings as well.

That story focused more heavily on sample items created by the other state group working on tests for the common standards, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, since more of that group's sample items had been circulating.

The newest round of items, from PARCC, are aimed at helping teachers transition to the Common Core State Standards and prepare for the PARCC assessments by showing how key shifts in the math and English/language arts standards are "integrated into the design" of the new computer-based tests, the consortium said in its press release.

PARCC's language reflects a key aim of the new tests. The items are designed "so the assessment is worthy of preparation, rather than a distraction from good work," according to PARCC's materials. Passages in E/LA items will be "texts worth reading," and questions will be "questions worth answering." Math items will be "problems worth doing," the PARCC materials say. "Multistep problems, conceptual questions, applications, and substantial procedures will be common, as in an excellent classroom."

Tests in the post-No Child Left Behind era have routinely been described as too facile—focused on factual recall and rote learning, rather than synthesis and application. PARCC's language acknowledges that criticism, and lays out the group's goal of doing better. Both PARCC and SBAC envision tests that not only tap skills and knowledge in more sophisticated ways, but are actually interesting, engaging activities in and of themselves.

Whether any of that proves to be true, of course, remains an open question at this early stage. Both groups are scheduled to try early items out with students in the coming months and get their feedback.

Check out the items and tasks released by PARCC, and chime in here to share your thoughts.

PARCC's new sample items come from a variety of sources: ETS and Pearson, working as prime vendors, with a flock of subcontractors, on item-development for PARCC; the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Learning; the University of Texas at Austin's Dana Center; the Illustrative Mathematics project and Bill McCallum of the University of Arizona; and Student Achievement Partners, the New York-based group founded by the standards' lead writers.

Each sample is linked to information about what standard it measures and how it connects to PARCC's Model Content Frameworks, which serve as a bridge between the standards and the tests. Those frameworks have gone through several iterations after public comment, and the new versions, posted on the site today as well, are searchable online. There are also Power Point presentations guiding you through the sample items.

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